WASHINGTON, D.C. – An ongoing revision of the government’s dietary guidelines, which also impacts school lunch and other federal food programs, is expected to call for less meat and more fruits and vegetables as part of an environmentally friendly diet.

The Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is expected to base new recommendations for a healthy diet on foods that are not only good for human health, but also the environment.

“The advisory panel has been discussing the idea of sustainability in public meetings, indicating that its recommendations, expected early this year, may address the environment,” the Associated Press reports.

“A draft recommendation circulated last month said a sustainable diet helps ensure food access for both the current population and future generations. A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods 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,’ the draft said.”

The environmentally friendly suggestions come after a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year that showed beef produces more gases and water pollution while using more water and land per calorie than other animal proteins, the AP reports.

“We need to make sure our diets are in alignment with our natural resources and the need to reduce climate change,” Kari Hamershlag, spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said, according to PBS.

At the advisory committee’s Dec. 15 meeting, one draft resolution presented stated that a healthy diet should include fewer “red and processed meats,” but many in the beef and agriculture industry, as well as some members of Congress, believe the recommendation is absurd, the AP reports.

Texas medical doctor and cattle producer Dr. Richard Thorpe issued a statement about the less meat recommendation last month, which was published on Agweb.com:

Despite a large body of strong and consistent evidence supporting lean beef’s role in healthy diets, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appears to be out of touch with today’s lean meat supply in the retail counter and the 30 years of nutrition advice showcasing benefits of lean beef. I am deeply disappointed that the Committee missed this opportunity to positively influence the American diet by blatantly disregarding sound science and removing lean beef from a healthful dietary pattern. 

Today, for the second time, the Committee presented and agreed to evidence showing that there are healthy dietary patterns with red meat intake above current U.S. consumption levels.  Against their own review of the science, the Committee is recommending healthy diets should be lower in red meat than they are today.

The Committee has turned a blind eye to their own evidence library criteria, arbitrarily excluding peer-reviewed, sound science on the health benefits of lean beef. To recommend that Americans eat less of a heart healthy protein, the only area of the existing guidelines currently consumed within the recommended amounts, demonstrates that this Committee has its own agenda, and it is not guided by the evidence. This flawed process and Committee bias is preventing a fair and reasonable discussion of the true science. I encourage the Secretaries to take a step back and look closely at the inconsistency and absurdity of the Committee’s recommendation.

The California Cattlemen’s Association, the Federation of State Beef Councils, the American Meat Institute and others have also spoken out against the less meat philosophy.

“A massive year-end spending bill enacted last month noted the advisory committee’s interest in the environment and directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ‘to only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors’ in final guidelines,” ABC reports.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is expected to make its final recommendations to the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services in early 2015, which will initiate another public comment period before they’re formally approved, the Capital Press reports.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spokesman Chase Adams told the Capital Press he doesn’t expect a change in guidelines to trigger a major change in American eating habits, but said it would have an impact on the National School Lunch Program, which bases its regulations on the guidelines.

“It really just sets broad policy,” he said. “I think overall the bigger concern is just the precedent that this sets and the image that this sends to consumers overall.”

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