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Monday, November 17, 2014

Dietary guidelines talk turns to sustainability

by Traci Eatherton, WLJ Managing Editor

Sustainability, the industry buzz-word, has now made its way into the discussions on USDA’s 2015 diet guidelines, creating a bit of an industry stir and opening up some questions on the actual purpose of the guidelines.

USDA issues new dietary guidelines every five years, traditionally based on sound science, but the next release may have a twist, with USDA telling Americans to not just follow good diets, but also pay attention to how their food is grown.

The sixth meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, made up of a 14-member panel appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services, was held Friday, Nov. 7. The committee has been taking into consideration a number of comments on the future guidelines, including the sustainability topic.

“The process and the guidelines themselves were intended to form the basis for federal food and nutrition programs like subsidized school lunches, but also to provide science-based diet advice to all Americans,” DTN’s Washington Insider wrote.

“Last July, however, the latest committee draft emerged that suggests, once again, that Americans reduce their consumption of meat and dairy and eat more plantbased foods. In addition, it shocked observers by citing studies claiming that lowering meat consumption would cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the contribution the United States makes to climate change.”

The most recent meeting, however, did not include topics of sustainability. There will be more opportunities in the future, as the next and final meeting of the committee will be held on Dec. 17. No agenda yet exists for the topics of discussion.

According to the committee’s timeline, a report will be issued to the secretaries of Health and Human Services, and the USDA sometime after that final meeting and March of 2015. The report and recommended dietary guidelines will then be made available for public comment. Comments will be reviewed and the eighth edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans will be published sometime in summer of 2015.

The new potential sustainability focus of America’s diet takes on a whole new look.

“A dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based food and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impacts—energy, land, and water use—than the current average American diet,” Miriam Nelson, a Tufts University nutrition professor who chairs the advisory panel’s subcommittee on food sustainability and safety, said at an earlier committee meeting.

The “sustainability” twist is drawing opposition from a number of areas.

According to DTN’s Washington Insider, the House Appropriations Committee instructed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is responsible for approving the final guidelines along with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to make sure the committee doesn’t “pursue an environmental agenda.”

Groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, are jumping on the “sustainable” band wagon, in hopes to curb America’s love of animalbased proteins. In its public comments letter to USDA, the group cites three studies, claiming the only way to have a sustainable diet is to eat less meat.

“Meanwhile, Americans eat more than two times the global average of meat and nearly two times the daily recommended intake by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines are an opportunity to discuss sustainable eating in a meaningful way and make sustainable plant-based options more widely available as a staple of the American diet by calling for reduced meat and dairy consumption,” the group wrote.

While the debate continues, the beef industry is involved in the discussion, hoping to steer talks back to nutrition—the original purpose of the guidelines.

“This Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that Secretary Vilsack is charged with reining in is certainly being pushed toward positions that advocates will have considerable difficulty justifying on the basis of science and possibly could place the overall Dietary Guideline effort at risk in the near future,” DTN’s Washington Insider wrote.

Many people use the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to gauge the health of their diets.

Most don’t realize that the guidelines are primarily written for policymakers, not consumers, and are designed as a tool to drive health and wellness on a broad scale.

As the 2015 version of the guidelines is being developed, Ohio State University’s Food Innovation Center has organized a summit for food industry representatives, academics, decision-makers and others “to have a highlevel conversation on food and health,” said Julie Manning, Executive Manager of the center and summit organizer.

“The New Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Preparing for the 2015 Release” will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at Ohio State’s Blackwell Inn and Pfahl Conference Center, 2110 Tuttle Park Place, on the Columbus campus. Among the speakers at the summit will be current and former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

“The 2015 guidelines may be the first version that actually addresses food behavior, dietary patterns and sustainability,” Manning said.

“For example, if the guidelines recommend that people eat a certain amount of fish, well, we don’t have enough fish on the planet to meet that goal. That’s when you look to the academic community, particularly the food scientists, and the food industry to ask where else are we going to get these essential nutrients in the diet?” While summit speakers can’t discuss specifics about the 2015 guidelines, Manning said, the discussion by leading health and nutrition experts will explore the current American diet and the role the guidelines have in potentially revolutionizing preventive health care.

Registration for the event is $200, with discounts for public sector employees and Ohio State faculty and staff. Organizers also are arranging for live streaming for participants unable to attend in person, Manning said. For more details or to register for the event, see DGAsummit. com. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor


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