As a federal government panel prepares to hear testimony and then finalize an updated version of influential nutritional guidelines on Tuesday, a coalition of more than 100 organizations and prominent food and health experts have joined together by calling for more sustainable recommendations than previous versions by replacing diets heavy with meat products with ones containing more plant-based foods.
Prepared by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), under the authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal nutrition guidelines act as the government-approved blueprint for what constitutes a healthy diet. Updated and widely distributed every five years, the guidelines are used in nutrition education programs nationwide and dictate the meal plans for government institutions, including schools, prisons, military facilities and cafeterias for federal workers.
On Tuesday, as part of the campaigning efforts of the 'My Plate, My Planet' coalition—which includes groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Center for Food Safety alongside notable food experts like Eric Schlosser, Michelle Simon, Chef Tom Colicchio and Frances Moore Lappe—the group took out full-page advertisements in major U.S. newspapers as a way to amplify its message.
"People and the planet will be healthier if there’s less meat and more plant-based foods on our plates. Our diets, particularly the meat-heavy American diet, have a huge environmental footprint that not only threatens biodiversity but also our ability to continue producing healthy, nutritious food today and in the future," said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the population and sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now it’s up to secretaries Burwell and Vilsack to make sure the final guidelines are written to promote the health of Americans, not industry."
The coalition also penned an open letter to DHHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, calling on them to accept and codify the conclusions contained in the DGAC's own recommendations on sustainability, which found:
...a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet...
Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use...
"The importance of eating less meat and more plant-based foods for our own health and the health of the planet is backed up by the science," said Feldstein. "It’s clear that sustainability is a growing concern among Americans, and the dietary guidelines risk irrelevance if they don’t address these issues."
Those who want to submit an official comment to the DGAC can do so here. And a petition organized by the some of the coalition's members has already gained more than 120,000 signatures from Americans asking secretaries Burwell and Vilsack to support sustainability recommendations in the final dietary guidelines.