Backyard Talk

Environmental Concerns Not Relevant to U.S. Dietary Recommendations, Says Obama Administration

By: Dylan Lenzen

According to the Obama Administration, concerns over the environment are irrelevant to one’s diet. This comes as secretary Vilsack of the Department of Agriculture and secretary Burwell of Health and Human Services decide not to include a section regarding sustainability in the soon-to-be-released dietary guidelines, despite a recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) earlier this year.

DGAC’s Elements of a Sustainable Diet:


The DGAC made the recommendation to include sustainable diets due to pressure from multiple environmental and public health groups and the realization that American diets have an enormous impact on environmental outcomes. According to the DGAC, sustainability must be addressed in order to ensure that future generations of Americans have access to healthy food.

The inclusion of sustainability into the dietary guidelines would have been a step in the right direction in linking the food on our tables to the health of the land, people, communities, and systems that produced it. The DGAC ultimately concluded that, “a diet higher in plant-based foods…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.”

The news that these sustainability recommendations will not be included in actual guidelines comes despite overwhelming support expressed in the almost 29,000 public comments on the DGAC’s report.

This is only a recent example of the federal government’s failure to create a more socially and environmentally just food system. As Michael Pollan discusses in his recent call for a National Food Policy, the federal government addresses the issues surrounding food and agriculture in a “piecemeal” fashion. “Diet-related chronic disease, food safety, marketing to children, labor conditions, wages for farm and food-chain workers, immigration, water and air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and support for farmers…are overseen by eight different federal agencies,” writes Pollan. The recent decision to excise sustainability from the dietary guidelines is the perfect example of this. It is hard to imagine creating sustainable food systems, if our dietary recommendations do not link the food we eat to issues such as climate change and the contamination of rural communities.

Is it really beyond the scope of U.S. dietary guidelines to mention that consuming great amounts of meat leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions than a plant-based diet, especially as the effects of climate change are increasingly realized? Is it also wrong to recommend purchasing foods that are produced locally, organically, and by farm workers paid a living wage, leading to not only healthier planet, but healthier communities as well. It appears that health of U.S. consumers and communities stand to benefit from better awareness of the implications of their dietary choices.

Read the Recommendations of the DGAC