Every five years, the USDA releases its guidelines for healthy eating. This year, the drafted proposal could go beyond simple nutrition suggestions to include suggestions for which foods are not only nutritious but also environmentally-friendly in their production.
According to an AP report, the advisory panel to the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments has suggested the new guidelines include sustainability in their nutrition recommendations.
Once the final draft of the guidelines has been organized, it will be reflected in the USDA’s MyPlate icon, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011.
Meat production can take a serious toll on the environment. Research published by Climactic Change found that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock increased 51% between 1961 and 2010. Another study mentioned in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that beef production requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water, and results in five times more greenhouse gas per calorie.
“Eat meat, but less often–make it special,” suggested Professor Mark Sutton, lead author of a U.N. Environment Programme 2013 study on meat consumption. “Portion size is key.”
There are health benefits from eating less meat as well. Studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables increases your fiber intake, and consuming less meat can lower your overall intake of saturated fat.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has already begun to express its concern about a USDA-promoted move away from meat, particularly beef. In a statement from Texas doctor and cattle producer Richard Thorpe, the association asserted that there is “a large body of strong and consistent evidence supporting lean beef’s role in healthy diets.”
In addition, the year-end spending bill enacted last month urged Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack to “only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors” in the USDA’s guidelines.
If the USDA does ultimately decide to include environmental factors in their nutritional recommendations, they are likely to encounter stiff opposition from both the beef industry and members of Congress.