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Should Environmental Sustainability Play A Role in Dietary Guidelines?

Do you believe that environmental considerations should play a role in setting dietary guidelines? Here in the US, 49 academic centers, health advocacy groups, and environmental advocacy groups that make up the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisary Committee (DGAC) sent a letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to adopt tsustainability recommendations developed by the DGAC.17842641-Food-sources-of-protein-including-cheese-lentils-red-and-white-meat-kidney-beans-fish-tuna-nuts-and--Stock-Photo


The letter places strong emphasis on plant-based diets, indicating benefits for both human health and the health of the environment. “The food we eat, and how it’s raised, has a profound effect on public health and the environment,” said Bob Martin, director of Food System Policy at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.


The letter goes into how the industrial model for meat production in the US is unsustainable and is a potential threat to public health, due in part to the routine use of antibiotics. It also states that the new dietary guidelines should take into account, how meat is raised, (notice they don’t use the word animals) and lowering meat consumption.


In addition, the letter emphasizes sustainable seafood production and eating lower on the aquatic food chain, as industrial fishing over the past half-century has noticeably depleted the topmost links in aquatic food chains, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, one of the technical organizations of the United Nations.


Despite broad support from health and environmental groups, USDA and HHS are facing stiff opposition from lobbying groups for the meat and poultry industries to omit the sustainability recommendations in the final rendition of the revised dietary guidelines. They argue that lean meat consumption is a key component of a healthy diet, and that environmental sustainability should not be discussed with regard to an individual’s diet. RB35287269524


The letter urges the USDA to resist pressure from lobbying groups, stating that “current industrial food production methods can work to undercut the nation’s long-term food security by contributing to biodiversity loss, soil degradation, water contamination, climate change, and antibiotic resistance.”


The public is encouraged to view the Committee’s Advisory Report and provide written comments at The comment period has been extended through 11:59 p.m. E.D.T. on May 8, 2015.


What are your thoughts and concerns regarding dietary guidelines? Do you believe that environmental concerns should play a role in responsible food choices? If so, how much of a role do you think environmental concerns should play in shaping eating habits both collectively and individually?

26 Responses to Should Environmental Sustainability Play A Role in Dietary Guidelines?

  • You stated the letter urged the USDA not to be influenced by these lobby groups. Why do we need to tell the USDA not to be influenced? It is a shame that an agency like this is influenced by big name lobbyists who represent the food producers and distributors. If these government agencies did their job, we would not be having a discussion like this, because it would already be done.

    • Yes, what you say about the USDA needing to be urged not to be influenced by the lobbying groups is true. It reflects dysfunction in our system of government. Thank you for your comment.

  • I, too, believe that environmental sustainability should play a role in dietary guidelines.I think that’s easier to accomplish in the U.S. because we have an abundance of food and can control how it’s grown and farmed. This will be much more difficult in developing countries where hunger is the everyday norm. The underfed will eat whatever food they can find. It may not be nutritionally good for them but many people are just steps away from starvation.

    • The point of my post is that here in The States, we do not control how food is grown and farmed in such a way that is environmentally sustainable. I believe a vegetarian diet costs less, and can feed more people, and is more beneficial for developing countries. In addition, developing countries really have the most to gain from this change in our diet. They are the ones who will suffer most, in the long run from the negative effects of climate change. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Jeannette.

  • Environmental concerns should definitely play a role in dietary guidelines, but Americans so love their meet. I try to eat a vegan meal at least once a week, and will continue the trend until I am eating meatless at least three days a week. It just makes sense.

  • andleeb says:

    This is really important topic. Environmental concerns are vital for food choice.
    I love to be a vegetarian but people do not like to eat much vegetables in my part. Secondly Kashmir is a colder place so, people go for dairy products and meat more often. But I am happy with the fact at least in my house, due to my mother, we try to buy animals that are raised locally and vegetables are mostly grown at home without use of pesticides etc.

  • Being semi vegetarian I am of the opinion that environmental sustainability should play a role in dietary choices. But I doubt that the majority of people in this world either understand the issue or, for that matter, care. The majority of people in this world are unfortunately poor and they will not turn down a piece of meat since it fills their stomach.

    • India is the most vegetarian-friendly country in the world so I disagree with what you say about the poor people who will not turn down a piece of meat. In addition, here in The States, I volunteer weekly at my local food pantry, where we provide free groceries to help alleviate food insecurity, for low income people, and we do see our fair share of vegetarians who remove the meat from their grocery bags and ask for a non-meat substitution. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, Catarina.

  • This is a really good article. I agree that environmental concerns should be an important consideration. Like so many, I would be a vegetarian but my significant other would be the show stopper with that one. The good news is we do have more veggie meals these days than ever before. 🙂

  • Tim says:

    I don’t think you will find anyone who agrees that environmental sustainability is a good thing and should be nurtured, at least out of those reading this article. I enjoy eating meat and highly doubt if I will ever be swayed from that; it’s about eating good meat, good food, as close to natural as possible. As for ratings and guidelines, if the consumer took more time to educate themselves on what they are putting in their bodies and demanding an alternative when needed then I think we would all be a lot better off.

    • Actually, Tim, if you read the comments below yours, you would see that some people here are indeed concerned about environmental sustainability. I agree with your point about taking personal responsibilty for what we put into our bodies, although my article is more about environmental impact. With regard to good nutrition, we certainly do not require meat in our diet, in order to be healthy. When you say, “Eating good meat,” I am guessing you refer to free range meat or meat that you hunt yourself. Thanks for stopping by.

  • I think it’s important that environmental sustainability be considered when it comes to the food we eat. However, I don’t think that correlates with people eating better. The people who will consume the organic products are probably those who already are health conscious. I doubt that people who eat processed foods will be moved to change their diet.I have another issue with the government getting more involved, in our lives. it’s about the money and lobbyists for politicians and any decisions or laws created are rarely for our benefit.They’ll say or do anything to get elected and not loss constituents.

    • I agree that people who eat processed foods will likely continue to eat them. The point has to do with meat based diets and the fact that currently, lean meat and poultry is recommended as part of a healthy diet, without emphasis being placed on the benefits of a plant based diet and THAT is due to the lobbyists. Thanks for dropping by and sharing a comment, Pamela.

  • heraldmarty says:

    With regard to the environment, the answer would be easy if we were talking about best case scenarios but there are other issues at play and they bump against environmental concerns on pretty much every level. i live in Maui and while it truly is a paradise in many respects, the people are deeply divided by these issues. The ‘haves’ are focused on the environment, rallying against GMO, accepting that doing the right things for our planet sometimes results in increased in cost of living, but are focused on long term benefits. For the record I don’t disagree.

    On the other hand, there are the all of the people here (and they are the silent majority) who are working 2 and 3 jobs and even then can barely afford to put food on the table. Most hotels here provide one free meal for their employees at work each day – for many employees that is their only meal of the day. These people don’t care about long term sustainability because they live their lives in perpetual survival mode.

    The real challenge as I see it is finding a balance between protecting our environment in the future while not losing sight of the silent majority struggling to get through today.

    • I suppose I am not too aware of how eating a plant based diet increases the cost of living. I haven’t noticed much a change in my food expense except that it has gone down. I believe in the collective creativity of the human race, and that if people really grasp the long-term cost to life on this planet, cost effective means of growing and producing food, will be found and made available, although it may mean some large change and acceptance with regard to the appearance of our food and what we are willing to ingest.

  • Ken Dowell says:

    I definitely believe that dietary decisions and sustainability should go hand and hand. I feel that among producers, caring about the environment and caring about the quality of the food that they produce go hand and hand. One of the challenges of this, however, is economics. Some families may simply not always be able to make choices based on sustainability because there is a cost associated with it.

    • True, it does cost more to eat organically grown produce, but I have found that switching from a meat based diet has saved me money overall. Thanks for your comment, Ken.

  • We need to know how the environment is affected by the foods we eat. The information is available for those that want it but what about the average Joe who is not bothered about the environment?

    • With regard to the environment, I believe the average Joe is concerned but I suppose this could be because of where I live. That said, I still believe that the number of people with concerns about the environment and about sustainabiltiy has increased a great deal as evidence of climate change, deforestation, and the effects of over-population become more evident. Thank you for dropping by and sharing your thoughts, Organisedlady.

  • Beth Niebuhr says:

    Yes, I do thinking environmental concerns are important to consider. I could happily be a vegetarian but my husband isn’t likely to do that. Once a week a salad or vegetable tacos for dinner is about the best I can do at this point. Good article.

    • Vegetarianism is certainly a lot easier than it used to be since there are so many products available that substitute for meat and some of them taste a lot like meat. Once a week is a start, Beth. I avoid all meat and fowl and still continue to eat everything else. Thank you for your comment, Beth.

  • jacquiegum says:

    I agree that environmental sustainability should be considered when it comes to our foods and diet. But I do not think that we have heard all sides of the issue. What we need is an open and transparent debate and I’d like more of this.

  • lenie5860 says:

    Michele, I definitely think that environmental sustainability should be considered when it comes to our diet. I completely agree with Bob Martin that the current means of meat production is a hazard to our health. I recently did a couple of posts on GMO so the food we are presented with and the impact it has on us is still very much in the front of my mind.
    Thank you for informing me about the John Hopkins Centre for a Livable Future. I will be looking them up and seeing what else they have to say.

    • With regard to food and the sustainability of the environment, it’s good to know that we are in alignment, Lenie, and that you are also creating similar posts to help spread the word. Thank you for stopping by and sharing a comment.

  • Donna Janke says:

    I think environmental concerns should play a role in responsible food choices. However, I think it can be tough to put that into practice for a variety of reasons, not the least being knowing and understanding the environmental impact of our choices. I haven’t seen a lot of information on this topic in easy-to-read and understandable wording that someone can go through without hours of research.

    • I agree. Donna, that education with regard to the environmental impact of our food choices is crically important. I believe that if the dietary guidelines reflect the responsibility of food selection in relation to environmental impact, the education would have to be provided to the public, to accompany and defend that stance. In spite of the technical research on the topic of environmental impact and food choices, there is a plethora of information regarding this, that is stated in much simpler terms. Some of it can be found in various newspaper and magazine articles both on and off line.

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