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2015 dietary guidelines by USDA will not include a focus on sustainability

Posted:  Thursday, October 15, 2015

As is the case every year, this year too the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will release their science based dietary guidelines. These guidelines provide a roadmap for prevention of diet related lifestyle conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. However, the 2015 guidelines will not consider the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. Sustainability means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source as some food sources are difficult to raise and could tax the environment.

The 2015 dietary guidelines are still in the drafting stage and are expected to be published later this year. The Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell reported this in a blog on the USDA’s website. Surprisingly, USDA is known to invest billions of dollars for sustainability in food production, renewable source of energy, water systems and other sustainable practices.

However, according to the secretaries, the 2015 guidelines will remain within the scope of the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA) mandate to provide guidelines based on science and medical knowledge. According to them, the issue of sustainability is out of scope and they believe that the guidelines are not the appropriate vehicle to discuss important policies.

This notification has invoked widespread flak and ire among health experts with some blaming the meat industry’s influence to distort national guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) in February 2015 submitted a focus on sustainability describing it as an essential element of food security. They said, “An important reason for addressing sustainable diets, a new area for the DGAC, is to have alignment and consistency in dietary guidance that promotes both health and sustainability. This also recognises the significant impact of food and beverages on environmental outcomes, from farm to plate to waste disposal, and, therefore, the need for dietary guidance to include the wider issue of sustainability. Addressing this complex challenge is essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.”

The DGAC report provides a foundation for USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to build guidelines on. However, it is upto their discretion to use the information. The adverse effects of accelerating climate change are already being seen, and the footprint of the current food system is huge. Thus experts suggest creating a food supply that is both healthy and sustainable.

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