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Petitioning Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Sylvia Burwell, Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services

Resist pressure from big food corporations to remove sustainability from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

As a mom, I try to choose food that is healthy and produced in a way that conserves natural resources, like water and soil, because I want to protect our environment and improve our food system for my kids—and their kids.  

For the first time, a team of experts advising the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that our government’s advice on healthy eating should take sustainability into account—the ability to provide nutritious diets now and in the future. Based on an extensive review of evidence, they recommend eating more plant-based food, fewer animal products, and a variety of wild and farmed seafood, stating that these changes support both nutrition and environmental goals [1].

Predictably, certain food corporations and their allies in Congress are wasting no time in pressuring the USDA and HHS to remove this information from the final version of the Guidelines [2,3], which are updated every five years. Although these corporations claim their objections reflect concerns about nutrition— I strongly suspect their protests come primarily from concerns about profits.

Please sign my petition to show USDA and HHS that Americans support Dietary Guidelines that value the conservation of natural resources and recognize environmental impacts of our food choices. We have until May 8th to make our voices heard.

At the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), I study the relationships among diet, public health, food production, and the environment, and I strongly support the experts’ commonsense effort to help us eat better—now and in the future. Including sustainability in the Guidelines will not only influence people who follow the latest nutrition advice. The Guidelines impact the $11 billion National School Lunch Program, other federally funded food purchasing, and advice given by nutritionists and doctors.

Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater use and is the largest human use of land [4]. Current agricultural methods lead to water pollution from nutrient and pesticide runoff, high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, poor animal welfare, increasing antibiotic resistance, and areas of high animal density that produce more manure than can be safely used on local cropland [4-6]. Many of these negative ecological outcomes present serious health risks to consumers, workers, and communities [6]. In addition, we are overfishing our oceans, and sustainable forms of fishing and aquaculture (fish farming) must be taken into account when higher seafood intake is recommended [7,8].

In the U.S., we eat high amounts of meat, dairy, and eggs, and the production of these products uses an outsized proportion of resources used in agriculture. Of the crops produced globally, 35% is devoted to animal feed [4]; if more of our crops directly fed humans we could feed more people and improve present and future food security [9]. The typical American diet is also making us ill: rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other health conditions are high in the U.S., in part due to high intake of animal products [10-12].

The recommendations are a great start, and the next sustainability priorities should be reducing food waste and supporting sustainable production methods. In the U.S., over a third of food produced is never eaten [13,14], which represents a massive waste of resources with no benefit. Nutrition policies should also support production methods that promote soil quality, conserve freshwater and other natural resources, promote agricultural biodiversity (which can conserve variation in micronutrient availability), protect pollinators and other beneficial organisms, ensure adequate animal welfare, and provide good working conditions for farmers and other workers throughout the food system. I, along with my colleagues at CLF, will work to ensure these issues are included in future Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Tell USDA and HHS to resist pressure from big food corporations and keep sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by signing my petition before May 8th.

 

Additional Information:

Twitter: @JFry27

 

References:

1. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2015). http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/

2. National Public Radio (2015). Congress to Nutritionists: Don’t Talk About the Environment. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/12/15/370427441/congress-to-nutritionists-dont-talk-about-the-environment

3. Ferdman and Whoriskey (2015). Think of Earth, not just your stomach, panel advises. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/think-of-earth-not-just-your-stomach-panel-advises/2015/02/19/b3aab734-b876-11e4-aa05-1ce812b3fdd2_story.html

4. Foley et al. (2011). Solutions for a Cultivated Planet. Nature, 478, 337–342.

5. United Nations Environment Program (2010). Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials. A Report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Portals/24102/PDFs/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf

6. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (2008). Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. http://www.ncifap.org/

7. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2014). The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture: Opportunities and Challenges. http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3720e.pdf

8. Gormaz et al. (2014). Public Health Perspectives on Aquaculture. Current Environmental Health Reports, 1, 227-238.

9. West et al. (2014). Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment. Science, 345, 325-328.

10. Popkin (2006). Global nutrition dynamics: the world is shifting rapidly toward a diet linked with noncommunicable diseases. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84(2), 289-298.

11. Pan et al. (2012). Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172, 555–563.

12. Sinha et al. (2009). Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169(6), 562–571.

13. Hall et al. (2009). The progressive increase of food waste in America and its environmental impact. PLoS ONE, 4(11), e7940.

14. US Dept. of Agriculture (2014). The estimated amount, value, and calories of postharvest food losses at the retail and consumer levels in the United States. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib121.aspx

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