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Dietary Guidelines Should be Focused on Nutrition, not Sustainability

Growing In Agriculture

Dietary Guidelines Should be Focused on Nutrition, not Sustainability

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A column by Secretary Lucas Lentsch


Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revise and update the national dietary guidelines. Since 1985, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of nutritionists, doctors and other experts, has submitted recommended changes to the Dietary Guidelines before HHS and USDA set the official guidelines. In February, the committee released its recommended revisions to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. The Secretaries of HHS and USDA take these recommendations into consideration before the official release of the updated 2015 Dietary Guidelines.


The dietary guidelines provide Americans with important information to help them make informed decisions about what they eat. They impact what food is served under the National School Lunch Program, federal programs like the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as WIC and military rations.


This year, for the first time since its creation, the committee decided to make environmental sustainability a factor.


In addition to recommending Americans increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, the committee recommended lower consumption of red meat. Although the report included a foot note acknowledging lean meats “can be part of a healthy dietary pattern,” the report recommended American’s lower their consumption of animal-based foods because doing so is “associated with less environmental impact.” The report argues a diet composed of plant-based foods is preferred, not because it’s more nutritious or better for you, but because it is supposedly more sustainable.


Not only did the committee go outside its area of expertise in recommending this, it overstepped the bounds of its charter. Rather than providing appropriate recommendations based on nutritional science, the committee has made an endorsement based on the misguided belief that the animal industry is not sustainable. 


In South Dakota, our farmers and ranchers work hard to provide a healthy, quality product in an environmentally conscious way. Our dietary guidelines should reflect this commitment. Since the Secretaries of HHS and USDA set the official guidelines, the public has an opportunity to weigh in by  commenting on the committee’s recommendations by Friday, May 8, 2015 at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture will be submitting comments and I encourage you to join us.