The government has put together a group of expert nutritionists in order to update the federal dietary guidelines. These nutritionists started looking into climate change and what it means for the foods we eat. But Congress has told them to quit talking about climate change and stick to nutrition. The omnibus spending bill just passed by Congress and signed by the president, included “congressional directives”. One of these discussed the Dietary Guidelines Advisory and Congress’s concern that the committee “is showing an interest in incorporating agriculture production practices and environmental factors”. The updating of these guidelines is expected to be complete by next year. This directive tells the Obama administration to ignore these environmental factors when revising the guidelines. Though the administration is not legally bound to follow such directives, ignoring them could increase Congress’s ire toward the White House. But this attaching environmental concern to nutrition is not a new concept. In fact, it is decades old.
Kate Clancy, a nutritionist at Syracuse University, was the first to make this connection back in 1986. At the time she co-wrote an article entitled, “Dietary Guidelines for Sustainability.” This wasn’t written for a wider audience. Instead, it was aimed at nutritionists to get them thinking about the connection between our food and the planet. She told her colleagues to not only consider what food does to one’s own health but the health of the environment. This year Clancy was invited to speak before the committee, something she said she’s been waiting 30 years to do. 50% of the land on the planet is used to grow food. That means what we grow and how our food system is managed has a significant impact on the environment. But this is cyclical as our environment also has an effect on our health. For one thing, producing meat, particularly beef, is bad for the environment. Studies have shown that red meat is not that healthy, anyway. Instead, limit red meat intake and try to diversify the diet by choosing plant-based proteins instead. Demand for meat worldwide is going up unfortunately as the developing world continues to rise. Perhaps this call for connection will help stem the tide. Still, one lobby is speaking out. It believes that nutritionists don’t have sufficient credentials to speak on the environment. They are the American Meat Institute (AMI). Soon, the committee will release its guidelines. Watchers are wondering how the committee will respond to this call from the AMI.