Sustainability should be off the table in federal dietary guidelines
Washington—While farmers and ranchers strongly support work on agricultural sustainability, there is no scientific basis for incorporating sustainability concepts in federal dietary guidelines, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In comments regarding the scientific report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Farm Bureau noted that the government’s dietary guidelines strongly influence policy development, program administration and delivery and the educational message directed toward American consumers with respect to food and nutrition issues, which makes it imperative that the Health and Human Services Department and USDA base the guidelines on well-established, widely accepted scientific evidence.
“Unfortunately, the scientific report of the advisory committee goes well beyond its designated scope of work, delivering a report that strongly suggests the committee would base dietary guidelines on more than health and nutrition considerations. The report includes an extensive section on the topic of sustainability, citing a need ‘to have alignment and consistency in dietary guidance that promotes both health and sustainability,’” Farm Bureau said, quoting directly from the report.
Not only is the concept of sustainability too vague to merit inclusion in the work of a committee that has explicitly been directed to be concerned with the concrete issues of human nutrition, the committee’s reliance on highly flawed reports and research—like the United Nation’s 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow—is not a sound basis for a fair and objective discussion of the issue.
While the committee stops short of explicitly calling for the incorporation of sustainability into dietary guidelines, Farm Bureau said it was very concerned that the committee is already implicitly doing so by rather drastically changing past recommendations on meat consumption.
“Past reports have uniformly included a positive reference to the inclusion of lean meat as part of a healthy diet,” the organization said in its comments. “This report includes no such positive statement. In fact, in the body of the report, the only references to meat are negative.”
The numerous negative references to livestock products appear to be grounded almost exclusively in their perceived environmental impact. “Based on the widely recognized role that meat and dairy products can play in a healthy diet, we would urge USDA and HHS to restore positive statements about those products that have been a common feature of dietary guidelines in the past.”
In addition, the committee further strayed from its mission in advising that purchasing standards be applied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants, and Children program to “discourage” the consumption of foods the committee thinks people should eat less often. The committee also twice mentioned implementing taxes on “unhealthy foods” to generate revenue to fund public health promotion efforts.
“The merit of these policy proposals, or lack thereof, is not the issue,” according to Farm Bureau. “Rather the issue is that in advocating specific policy solutions, the scientific advisory committee has exceeded its mandate simply to support the development of nutrition guidelines and it has done so in a far more activist tone than previous advisory committees.”