By Ashley Schaeffer Yildiz

Who will prevail in the battle over the 2015 Dietary Guidelines? Those waging science in the pursuit of guidelines that benefit our planet and our health, or Big Food’s profit-driven special interests? 

Take a stand for the planet, add your name to demand that US government agency leaders stand strong on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendation to factor the environmental impact of our food choices. In the face of intense industry pushback, for the first time ever, this year’s version could urge Americans to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods — and less meat.

The comment period on the scientific report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) closes on May 8, and more than 11,700 comments have already been submitted to the US Government for review. Compared to the last round of dietary guidelines 5 years ago which yielded roughly 1,000 comments, this round’s historic activity illustrates just how divisive and important this issue is during an age where the environmental impacts of our global food system are more visible than ever.

Are the DGAC’s findings really so controversial?

“The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet. This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern. All of these dietary patterns are aligned with lower environmental impacts and provide options that can be adopted by the U.S. population. Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns. Of note is that no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.” (Executive Summary of the DGAC report)

A glimpse of some of the most severe ways animal agriculture is harming our planet:

Climate change:
Studies show, that to stop global temperatures rising beyond the dangerous 2˚C level of climate change, demand for livestock products must be reduced (Hedenous et al, 2014; Bajželj et al, 2014; Pelletier & Tyedmers, 2010; Davidson, 2012; Tilman & Clark 2014). The raising and feeding of livestock produces ~14.5% (7.1 GtCO2 eq) of global greenhouse gas emissions (UNFAO, 2013)

Water usage:
In a time of record drought, meat contributes 37% to the food-related water footprint of an average American citizen (Mekonnen & Hoekstra, 2012). Animal agriculture is responsible for 20-33% of all freshwater consumption in the world today ( study, 2012)

Food security:
A whopping 1/3 of global crops are fed to animals (Cassidey et al, 2013)

Forest conversion:
The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops (FAO, 2006). Livestock are linked to ~70% of historic deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon (Nepstad et al, 2014).

Getting environmental sustainability included in the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines is a no brainer if you look at the science, but unfortunately Big Food industry pressure is in full-swing working to undermine the credibility of the scientific report of the advisory committee, the scientists on the committee, and dispute the relevance of food sustainability for dietary guidelines. 

That is why your voice is needed now more than ever. Sign our petition here. You will be joining over 140,000 Americans demanding that President Obama and the USDA use science, not the profit-driven industry spin being pushed by Industrial Ag, to determine what comprises a healthy diet.

Samuel Lee-Gammage is one of the nation’s top researchers on dietary shifts for public and environmental health. He articulates the implications of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines in a recent Food and Climate Research Network (FCRN) blog well:

The guidelines represent a powerful leverage point for U.S., and by extension, global food policy. Specifically, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines feed in to all federal food, nutrition or health programs, including public procurement, food provision programs, public nutrition education and link to many other areas of policy. They also have a normative role in setting public expectations around diets through public communications, such as My Plate (formerly the food pyramid). As an example of the scale of the reach, just one program– the Federal School Lunch Program – affects $16 billion dollars in spending, and some 5.5 billion lunches served annually to children. 

What is precedent-setting about the 2015 recommendations made by the DGAC, is that based on a novel socio-ecological model, for the first time ever, they have incorporated the growing evidence base to show that official dietary advice on food choice, cannot be considered independently of environmental sustainability, if it is to enable long-term food security.

The meat industry has launched a full fledged attack on science:

Scientific researcher Samuel Lee-Gammage goes on to explain that shortly after the release of the DGAC report, Rep. Robert Anderholt threatened the funding of the USDA and used his position on the agricultural appropriations committee to question the of the USDA Tom Vilsack.

On the 12th of March, a powerful block of 30 senators then sent a letter to the heads of the USDA and HHS, repeating industry talking points by stating their concern with the ‘scientific integrity’ of the DGAC’s recommendations and the fact that they had gone ‘beyond their purview’. Over 87% of these 30 senators have received campaign contributions from the agriculture, meat, and/or dairy industry within the last several years (Maplight).

All eyes on the Obama Administration:

Ultimately, it will be the Obama Administration that makes the final call. The window of opportunity to pressure President Obama to prioritize science closes on May 8. Take action and sign our petition now

As Julieanna Hever explains in The Hill blog:
The process of creating new guidelines about what Americans should eat teaches us more about Big Ag’s appetite for profits than it does about nutrition.
In a desperate attempt to renew dwindling consumer interest in its products and to warp this sound science, Big Ag has taken a page from Big Tobacco’s book. The meat and dairy industry uses deceptive marketing tactics and funds its own health “research”—with predictable results. A review of studies funded by the US Dairy Council, for instance, revealed that not a single study had an unfavorable conclusion about the health impacts of milk. In fact, these studies were even more biased than those funded by notoriously sneaky drug companies. New “Milk Life” ads boast about dairy’s “high-quality protein,” despite the fact that most Americans get way too much protein—and despite solid evidence that the protein in dairy (and all animal products) is strongly linked to increased cancer risk. The protein found in plant foods like beans and grains is not.
Take action right now, tell President Obama to support real science that backs the recommended 2015 Dietary Guidelines which will benefit our planet and our health, not Big Food’s profit.