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October 8, 2015

US dietary guidelines to ignore environmental impact

US government officials have decided to not consider the impact of food products on the environment as they devise the latest iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

By Dean Best

US government officials have decided to not consider the impact of food products on the environment as they devise the latest iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

In February, the group of nutrition experts that formed the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had called for environmental sustainability to be included as a factor in the revised dietary advice for US consumers – to the chagrin of some in the industry.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the North American Meat Institute expressed concern including environmental sustainability as a factor in dietary advice took the DGAC beyond its remit.

However, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell have opted not to follow advice.

"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," Vilsack and Burwell said in a joint statement.

"Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the administration. The US Department of Agriculture, 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."

The North American Meat Institute said it "applauded" the agencies for focusing the dietary guidelines on nutrition.

"While sustainability is an important food issue, it was outside of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's scope and expertise and would be more appropriately addressed by a panel of sustainability experts that understands the complexity of the issue," Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the NAMI, said. "It is reassuring that Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell have taken a strong stance to keep the dietary guidelines focused on nutrition and health."

Click here for our contributing editor Ben Cooper's take on why the US government's decision is a missed opportunity.

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