Make Your Voice Heard – Dietary Guidelines – Updated

USDA-HHS logosFollowing up on my previous post about the Dietary Guidelines, I wanted to give you more information about submitting comments.

I created this one-page sheet (Update – submission period has been extended to May 8) with information about the new Guidelines and why it is so important to submit comments.

I heard author and nutritionist Marion Nestle interviewed on KPFA (Up Front, Feb. 25) last week. She talked about how critical it is that the public weigh in on these guidelines. Ms. Nestle blogs at Food Politics, her latest post is not very reassuring:

Yesterday’s Hagstrom Report (daily ag newsletter) quotes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s comments to the Commodity Classic on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

The “folks who put those reports together … have freedom. They are like my 3-year-old granddaughter. She does not have to color inside the lines.”

His 5-year-old grandson, he said, “is learning about coloring within the lines.”

“I am going to color inside the lines,” Vilsack said.

Sounds like the USDA has no intention of doing what the DGAC recommends.

For those of you who don’t want to follow the link to find out about the Commodity Classic, I did, so you don’t have to.

Commodity Classic is where America’s farmers meet with success. Commodity Classic is open to all friends of corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum—from growers to member associations to agribusiness to farm media.  It’s a one-of-a-kind convention and trade show—farmer-focused and farmer-led.

I also found this quote from a Republican Senator from North Dakota in an article titled What’s the beef with meat? in the Dickinson (ND) Press.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in response to the USDA’s guidance that the committee should focus less on environmental impacts and solely on nutritional value of meals.

“The USDA should only focus on nutrition here. No extraneous factors should be taken into consideration,” Hoeven said. “We all want to have a healthy diet, especially for our children. That’s the main point. That’s what we need to be focusing on here.”

Please distribute the information about submitting comments widely. Big Ag, the ranchers and their congressional pawns are not going to give up without a fight.


I also wanted to point you to an online form created by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) related to another part of the Guidelines and recommendations about cholesterol. PCRM is headed by Dr. Neal Barnard, author of many books including Power Foods for the Brain.

The report has also reversed decades of warnings against cholesterol. Decades of science have conclusively linked dietary cholesterol to cardiovascular disease, which kills nearly 2,200 Americans daily. The Physicians Committee is urging the USDA and DHHS to exercise its authority to reiterate prior federal recommendations that Americans limit their cholesterol intake.

In a petition filed today to the USDA and DHHS, the doctors group asks that the DGAC’s findings stating that “[c]holesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” be disregarded because the DGAC deferred entirely to a 2013 report by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology and one meta-analysis of egg consumption. The reliance on the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology report does not comply with the spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets standards for bias among federal advisory committees.

Please take the time to fill out their online form.

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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.

 

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.

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.

 

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