Later this year, Americans will be seeing new revisions to the US Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines – and some of the changes may just be shocking. If the recommendations of the advising government panel are heeded, less meat will soon be on the menu.
The reasons behind the possible change may be even more surprising: to the USDA panel, it’s not a health issue, but an environmental one. The carbon footprint of producing meat is huge. According to 2013 statistics reported by the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations (FAO), about 15 percent of total carbon emissions around the world result from the livestock industry.
Furthermore, about two-thirds of these emissions are solely from producing lamb and beef. Because of these dramatically high emissions, producing beef and lamb on an industrial level is not a sustainable practice, something that the USDA is thinking of taking into account. According to Dr. Angela Tagtow, a nutritional expert and advocate for sustainable foods:
“A sustainable and resilient food system conserves and renews natural resources, advances social justice and animal welfare, builds community wealth, and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all eaters now and in the future.”
Food policy expert, Parke Wilde, agrees. He wrote, “it is not physically possible for the world’s consumers to eat more than the planet can provide. If we continue to seek to exceed the planet’s productive resources, there will be a reconciliation one way or another.”
As a result of meat’s limited sustainability, the USDA panel has recommended lower amounts of both red meats and (thankfully, as they’re a health nightmare) processed meats. The recommendations for leaner meats may not be as heavily affected, as their carbon footprint is not as large.
Not surprisingly, the meat industry is very upset about the proposed guideline changes, and is lobbying to have them disregarded. In a statement, the North American meat Institute (NAMI) stated, “the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s focus on sustainability is objectionable because it is not within the committee’s expertise.”
Whether it is within the “committee’s expertise” or not, we all live on this planet, and all weather the consequences of unsustainable practices, which the industrial meat industry (and the industrial agriculture industry, for that matter) have been carrying on for years.
While organic, grass-fed beef is certainly more sustainable – not to mention healthier and more humane – than conventionally-raised beef, we could still stand to eat a little less of it, and more healthy plant-based proteins.
As far as the guidelines, we’ll keep you posted.
-The Alternative Daily