National Dietary Guidelines to Exclude Sustainability Goals

From NPR:

“When it comes to eating well, should we consider the health of both our bodies and the planet?

Earlier this year, as we reported, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that a diet rich in plant-based foods promotes good health — and is also more environmentally sustainable. And, for the first time, the panel recommended that food system sustainability be incorporated into the federal government’s dietary advice.

But, it turns out, the idea of marrying sustainability guidance with nutrition advice proved to be very controversial. And now, President Obama’s two Cabinet secretaries who will oversee the writing of the guidelines say they will not include the goal of sustainability.”

On Tuesday October 6th, Secretary Vilsack posted on the USDA’s blog about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines which has spurred national controversy over its exclusion of environmental sustainability from the guidelines’ goals.

Secretary Vilsack wrote –

“There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. (Sustainability in this context means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source. Some of the things we eat, for example, require more resources to raise than others.) Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the Administration. USDA, for instance, invests billions of dollars each year across all 50 states in sustainable food production, sustainable and renewable energy, sustainable water systems, preserving and protecting our natural resources and lands, and research into sustainable practices. And we are committed to continuing this investment.

In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.”  The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.”

He stresses the importance of making educated decisions about our food based on the best “scientific and medical knowledge”, but this lack of accountability for environmentally sustainable food consumption, production, and education about these matters supports the enormous systemic gaps of our food system.

Though the USDA spends hundreds of millions each year on grants, programming, research, and sustainable agricultural endeavors, these do not have as critical a daily and direct impact as the DGAs on each U.S. citizen’s dietary needs and resulting choices. With something that has an incredible scope of influence and power, it is very concerning that environmental sustainability is consciously being left out of consideration.

When I first read of this news, I wondered how those in power could choose to make such a decision and also how that decision came to be. Are their perspectives so far removed from the land and its intrinsic value? Or, do they think that these matters are being taken care of adequately through other provisions?

The most plausible reasoning, I think, is the weight of those hundreds of millions of government dollars  spent on environmental efforts and sustainable agriculture – but, there is still much more to the picture that brings into question the role of industry and political power. I have always been one to assume the best, but when this news follows Congress announcing the defunding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of the U.S.’ premier conservation programs for the past 50 years, I wonder – who will take the initiative to protect our shared world? Our environment?

In reflecting on these perturbing matters, I find hope in words from a prayer shared last Sunday on the Feast of St. Francis:

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord: Grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfect joy

For more on the DGAs, check out the USDA Advisory Committee Report 2015.


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