The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines
Every five years the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans which provides Americans with advice on healthy eating. In a huge step forward, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — the panel of experts who help inform what goes into the dietary advice for our nation — has recommended that Americans eat less resource-intensive meat and more plant-based foods for the sake of our health and that of the environment. The DGAC’s 2015 Scientific Report found that long-term food security for Americans should not be separated from the need to promote sustainable dietary patterns that protect our nation’s natural resources:
“Linking health, dietary guidance, and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources and ensure current and long-term food security. The availability and acceptability of healthy and sustainable food choices will be necessary to attain food security for the U.S. population over time.”
This is a potentially game-changing recommendation. The impact would be felt in school lunch and other federally funded nutrition programs and cafeterias across the country — and across our entire food system, as more people consider the environment in their dietary choices. It is clear from all the evidence that providing consumers the information they need to make more eco-conscious food choices and shifting menus towards plant-based diets must play a key role in our efforts to feed more people with fewer resources, given the large quantities of water, pesticides, fuel and fertilizer that go into meat and dairy production. Such dietary shifts will also curb greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air and water pollution — and save us money by reducing medical bills associated with meat heavy diet-related diseases and overuse of antibiotics in meat production.
Predictably, the meat industry and others who profit from the standard American diet are doing everything they can to keep this advice from the DGAC out of the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They’ve been lobbying the USDA and Congress, contributing to political campaigns and influencing senators to put pressure on the USDA and the HHS. The result: Congress passed riders in both the House and Senate appropriations bills that would limit the USDA and the HHS’s abilities to implement the DGAC recommendations. The Hill explains why these appropriations actions are anti-science, damaging and inappropriate. In response to Congressional meddling, the DGAC sent this unprecedented letter opposing congressional interference with the review process. The HHS and the USDA are expected to release the 2015 Dietary Guidelines in November 2015.
Friends of the Earth submitted initial comments on the draft as well as comments on the final Scientific Report and testified at an official HHS and USDA Dietary Guidelines meeting in Washington, D.C. calling on the agencies to fully integrate the sustainability recommendations, while emphasizing the need to promote less and better, humane, more sustainably-produced meat and dairy products.
Overwhelming public support for sustainability
- Over the past year, Friends of the Earth has been leading efforts to educate the public and build widespread support for the Expert Panel’s recommendations on sustainability and less consumption of animal products in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Our efforts, along with our allies — Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Center for Biological Diversity and My Plate, My Planet — have contributed to an outpouring of public support:
- More than 29,000 individuals submitted comments on the 2015 DGAC recommendations — 14 times the number submitted in 2010. Top data firm QUID analyzed a representative sample of the public comments and found that 75 percent supported the sustainability and nutrition recommendations, including the need for less meat and more plant-based foods in our diet.
- A coalition of 12 organizations, representing millions of members, delivered a petition with more than 150,000 signatories to the USDA and the HHS supporting the DGAC’s recommendation for a diet with more plant-based foods and fewer animal products. EcoWatch covered the story with pictures and this Guardian article contrasted our petition numbers with those of the meat industry petition that garnered fewer than 3,000 signatures.
- 49 major health, public interest, and environmental organizations sent a letter to Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell strongly supporting the 2015 DGAC recommendations. Find great coverage of the letter in VICE News, Al Jazeera America and NPR.
- More than 100 prominent organizations and experts signed a joint statement promoted by My Plate, My Planet in support of sustainability, less meat and more plant-based foods in the DGA. The statement was featured in full-page advertisements in the The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico.
- More than 700 health professionals — including experts such as Yale University’s Dr. David Katz and Harvard University’s Dr. Walter Willett — signed a letter endorsing “the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) recommendations to reduce consumption of animal foods and shift toward a more plant-based diet,” as well as its “recognition of sustainability as an essential component of federal dietary guidance.” The Hill and International Business Times covered the letter.
- Friends of the Earth submitted comments on the U.S. Federal Food Service Guidelines for Health and Sustainability on September 29, 2015.
- The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution supporting DGAC recommendations around sustainability.
- Mayors of U.S. cities have also submitted a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack supporting the incorporation of environmental sustainability considerations in the 2015 DGA.
- In response to Congressional legislation asking the Institute of Medicine to review the process for developing the Dietary Guidelines, the USDA asked key stakeholders — including Friends of the Earth — to reflect on the process to develop the Dietary Guidelines at a listening session in Washington, D.C. on February 19, 2016. Verbal testimony here.
Friends of the Earth news releases:
New Dietary Guidelines lack clear message on less meat, more plants, January 7, 2016
Want to learn more? Here are some articles that cover these issues well:
David Katz, Don’t Eat Your Children’s Food
Marion Nestle, The 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the saga continues
Michele Simon, Meat lobby peddles doubt to undermine dietary guidelines
Michele Simon, Controversy Over Dietary Guidelines Continues
Kurtis Alexander, Environmental Groups Urge Feds to Consider Beef’s Costs in U.S. Diet
Johan Rockström, Walter Willett and Gunhild Stordalen, An American Plate That Is Palatable for Human and Planetary Health