Full story, comments:
Stop eating so much meat, top U.S. nutritional panel says
By Roberto A.
Ferdman February 19 at 1:23 PM
The country's foremost nutrition advisory panel is taking a stand against meat:
Americans should eat less of it, top experts say, in order to protect the
The recommendation could have a significant impact on the amount of meat people
eat --- as well as the environmental impact of a carnivorous nation.
"We're not saying that people need to become vegans," said Miriam Nelson, a
professor at Tufts University and one of the committee's members. "But we are
saying that people need to eat less meat."
The panel's findings, which were released to the public in the form on a 572
page report this afternoon, specifically recommend that Americans be kinder to
the environment by eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal-based
foods. The panel is confident that the country can align both health goals and
environmental aims, but warns that the U.S. diet, as currently constructed,
"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," the report says.
Americans, though they are
eating less meat than they have in the past, are still eating too much. The
problem, which the committee's findings reflect, is that all that meat eating is
still having too much of an impact on the environment.
Meat eaters have been linked to considerably
larger carbon footprint than vegetarians. And the livestock industry has
been associated with a considerably
larger carbon footprint than any other food industry. The combination of
those two realities, along with the committee's understanding that diets lower
in meat consumption, especially red and processed meat consumption, tend to be
more healthful, has forced the committee's hand.
The group, which has been mulling a number of changes to the dietary
guidelines, has traditionally advised the government about healthy eating
choices which, until now, have only reflected what the group views as a diet
that is healthy for humans. The new recommendations mark a major break from the
past, and offer a glimpse into what the guidelines might look like in the
decades to come.
"If we're thinking about the foods that are culturally appropriate, we need to
start thinking about what's sustainable," said Nelson,. "Other countries have
already started doing this—including sustainability in their recommendations. We
should be doing it too."
The meat industry, for its part, vehemently objects to the notion that Americans
should be eating less meat. The North American Meat Institute has repeatedly
questioned whether the nutrition panel should be allowed to include
sustainability concerns in its recommendations, and challenged the notion that
meat negatively impacts the environment.
"If our government believes Americans should factor sustainability into their
choices, guidance should come from a panel of sustainability experts that
understands the complexity of the issue," Barry Carpenter, the chief executive
of The North American Meat Institute, said in a statement.
The official dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years, won't be
released until later this year, after the department of Health and Human
Services mulls over the advisory committee's recommendations. The panel's
suggestions are, ultimately, suggestions, which the government doesn't have to
act upon. But historically, the government has incorporated the panel's
suggestions, especially those that recommend changes and updates, into its
If the government acts upon the panel's recommendations to suggest lower meat
intake, the impact on the meat industry will be significant. While Americans
don't necessarily heed the dietary guidelines ahead of each meal, the guidelines
do influence prevalent health narratives. They also help dictate what is on the
menu of federal feeding programs, like the school lunch program.