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.
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.
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 http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/ 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?
Whether you choose to be a vegetarian for the environment, for your health, or for the animals, you have the power to reduce your ecological footprint, and save money, simply by changing your eating habits.
Each day, factory farms produce billions of pounds of manure, which ends up in lakes, rivers, and drinking water. The one trillion pounds of waste produced by factory-farmed animals each year are usually used to fertilize crops, and they subsequently end up running off into waterways—along with the drugs and bacteria they contain.
Many tons of waste end up in giant pits in the ground or on crops, polluting the air and groundwater. According to the EPA, agricultural runoff is the number one source of pollution in USA waterways.
Raising animals (including the land used for grazing and growing feed crops) now uses 30% of the Earth’s land mass and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined.
Of the grain grown, more than half is fed to farmed animals. Think of how many people around the world could be fed with that grain. To produce one pound of animal protein vs. one pound of soy protein, it takes about 12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuel, and 15 times as much water.
According to a report by the California State Senate, “Studies have shown that animal waste lagoons emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause “inflammatory, immune, and neurochemical problems in humans.”
Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and to grow grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. In the “finishing” phase alone, in which pigs grow from 100 pounds to 240 pounds, each hog consumes more than 500 pounds of grain, corn, and soybeans; this means that across the U.S., pigs eat tens of millions of tons of feed every year.
Chickens, pigs, cattle, and other animals raised for food are the primary consumers of water in the USA. A single pig consumes 3-5 gallons of drinking water per day, while a cow on a dairy farm drinks as much as 30 gallons daily. It takes more than 450 gallons of water to produce one pound of cow flesh, whereas it takes about 180 gallons of water to make one pound of whole wheat flour.
The Worldwatch Institute estimates that at least 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide can be attributed to “livestock and their byproducts.”
If the switch to a vegetarian diet seems too extreme, I suggest cutting back on your consumption of meat and poultry for a few days each week, by experimenting instead, with vegetarian meals.
Being a vegetarian is easier than ever before. I (again) made the switch to a vegetarian diet three years ago, and this time, I haven’t looked back.
Please share your ideas and your questions about vegetarianism and what it means to you.