Cowspiracy Joins the Chorus for the New Dietary Guidelines (Updated)

CowspiracyThe producers of Cowspiracy have written a sample letter to use to submit to the USDA and HHS regarding the new recommended Dietary Guidelines.

Update – Their letter is longer that the 250 word limit in the instructions for submitting, but the online submissions form accepts 5000 characters and this letter is well within that number.

You can submit comments on the Health.gov website.

Here is the beginning of the letter

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell,

As a citizen and a taxpayer concerned about the sustainability of our health and our planet, I applaud the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) for including the major findings represented in Chapter D.5: Food Sustainability and Safety regarding plant-based diets as more health promoting and associated with less environmental impact than the current U.S. diet.

In late 2014, the international affairs think-tank Chatham House released a study which concluded that it is unlikely global temperature rises can be kept below two degrees Celsius without a radical shift in global meat and dairy consumption. However, they found that there is a striking lack of efforts to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products due to not least, government’s fear of backlash to pursue policies that would shift consumer behavior. The absence of attention afforded to the issue among policy-makers contributes to a lack of research on how best to reduce meat and dairy consumption, which the health of our nation and our planet can no longer afford.

You have until May 8 (submission period has been extended) to submit comments. Make your voice heard on this issue.

 

Sign the Petition – Give Californians the #1 water-saving tip!

Got Drought?

I found a great website – Truth or Drought – that is making the connection between animal-based diets & the devastating water shortages.

They have created a petition on Change.org to get California’s statewide water-saving program Save Our Water to address the #1 way residents can actually save the most water – not eating meat or dairy products.

Despite their hashtag #EveryDropCounts, their water-saving tips focus only on household use, which accounts for 4% of California’s water footprint. But a whopping 47% of drought-stricken California’s water footprint is associated with meat and dairy products, per Pacific Institute’s 2012 report California’s Water Footprint. “Almost half of the average Californian’s water footprint is associated with the consumption of meat and dairy products.” Their report also clearly shows that animal feed has the greatest water requirement of any crop in California, far more than almonds and avocados, as well as any other human use.

They created a graphic showing how much water is used for animal feed, more than any other activity. This graphic doesn’t show how much water is used for feeding, slaughtering and processing the animals this feed goes into. One dairy cow consumes up to 20 gallons per day.

CA Total Water Use
The good news is that some California water districts are addressing this issue.

State water districts and public utilities companies are finally addressing this. The Municipal Water District of Orange County has posted a graphic on their Facebook page showing that meat products are the top water wasters, as well as a tip to adopt Meatless Mondays to save water. San Francisco Water Power Sewer created a lesson plan specifically about the need to reduce meat product consumption to save water: “The lower we eat on the food chain (i.e. the more plant-based foods we eat versus animal-based foods) the less water, energy, and other natural resources we use.”

If #EveryDropReallyCounts our State needs to tell its citizens the truth about animal agriculture and its impact on the drought.

That starts with you signing the petition and sharing it with your friends.

 

Parkinson’s Disease Linked to Statins

pillsA new study conducted by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that long-term statin use can increase the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

A recent article titled Statins Maybe Not a Wonder Drug for Parkinson in Neurology Times

The new study was conducted over a 20 year period and shows that long-term use of statins can produce some detrimental side effects. However, the study also suggests cholesterol may have a vital role in protecting the brain and nervous system.

In late 2013 I wrote about new heart disease and stroke prevention guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology. These guidelines suggested doubling the number of persons who take statins. I suggested at the time that maybe we should just put statins in the water.

About 43 million Americans take statins or are statin therapy candidates, and the American Heart Association estimates that number will soon increase to 56 million or even more. Guidelines recommend that even persons who do not have high cholesterol but have other risk factors also take statins.

Following the release of this report, some public health officials are reconsidering the widespread use of statins for people with low risk of heart disease.

Dr Xuemei Huang, who led the research on the link with Parkinson’s disease, recently published in the journal of Movement Disorders, expressed concerns about the widespread prescription of statins.

The professor of neurology at Penn State College of Medicine in Pennsylvania said: If we blanket prescribe statins to people we could be creating a huge population of people with neurological problems.

I think doctors are over-enamoured with statins and think it is a cure-all.

Eating a vegan or whole-food plant-based diet will keep you away from statins – the “wonder drug” that might not be so wonderful.

 

April is Festival Time!

Berkeley Vegan Earth Day

It looks like April is going to be a busy month for getting out and celebrating with my fellow vegans (and vegan wanna-bees).

I already told you about the Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley on April 4 – with some fabulous speakers.

Now there are two more dates to add to your calendar.

April 19, the Berkeley Vegan Earth Day will happen from 9:30am to 3:00pm. The speakers are nutritionists, animal activists, doctors and chefs, including Dr. Alan Goldhamer of True North and Keegan Kuhn co-director of Cowspiracy.

Spend the day listening to educational and earth-friendly talks and panel discussions, or wonderful food demos. There will also be vendors selling vegan products and activist groups to connect with.

Not to be outdone by its East Bay neighbor, Oakland is planning a Veg Week!

Oakland Veg WeekSome of the details are still being finalized, but there is something for everyone.

The movie on Tuesday will be Forks Over Knives followed by Q&A with a health coach and vegan athletes. Thursday is a Vegan Bar Crawl and Friday join the Youth Hip Hop Green Dinners for an event. The Veg Fest on Saturday will take place at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater – more details to come, but there will be lots of free food samples. Sunday’s event is a bus ride to Animal Place farm animal sanctuary in Grass Valley.

The Friday and Sunday events are by invitation only. Visit the site for more details.

I love living in the Bay Area and having these great events happening. It’s going to be a great spring. See you at the events.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Goes There – Climate Change (Updated)

capay 1

Last week the The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the long-awaited Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

One of the items that caused the most headlines were the recommendations regarding food sustainability and taking into account the environmental impact of the food we eat.

The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, 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. This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern. All of these dietary patterns are aligned with lower environmental impacts and provide options that can be adopted by the U.S. population. Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns.

They lay out the situation we are in today.

The environmental impact of food production is considerable and if natural resources such as land, water and energy are not conserved and managed optimally, they will be strained and potentially lost. The global production of food is responsible for 80 percent of deforestation, more than 70 percent of fresh water use, and up to 30 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It also is the largest cause of species biodiversity loss. The capacity to produce adequate food in the future is constrained by land use, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, and over-fishing of the marine environment. Climate change, shifts in population dietary patterns and demand for food products, energy costs, and population growth will continue to put additional pressures on available natural resources. Meeting current and future food needs will depend on two concurrent approaches: altering individual and population dietary choices and patterns and developing agricultural and production practices that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources, while still meeting food and nutrition needs. In this chapter, the Committee focuses primarily on the former, examining the effect of population level dietary choices on sustainability.

I think it is great that our government agencies are following in the footsteps of many of the European Union countries in raising awareness of these issues.

Unfortunately, they don’t go all the way to endorsing a plant-based diet. After touting the healthy alternative ways of eating, they write:

Of note is that no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.

However, the Advisory Committee appears to understand the issues and adds these policy changes which are similar to the issues raised in the Chatham House report I wrote about before.

Sustainability considerations provide an additional rationale for following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and should be incorporated into federal and local nutrition feeding programs when possible. Using sustainability messaging in communication strategies should be encouraged. The application of environmental and sustainability factors to dietary guidelines can be accomplished because of the compatibility and degree of overlap between favorable health and environmental outcomes.

Consumer friendly information that facilitates understanding the environmental impact of different foods should be considered for inclusion in food and menu labeling initiatives.Careful consideration will need to be made to ensure that sustainable diets are affordable for the entire U.S. population.

Promoting healthy diets that also are more environmentally sustainable now will conserve resources for present and future generations, ensuring that the U.S. population has access to a diet that is healthy as well as sustainable and secure in the future.

The meat and dairy industries, obviously, don’t like these new guidelines and will do all they can to weaken them. This is where you and I come in.

The USDA and HHS are soliciting public comments on these guidelines through midnight Eastern Time on May 8 (Comments period has been extended). We all need to flood them with positive reinforcement for raising awareness about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Here’s where and how to do this.

Go to the Comments page, where you can either post comments or read ones that have already been submitted.

Please provide a brief (250 words or less) summary of the points or issues in the comment text box. A PDF is available for each section of the Advisory Report and provides page and line numbers that can be referenced when submitting written comments. If also providing literature or other resources, complete citations or abstracts and electronic links to full articles or reports are preferred instead of attaching these documents to the comment.

Please note that there is a 20 minute time limit to complete this form, and you cannot save and return to a partial comment later. If you anticipate needing more than 20 minutes to draft your comment, we suggest that you compose the message separately and copy and paste it into the form. You may also upload your comment as an attachment.

Update – Although the instructions ask for 250 words or less, the form will take up to 5000 characters. Much more than 250 words (unless you use a LOT of real long words).

The area on food sustainability is in Chapter 5, at the beginning of that chapter, if you want to reference it in your comments.

Please take the time to comment on these guidelines so that we can continue to raise awareness of this critical issue in order for us to have a better future for ourselves and our children.

Our Planet Needs You to Stop Eating Meat

report cover

Everyone should read the Chatham House report Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is an independent policy institute based in London. Their mission is to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

The report looks at the alarming growth in meat and dairy consumption in non-Western countries, especially in Asia, and makes the case that the only way to deal with this problem is to lower consumption.

In the report they go beyond detailing the disastrous impact of animal agriculture on climate change, but also look at, like Cowspiracy, why governments, environmental groups and the media aren’t raising awareness about this issue.

This lack of awareness means that people who might be willing to change their eating habits, don’t get the messages that would drive that change.

To discover the size of this awareness gap, Chatham House commissioned a multi-country, multilingual online survey. The results found recognition of the livestock sector as a significant contributor to climate change is markedly low. The chart below shows the difference between the survey participant’s perceptions and the actual contribution to climate change for different sectors of the economy. Note the big difference for meat and dairy production.

Chatham House Figure 7

However, the survey also found that in those areas, like energy and transportation, where governments, environmental groups and the media have raised awareness, consumers are willing to make changes to impact the climate.

This is a tremendous challenge, and opportunity, for those of us who would like to see the message in this report spread far and wide.

The survey asked participants who was best able to shift the awareness gap

Closing the awareness gap appears to be an important precondition for behaviour change. An important question, therefore, is who is best placed to inform publics of the links between livestock and climate change. The survey assessed public confidence in a range of sources to which consumers may turn for information about the environmental and health consequences of meat and dairy consumption. Across all countries polled, those labelled ‘experts’ – with an unidentified field of expertise – were afforded the highest degree of confidence from respondents…although there were important differences across countries.

Here are the results of the survey

Chatham House Figure 9

Looking at the results is a bit disheartening. The respondents in the US ranked experts highest with environmental groups a distant second. They also gave social media a thumbs down as a helpful source of information.

We already know that the major environmental groups aren’t talking about reducing meat and dairy consumption. If you haven’t seen Cowspiracy, do it now (you can finish reading when you get back) to find out the extent of the disconnect between the goals of these groups to save the planet and their lack of action regarding animal agriculture. Our government – captured by the meat, dairy and agriculture industries – isn’t willing to upset their “owners.”

The report lays out these reasons for the lack of action:

  • Intrusion in lifestyle decisions
  • Cultural significance
  • Private-sector resistance
  • Public ambivalence regarding climate change
  • Uncertainty regarding the efficacy or acceptability of policy interventions

However, behind these concerns lie multiple assumptions and generalizations. The belief that in aggregate they represent an insurmountable challenge is untested, and clear examples of behavioural shifts in populations do exist. In reality there is minimal research on how dietary change might best be effected. Ironically, this lack of research may well be symptomatic of the belief that the challenge is insurmountable, suggesting a cycle in which a lack of research allows this belief to remain uncontested, leading in turn to a lack of research. The result of this is the policy vacuum described above.

I’m not sure that I have any good answers to this dilemma. We need to lift up the voices of the experts who are willing to go against the status quo. Experts like Dr. Richard Oppenlander, author of two books on this subject – Comfortably Unaware – Global Depletion and Food Responsibility and Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work.

Can we meet this insurmountable challenge? We must if we are going to have a chance at limiting the impact of climate change. Let’s get to work.

 

Conscious Eating Conference 2015

Conscious Eating Conference 2015

The United Poultry Concerns’ Fourth Annual Conscious Eating Conference takes place April 4 in Berkeley, CA from 9:00am-5:00pm. The admission is $15, which includes a vegan lunch.

I went to this conference last year and it was wonderful. Great speakers, excellent food and passionate organizations there to provide information.

This year’s conference features many great speakers, including a former undercover investigator of factory farms; Kim Sturla, the Executive Director of Animal Place sanctuary; Victoria Moran, author of 12 books including Main Street Vegan (I listen to her Main Street Vegan podcasts often); Katie Cantrell, founder of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition; and of course, Karen Davis, the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns.

This conference is a wonderful way to find out about the latest news about veganism and animal activism. See you there.

Also, it’s not too early to mark your calendars for the 2015 Sonoma County Veg Fest, August 15 in Santa Rosa.

NY Times – Farming Science, Without the Conscience

Michael Moss/The New York Times

Michael Moss/The New York Times

Last week I wrote about the Jan. 19 article in the New York Times about the the experiments done on cows, pigs and sheep at a USDA research facility in rural Nebraska.

Yesterday the Times followed up with an editorial asking Congress to “oversee it and reform it — or shut it down.”

Here is some of what the Times wrote, you can read the whole editorial online.

You don’t have to be a vegan to be repulsed by an account in The Times revealing the moral depths to which the federal government — working as a handmaiden to industrial agriculture — has sunk in pursuit of cheaper meat and fatter corporate profits.

American consumers have steadily grown more aware of the ruthless excesses of industrial agriculture. Animal-rights advocates have toiled for years exposing things the industry does not want customers to know. Some reforms have taken hold; federal laws have improved the treatment of livestock since Upton Sinclair wrote of the horrors done to animals in “The Jungle.”

But the conditions of industrial feedlots and factory farms — the confinement of animals, the rampant use of antibiotics, the manure lagoons — would shock anyone who naïvely imagines farms as bucolic places out of children’s books.

The humans who work at the center are not necessarily oblivious to its failings. Some veterinarians and researchers told The Times they were appalled by the suffering and abuse. They should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work. Congress founded the center 50 years ago. It should oversee it and reform it — or shut it down.

 

Kaiser Embraces the Plant-Based Diet

kaiser-permanente-logoBack in September 2013, the first post on this blog was about Kaiser Permanente advising their doctors to

consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients…encouraging whole, plant-based foods and discouraging meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods.

I believe they want their patients to be healthy, but… given that they are a managed care organization, the more of their patients who eat a plant-based diet, the better their bottom line looks.

Plant-based DietAlong with the recommendation, Kaiser produced this 20-page guide with information about the “New Food Groups” their patients will be eating from, tips for getting started, and sample menus and recipes.

Reading this guide, I thought I was reading any number of books by Drs. Esselstyn, Campbell, McDougall, Barnard or Ornish.

This explanation of the benefits of a plant-based diet read like the list of benefits from Dr. Campbell’s book Whole.

  • Lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar
  • Reversal or prevention of heart disease
  • Longer life
  • Healthier weight
  • Lower risk of cancer and diabetes
  • May slow the progression of certain types of cancer
  • Improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fewer medication
  • Lower food costs
  • Good for the environment

The guide recommends that patients with heart issues stay away from nuts and oils, like Dr. Esselstyn.

What a radical idea – improving health with diet, not pills.

The resources section at the end of the guide points patients to the Forks Over Knives movie and website, and the websites and books of the good doctors listed above. You can download the guide from their website.

Kaiser is my health care provider and the doctor I see there is not necessarily on board with this program. Despite my telling him that I eat a plant-based diet, he suggested I take fish oil to ensure I get enough Omega-3s. He also wanted to make sure that I was getting enough protein. I should have asked him if he ever tells his omnivore patients to eat less.

However, it is great to see the health care establishment embracing plant-based diets for their patients. Whatever the motivation, their patients win.

The Torture Never Stops – But It Must, For All of Us to Survive

Michael Moss/The New York Times

Michael Moss/The New York Times

Whether its animals or people, our society tortures millions of innocent lives everyday.

Two stories brought that home to me this week.

The New York Time published a story on Jan. 19 – U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit: Animal Welfare at Risk in Experiments for Meat Industry. The story exposes the experiments done on cows, pigs and sheep at a USDA research facility in rural Nebraska.

At a remote research center on the Nebraska plains, scientists are using surgery and breeding techniques to re-engineer the farm animal to fit the needs of the 21st-century meat industry. The potential benefits are huge: animals that produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise.

There are, however, some complications.

Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.

Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.

The picture above shows some of the unintended consequences of the “easy care” program.

Last Mother’s Day, at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend’s toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes.

“It’s horrible,” one veterinarian said, tossing the remains into a barrel to be dumped in a vast excavation called the dead pit.

It was difficult getting through this article – reading about untrained personnel performing surgery on animals, ranchers being repulsed by the “twinning” program – but that didn’t stop the “researchers” from moving forward with the experiments, and dangerous experiments with horrible results.

Months into his new job at the center in 1989, Dr. Keen said, he got a call from a fellow worker asking him to help with a “downed cow.”

“There was a young cow, a teenager, with as many as six bulls,” he recalled. “The bulls were being studied for their sexual libido, and normally you would do that by putting a single bull in with a cow for 15 minutes. But these bulls had been in there for hours mounting her.”

The cow’s head was locked in a cagelike device to keep her immobile, he said. “Her back legs were broken. Her body was just torn up.”

Dr. Keen wanted to euthanize the animal, but the scientist in charge could not be tracked down for permission. A few hours later, the cow died.

In order to end the friction between researchers and veterinarians, who raised questions about experiments that would cause undue harm to animals, the research center has no veterinarians on full-time staff.

This is what happens when the need for larger profits and reduced costs becomes the driving force behind everything in the industrial food complex. Animals are commodities and expendable. It is disgusting.

Please take the time to read this important article and sign a petition started by Animal Place – an animal sanctuary in Northern CA – to call for the closure of this facility to put an end to this tax-funded cruelty and needless experimentation. Continue reading