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

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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.

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Sonoma County Veg Fest

Sonoma County Veg FestThe Sonoma County Veg Fest is this Saturday, August 16 from 10:00am-5:00pm in Santa Rosa, CA. The cost to attend is $5.00.

There is a great line-up of speakers including Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the best-seller The World Peace Diet and Veg Fest organizer Hope Bohanec, author of the book The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat?.

Along with these great speakers, cooking demonstrations and fabulous vegan food, the movie Cowspiracy will be shown at 3:00pm with a talk afterwards with Keegan Kuhn, co-director of Cowspiracy.

CowspiracyIf you live in the Bay Area or Northern California, come and join me at the Veg Fest. It will be a great time.

Our Addiction to Meat is Hurting the Planet

Source: Washington Post Wonkblog

Source: Washington Post Wonkblog

A recently published UK study of different diets and food types found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets significantly reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) impact compared to people who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD). The daily carbon footprint for a person eating the average amount of meat in the US was just under 16 pounds of CO2 compared to around 8.5 pounds for vegetarians and 6.5 pounds for vegans.

The researchers rated the participants as heavy, medium or low meat-eaters. For their study, heavy meat-eaters ate 3.5 ounces of meat per day. The average American eats 4 ounces.

The researchers calculated the GHG footprint for different food types (see chart below). That quarter pound patty on your hamburger has a carbon footprint of 37.9 pounds of CO2. According to a 2008 EPA study of average auto emissions, that is equal to driving almost 50 miles. Was it really worth it? (See more about the impact of that quarter-pounder)

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the health impacts of eating a vegan or whole food, plant-based diet but the environmental impacts of our addiction to meat has to be talked about and addressed before it destroys our planet. Here is an excerpt from the new movie Cowspiracy that examines the impact of factory meat production and why environmental groups don’t talk about it.

The conclusion of the research:

Analysis of observed diets shows a positive relationship between dietary GHG emissions and the amount of animal-based products in a standard 2,000 kcal diet. This work demonstrates that reducing the intake of meat and other animal based products can make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation. Other work has demonstrated other environmental and health benefits of a reduced meat diet. National governments that are considering an update of dietary recommendations in order to define a ‘healthy, sustainable diet’ must incorporate the recommendation to lower the consumption of animal-based products.

Wise words indeed.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Food Type

Cowspiracy

CowspiracyAt the Conscious Eating Conference, one of the filmmakers showed the trailer for this movie.

Their website describes the film:

This is the film that environmental organizations don’t want you to see.

“COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret” is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following an intrepid filmmaker as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.

This documentary will be as eye-opening as “Blackfish” and as inspiring as “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Environmental GroupsThe trailer shows spokespersons from all of these environmental groups dodging the question – what industry contributes the most to climate change, environmental degradation, deforestation, ground water pollution and more?

The answer is the industrial livestock industry. However, these industries contribute to some of these organizations, or they don’t want to pick a fight with one of the most powerful industries in the world – remember what happened to Oprah when she said on her program that she would never eat a hamburger again?

At their website, the producers of this film are looking for help to get the movie finished and distributed. Because of the nature of the film, they have lost many of their original funding sources. It’s up to us to help them.

Please contribute at their Indiegogo site and help get this important message seen and heard.

Seeds of Hope

Jane Goodall
Recently I’ve wished happy birthday to Drs. Esselstyn and Campbell, two plant-based eaters who are vibrant and active at 80 years old. Yesterday I saw another plant-based eater still very active at age 80 – Jane Goodall.

She spoke to a full auditorium at Dominican College here in San Rafael as part of a lecture series by the college and local bookseller Book Passage.

Seeds of HopeShe was talking about her new book Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants. The book (which I haven’t had a chance to read yet) has sections on her love for nature, the men and women who over the centuries discovered the wonders of plants, how we have used and abused plants, and thoughts about the way forward.

During the conversation between the owner of Book Passage and Jane and her co-author Gail Hudson, they talked about Jane’s grandmothers garden, where she began her fascination with the natural world; the explorers who risked their lives to discover and learn about new trees and plants; her Roots & Shoots program to get young people involved in learning more about and caring for animals, plants and the environment; and about the troubling patenting of seeds and other living things by corporations and its impact on farmers around the world.

During a question about the environment, she talked about meat and meat production.

After visiting a slaughterhouse, the next time she saw a piece of cooked meat all she saw was “fear, pain and death.”

She talked about the amounts of methane – more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide – produced by the millions of animals raised for slaughter. As more people from developing countries start eating more meat products, forests and jungles are being cleared for meat production. This is destroying natural habitats for native plants and animals.

She also raised concerns about the amount of antibiotics used to keep these animals alive until they are slaughtered and how that is making all antibiotics less effective.

When someone in the audience asked what we can do about this, her answer was “It’s simple, don’t eat meat!” Which elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience. She said how much better she feels since she has stopped eating meat.

“At the age of 80, I couldn’t imagine being able to travel and speak 300 days a year if I still ate meat.”

According to sources I found, Jane is vegetarian, not vegan, because she has found that it’s hard to be vegan given how much she travels. She told one audience that if she was at home all the time she would eat all vegan.

At the end of the talk they brought out a birthday cake (her 80th birthday was on April 3rd) and we all sang. Jane shared with us how the chimps would have reacted to the cake. It was wonderful.

I’ve been very pessimistic lately about the state of the world. When I look around, I see so many issues that need to be addressed and very little action on any of them. However, after seeing all that Jane has done and continues to do in so many areas, and her willingness to spend so much of her time spreading her message of hope, I know that there are steps all of us can take to do our part to change the world. Starting with the attitude that anything is possible.

Do One Thing

The Unhealthy Truth

I discovered the author of this book today and watched her TED talk (see below) about her transformation from a mother who fed her four children the Standard American Diet (SAD) to an activist for healthy, organic food and against the additives and processes – like growth hormones and GMOs –  that are destroying our health.

Her book is called – The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick – And What We Can Do About It – I can’t wait to read it.

Robyn O'BrienRobyn O’Brien‘s journey started the morning her youngest child had an allergic reaction to part of her breakfast. A former financial and food industry analyst, she researched what was happening to the food system and what had caused her daughter’s allergy.

She discovered the additives and processes that are used in the United States, but are banned in Europe, the UK and other countries. She also discovered the impacts of these unhealthy changes – the US has the highest incidence of cancer in the world and we spend the most money on healthcare – with poorer outcomes. Then looking deeper still, saw how our government is subsidizing the companies making the unhealthy products and making it more costly to grow and market organic food.

Robyn founded a nonprofit organization – The AllergyKids Foundation. It’s mission:

Restore the health of American families by addressing the needs of the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma and the role that additives in our food supply are having on our health.  The Foundation also works closely with those fighting cancer, particularly those with specific dietary needs.

Robyn is passionate about these issues and on a mission to change the current system for the health of our families, economy and nation. Her TED talk ends with a call to Do One Thing. None of us can do everything, but we all can do one thing to make a difference.

For me, this blog is how I am doing one thing to make more people aware of the problems with the current system; the impact of the Standard American Diet on our health and the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet.

What is the one thing you can do today to make a difference?