Put down the pork chops, America. Let go of the cheese.
According to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's 2015 report, Americans should be eating a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in some animal-based foods. The federally appointed committee's study found that besides the health benefits, a vegan diet also is also better for the environment, being associated with fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less use of energy, land and water.
Other diets, such as vegetarian and pesco-vegetarian, also had higher predicted health scores and higher estimated sustainability scores. Nevertheless, diets with no animal products at all — dairy or meat — were far better for the environment than any alternative.
"A moderate to strong evidence base supports recommendations that the U.S. population move toward dietary patterns that generally increase consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, while decreasing total calories and some animal-based foods," the report states.
As the Hill points out, this is the first year that the committee, which was formed in 1983 and makes dietary recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, included environmental sustainability in its findings. Typically, the team only takes nutrition into account.
Immediate reactions: The American meat lobby was not pleased with the report's findings and argued the committee should stick to nutrition and leave sustainability to the experts.
"The same concern would exist if an expert sustainability committee were making nutrition policy recommendations," said Betsy Booren, the North American Meat Institute vice president of scientific affairs, according to a press release. "It is not appropriate for the person designing a better light bulb to be telling Americans how to make a better sandwich. Sustainability is a complex issue best left to those with the necessary expertise."
To compensate, the team appointed two domestic sustainability experts to aid in their research, the Hill reported. "The scope is ours to fully define," Barbara Millen, chairwoman of the advisory committee, told the outlet. "Because we are encouraging Americans to eat more seafood, we felt we needed to look at the sustainability of that issue as well."
Given that the meat and poultry industry netted about $154.8 billion in sales in 2009, however, their ire is unsurprising. The effect of the recommendations upon consumer choices is still unclear, but NAMI spokesman Eric Mittenthal told the Hill that they can affect federal programs such as school lunches and military rations.
But the committee isn't alone in their findings. It's long been known that meat-based diets are worse for the environment than those that are plant-based. According to a 2006 report from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector is responsible for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transport sector.
Similarly, a 2003 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that while neither meat- nor plant-based diets are sustainable in the long run, the former "requires more energy, land and water resources." Red meat, meanwhile, is the worst of the lot. A 2014 study in the Proceeding of the National Academies of Sciences reported that "minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively."
So while the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's findings aren't especially shocking, they still represent yet another notch in the belt for vegans. Congratulations, grass eaters — you can now hold it over your carnivorous friends at your next dinner party.
h/t the Hill