Critics say Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations are departure from original intent
In early February, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued its “scientific” recommendations to the government that are intended to shape federal nutrition policy and policy. Among its recommendations: Eat less red meat and tax sodas and snacks. The nation’s top nutritional panel is recommending for the first time that Americans consider the impact on the environment when they are choosing what to eat, a move that defied a warning from Congress and, if enacted, could discourage people from eating red meat.
The Washington Post writes that members of Congress “had sought in December to keep the group from even discussing the issue, asserting that while advising the government on federal dietary guidelines, the committee should steer clear of extraneous issues and stick to nutritional advice.”
However, the panel recommended in its report that Americans should “be kinder to the environment” by eating more plant-derived foods and fewer foods derived from animals. Red meat, according to the panel, is harmful to the environment because of the amount of land and feed required for its production.
“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” according to the report.
The panel’s decision to link dietary guidelines to the environment will likely be controversial and has already gained criticism from one member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Agriculture Department’s budget.
“Chairman Aderholt is skeptical of the panel’s departure from utilizing sound science as the criteria for the guidelines,” Brian Rell, a spokesman for Aderholt, told The Washington Post. “Politically motivated issues such as taxes on certain foods and environmental sustainability are outside their purview.” He warned that the panel committee would “keep this in mind” as it considers funding the agencies this spring.
The North American Meat institute pointed out the Dietary Guidelines Committee tasked the panelists with reviewing nutrition science, “which is the field from which Committee members were selected. The Committee’s foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise. It’s akin to having a dermatologist provide recommendations about cardiac care.”
Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and a committee’s members, told The Washington Post that the report isn’t suggesting that people become vegetarians. “But we are saying that people need to eat less meat,” she commented, adding, “We need to start thinking about what’s sustainable. . . . Other countries have already started doing this — including sustainability in their recommendations. We should be doing it, too.”
Another recommendation made by the panel is to combat obesity by imposing taxes on Americans who drink sugary sodas and eat sugary snacks.
“Higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption,” said the panel. “Using the revenues from the higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes for nutrition health promotion efforts or to subsidize fruits and vegetables could have public health benefits,” notes Bloomberg.
“What we’re calling for in the report in terms of innovation and bold new action in health care, in public health, at the community level, is what it’s going to take to try and make a dent on the epidemic of obesity,” Barbara Millen of Millennium Prevention and committee chairman, told Bloomberg.