Sustainability goal a step too far with guidelines committee

by Laurie Gorton
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The bureaucrats in Washington got this one right: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans will not incorporate a sustainability goal — the über-controversial recommendation of the guidelines’ scientific advisory committee. That’s what the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, the two agencies that supervise the every-five-years’ assessment of the American diet, announced on Oct. 7.

When the advisory committee released its report earlier this year, it concluded that a diet rich in plant-based foods best promotes good health and environmental sustainability. The hammer came down especially hard on meat because of its high amount of inputs. But it could easily have questioned almonds for the 2.8 liters of scarce Californian water each nut requires to mature. Even drought-tolerant, dry-land crops like wheat would come under sustainability scrutiny.

Instead, the two Cabinet officers said the guidelines, when they are announced later this year, will remain within the scope of the original mandate: to provide nutritional and dietary information. Among other things, the guidelines are a powerful tool that shape what children eat at schools. Yes, the worthy objective of sustainability is supported by a growing number of consumers, but it was just a step too far for the Dietary Guidelines, for something that has to be practical.
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