WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2014 – A panel meeting to compile recommendations for the next set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans continues to consider sustainability an important component, much to the chagrin of some major agricultural organizations.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) appears poised to recommend a shift to a plant-based diet to promote sustainability in the food chain as it works to develop recommendations that will be delivered to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Leadership of the two agencies will use the recommendations to determine the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

On Tuesday, Food Safety and Sustainability Subcommittee Chairwoman Miriam Nelson, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, frequently mentioned the concept, saying sustainability benefits could provide “additional rationale” for following dietary guidelines. According to the subcommittee, sustainable diets can be defined as “….a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being, and provides food security for current and future populations while sustaining human and natural resources.”

Nelson said her panel’s draft recommendation notes that a shift to a plant-based diet is commonly associated with “lesser environmental impact” and would be more sustainable in the long-term. When asked by another DGAC member if any specific kind of meat was being considered for a reduction, Nelson said she couldn’t say with “great confidence” which individual animal meat source should be reduced.

“We feel at this point in time it’s more important to do the shift towards [an] overall plant based [diet] and decreasing some animal-based without giving some of the particulars,” Nelson said during a DGAC meeting in Rockville, Maryland. The discussion during the subcommittee report was in line with a report given at a DGAC meeting in July, where Nelson said she felt “current American intake” was not sustainable.

Agricultural groups, especially those representing the protein sector, want the panel to focus on its mission of addressing diet and nutrition, notes Kristina Butts, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association executive director for legislative affairs.

“Our concern is that topics like sustainability are not within the statutory authority of the dietary guidelines advisory committee and we feel the committee should focus on topics that lie within USDA’s and HHS’ authority,” Butts told Agri-Pulse in an email.

NCBA submitted additional comments to the panel to back up its position,   and looks forward to “supporting the role of lean beef in a healthy lifestyle” as the committee continues to develop its recommendations, Butts said.

Tuesday’s discussion also briefly touched on the broad concept of sustainability as it relates to the economy, the labor force, geography and other issues. Nelson emphasized that her subcommittee is working on sustainability within the domestic food supply.

“We wanted to be cautions here because this is the first time for this committee to be looking at this area,” Nelson said, adding that the high number of public comments shows this is an “area of real interest. The food system in terms of sustainability is a world-wide issue.”

The DGAC meets every five years to develop recommendations for USDA and HHS as they work towards a new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The first edition of the guidelines was released in 1980.

These guidelines are considered the basis for governmental nutritional recommendations for the U.S. population with far-reaching effects that range from school lunches to nutrition information on food packaging. Perhaps the most iconic symbol of these recommendations is the food pyramid, which was unveiled in 1992 and sought to establish grains, fruits, and vegetables as the base of the pyramid and – in turn – of the American diet. In 2010, the recommendations shifted away from the traditional pyramid to the “MyPlate” guide with additional emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

The DGAC is scheduled to meet again today and then in early November. During the interval, subcommittees will likely work on finalizing research that supports draft statements and conclusions. The DGAC is expected to present its report to the USDA and HHS secretaries in late 2014 or early 2015. That proposal will then be posted on DietaryGuidelines.gov for public comment. Officials anticipate the final document will be released in the fall of 2015.



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