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Valentine writes: "Americans shouldn't just think about their own health when choosing what foods to eat - they should also consider the health of the environment, according to an influential scientific panel."

A butcher's meat counter. (photo: Andy Butterton/PA)
A butcher's meat counter. (photo: Andy Butterton/PA)

Americans Should Consider Eating Less Meat for Environmental Reasons, Scientists Say

By Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress

21 February 15


mericans shouldn’t just think about their own health when choosing what foods to eat — they should also consider the health of the environment, according to an influential scientific panel.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a panel of scientists that makes recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on every five years when the agency updates its Dietary Guidelines, published its 2015 report Thursday. In it, the DGAC states that adopting a sustainable diet helps ensure that future generations will have access to the foods we have access to now. It also stated 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.”

Right now, Americans aren’t doing a great job of eating with the environment in mind, the report states.

“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,” the authors write, going on to say that the U.S. as a whole currently eats more animal-based foods and fewer plant-based foods than is recommended in diet patterns singled out by the report as more sustainable choices, such as vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets.

Meat has long been known to be a carbon-intensive food. Last year, a study found that individuals who cut back on or eliminate meat have significantly lower carbon footprints than those who don’t. Meat-eaters, according to the study, contribute 50 to 54 percent more food-related greenhouse gases than vegetarians and 99 to 102 percent more than vegans. And a study this month found that, emissions-wise, agriculture is worse for the climate than deforestation.

The DGAC report notes that though a diet higher in plants and lower in meat is advisable for environmental reasons, “no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status” — basically, a person doesn’t have to cut out meat entirely in order to cut his carbon footprint. When Vox used the IEA’s Global Calculator to plug in 152 calories of meat per day for the average person’s diet — instead of the 220 calories of meat per day that the IEA projects for mid-century — carbon emissions projections fell significantly, showing that a decrease in meat consumption can have a major impact.

This was the first time that the DGAC included sustainability in its report, which will be considered by the USDA as it works to update its dietary guidelines. The 2015 set of guidelines will be released this fall.

Multiple animal welfare and environmental groups have praised the report. Forty-nine of these organizations sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell urging them to incorporate the DGAC’s recommendations on meat into their 2015 guidelines.

“Americans rely on USDA and HHS to make evidence-based recommendations that inform our well-being,” the letter states. “Abundant science now illustrates the synergies between healthy dietary choices and a sustainable food system, both of which, in turn, impact public health.”

The prospect of advising Americans to consider sustainability in their dietary choices has gotten some groups up in arms, however. The North American Meat Institute said in a statement that the DGAC’s “foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise,” calling the sustainability recommendations “akin to having a dermatologist provide recommendations about cardiac care.” And last year, Congress passed a CRomnibus spending bill that included a non-binding directive to the USDA to “only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors,” in its guidelines.

The DGAC report is now open for public comment, and those comments will be taken into account as the USDA creates its new guidelines. The USDA could choose to not include certain aspects of the report into its guidelines, but as the Washington Post notes, “major deviations” from the recommendations aren’t common. your social media marketing partner


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+7 # Small Family Farmer 2015-02-21 22:40
Americans should consider eating absolutely NO meat that is raised in CAFO scenarios.

If you want to eat meat find a farmer or rancher who still practices actual animal husbandry and raises their livestock in a responsible, sustainable, and humane manner. Buy your meat from those farms and ranches so they can continue improving their field and pastures raising animals in that manner.

(This has been a shameless plug by one of those operations. We love what we do and want to keep doing it. Show your love by purchasing your meat from people like us.)
+5 # Majikman 2015-02-22 00:05
I buy only organic produce and grass fed meat...even my dog gets organic meat. Too expensive? Not when I factor in the good health, low vet bills and the humane life these creatures led vs. pathetic CAFO animals.
-4 # RLF 2015-02-22 06:47
Sure...that's really easy here in NY and so easy for us who are on the corporate or Government dole to afford! Piss off!
+2 # napmoo 2015-02-22 21:17
It is a nice thought and there was a time I accepted that. But animal agriculture is simply unsustainable for the amount of people we have. Organic, grain fed cows still do damage to the land and use too many resources. Multiply that by the millions we would ask to make that move, simply impossible. 65 Billion animals per year for meat. We are not the earth's problem, our habits are.

This is what makes the effort of AGW activists hollow. They attack oil/gas but say nothing about the greater threat of animal agriculture. They complain the house is one fire, blame cigarettes and ignore the gushing lava from the volcano in the backyard. Hard to take any of it seriously when that happens.

Biologically we are herbivores and in all senses (environmentall y, medically, ethically) we should live towards that. I am a realist, though. and I know that we will not get the mass population to make the necessary change to meatless. Meat eating is far to ingrained in us by a very powerful meat industry and our societal training. But if you consider yourself an environmentalis t, you are doing yourself and your ethic a great disservice by continuing to eat a massively unsustainable product.

See 'Cowspiracy' its a brilliant eye opener...

Meat the Truth
+2 # RLF 2015-02-22 06:46
What people really should do is have less children. To have a really sustainable culture there would need to be just 2 billion people on the planet. Not eating meat is a silly band-aid that is meaningless except to have more children and overpopulate the planet even more. It will be a slow starvation because our entire ag. system is based on petrochemicals and that will disappear slowly making food more and more expensive.
0 # napmoo 2015-02-22 23:52
Not eating meat is not silly. We could easily sustain the current population on a vegan diet easily. The 2 billion number is required if they are all Standard American Diet meat eaters but even at that, animal agriculture is highly destructive and cruel.

To get to 2 billion SAD eaters would require a mass cull. No cull required to keep the current population of vegans.

Disappointingly , and in reality, we are more willing to kill each other off than make a simple change to our eating practices. That says a lot about our priorities.
0 # Helen Marshall 2015-02-25 10:04
I agree that a Mediterranean, vegetable-based diet is much preferable, not least for ending the cruel use of animals as "production units." But even if we could sustain the current population on a vegan diet, that does not consider the other environmental damage done by those numbers of people, including the clearing of forests for grain fields, destruction of habitat for palm oil plantations, harvesting of krill for supplements, etc etc. There are many reasons other than meat to consider that the current human population numbers are not sustainable.

While the species is indeed too willing to kill each other, I don't know of anyone who argues that we've outstripped the carrying capacity of the earth's ecosystems who actually advocates killing each other off to get to a smaller number. We're off killing each other to protect the profits of the fossil fuel companies, among other things.
0 # napmoo 2015-02-27 13:30
The clearing of forests for grain fields is to sustain the feeding of animals. That would be greatly diminished. We do not need all that extra land for non animal agriculture.

Supplements are needed because our foods are depleted of nutrients. Proper no-till farming practices changes all that and supplements are no longer needed.

Palm oil is mostly used for manufactured foods, which are unnecessary and should be avoided anyway. With a glut of fresh, high nutrient foods (a glut that comes from no longer using land to support Animal Ag), fake foods are not required. Palm oil then only has the ablution/cosmet ic industry to deal with and there are many alternatives.

Helen, I am not proposing perfections, but when AnimalAg is the current greatest impact on environment, why are we not addressing that with a fraction of the effort that we do smaller issues? If AnimalAg were no longer an issue, we would have a much easier task of dealing with the other issues. Ignoring the in-room elephant of AA, we are at a complete non-starter and making a mockery of our other current efforts.

No, we do not advocate population culls openly (well, some hyper-elite do) but the discussions are going on and it certainly makes the killing for the reasons you mentioned, much easier choices for some, knowing that they are assisting that depopulation. I suspect your friends are not world leaders/hyper-e lites and that is usually were that kind of planning and atrocity starts.
0 # AMLLLLL 2015-02-22 08:41
Especially in the case of beef cattle, grain fed equals more farting which increases the methane levels in measurable quantities. I agree it's been shown to be healthier to reduce meat intake, but where the meat comes from is important.
+4 # ronnewmexico 2015-02-22 11:53
The argument is basically this, and the article does little to represent the argument….

The beef industry says, the majority of the lifetime of cattle are spent grazing on range. Much of this range is unsuitable for agriculture. So then by this reasoning…..mor e food is produced for humans by the use of cattle as a food source.
So cattle growing and use... is a more sustainable one for human to endeavor, than vegan or vegetarian..

Which of course is total nonsense.
At least 80% of cattle, in the US and similiar places, are sold to feedlots, or kept in feedlosts by their original owners.. They spend their last 6 months or so of life, in confined areas (10by 10 usualy for cattle) being fed caloric intensive diets. Concurrent with hormones,(usual ly estrogen based) to increase a selling weight(breast cancer anyone?).

Sustainablilty has nothing to do with the US cattle industry.

Consider the root of the thing….6 or so pounds of vegetarian food, and thousands of gallons of water... to produce one pound of meat….and meat eating in the US or similiar places makes no environmental sense.

Food is close to us. We are taught by those we love the most first….our parents, what to eat. So we tolerate exceptions not well.

Veganism is more environmentally friendly in the west, about always. Few exceptions... as the first poster mentions exist.
But whole foods organic meat, or a similiar thing, is generally not that.
It can be cheaper to be vegan than not.
+2 # ronnewmexico 2015-02-22 12:22
From a beef industry publication…nat ional cattlemans beef association...

"Cattle are raised on range or pasture land for most of their lives (usually 12-18 months), then transported to a feedlot for finishing. These cattle usually spend about three to six months in a feedlot, during which time they gain between 2.5 and 4 pounds per day. The cattle are fed a scientifically formulated ration that averages 70 percent to 90 percent grain. On this special diet, cattle will gain about 1 pound for every 6 pounds of feed they consume.
In the feedlot, cattle live in pens that house between 100 and 125 other animals and allow about 125 to 250 square feet per animal. Each animal has about 1 foot of space at the feed bunk during feeding, which normally takes place twice a day. Cattle always have access to water in the feedlot.
The abundance of feed corn in this country contributes to the economic viability of producing grain-fed cattle. In fact, it will often cost more to raise cattle on pasture because it takes longer for the animal to reach market weight. That is why grass-finished beef can be more expensive than grain-fed product.
Many cattle in feedlots are given growth promoting products that contain hormones, like estrogen, which is naturally occurring and found in both plants and animals."

Breast cancer anyone….really it is so clear does it have to hit you in the head???? Naturally occuring my foot.
0 # ronnewmexico 2015-02-22 21:14
As a aside..geeze louise people wake up!!!!

During the 80's a major national company who makes baby food was found guilty of selling sugar water and coloring for apple juice……
They will stop at nothing to make a buck. Female hormones in cattle to produce fatter bigger cattle…….and go figure…our breast cancer rates are the highest in the world…..

No studies done on that. Of course there are none, the studies must be funded…who is to fund and study that??
They own the industry of science, and probably much in the way of of cancer prevention.

Use your common sense peoples…breast cancer is widely known to be related to female hormone levels..which is why mainly woman not men get breast cancer.
Environment aside…even if I even just remotely allowed the possibility…I could not as a woman eat that thing of beef and most likely meat at all….why chance it??? So many are getting that thing. Stats aside…do you not know one who had had it???

They say right there in their industry publication…the y are doing that.
Environment aside……geeze louise... it just makes no sense to eat meat in this day and time. There is to much chance of a thing of corruption to meat that may be occuring unbeknown to us….they are that bad they may do things for profit.

Think about it women.Your moms meat may not be your meat to eat. Even just a slight chance..why chance it????
0 # Wind in His Hair 2015-02-23 04:46
The Superbowl would not be the same without chicken wings and the scent of the barbecued ribs would be gone at the tailgate parties. that hamburger on the grill on labor day replaced by a bean sandwich? That venison steak I had last night sure was good, and it was slain, butchered and ate by me right here on the farm just like my forebears. I want no part of the new age of fake food.
+1 # napmoo 2015-02-23 15:52
Nor should anyone pursue 'fake food'. Processed foods, meat or plant-based are not good in either case. What you are talking about is cultural training, much how we argued for smoking and slavery. Habit is a very hard thing to break.

I understand where you are coming from. I have been a hardcore meat eater all my life. I scoffed at the idea of a plant-based diet. Two things changed that to at least try the alternative 1) talking time to study it 2) my wife, who at the time ate meat but very little and mostly because I did, helped me enormously.

It was time, in the face of the evidence, to at least experiment. I was surprised and shocked. Lost lots of weight, felt extremely energetic (meat meals made me want to sleep), and health nuisances disappeared. Best of all, I have a recipe hound dog (figuratively) for a wife finding the most amazing variety of food and flavours, food I would never have experienced in my little meat world. It never gets dull and most surprisingly, I don't miss meat. Really, that was the biggest shocker.

Wind, I can't tell anyone to stop eating meat. Its a choice. But for your own intellectual honesty, holding up examples of our ingrained indoctrination (remember, I was guilty of this too) without testing the alternative waters, doesn't hold water. However, if you do try, don't do it with the processed stuff and find a good recipe source.

Wife's favorite recipe site (silly name, stunning food):
+1 # Wind in His Hair 2015-02-23 22:26
I will try anything and I eat out of the garden but I like bacon on the BLTs.I like them just tomato too but asking me to give up the BLT made with the first warm sun ripened tomato out of the garden is asking a lot. Maybe it is where and how I was raised and the fact I am 70, and maybe it is for the young to change the world.Goodbye smoked kilbossi at Easter? Ouch.
+1 # napmoo 2015-02-24 15:39
Yes, of course, it is how and where we are raised, and media inundating us. Also, if it did no damage I would not even suggest changing. The problem is the severe damage it is doing, to your health, our environment and to the animals.

We can only consume animals by ignoring reality (or not even being aware of the reality, the system hides the impacts for that very reason.)

At 70, you really should be concerned about your health, I am at 50(kicking and screaming before I considered health.)

Take a short time to look into the huge impacts of animal agriculture on the environment. I'm still wary of AGW (too much BS on both sides of the debate.) AnimalAG transcends in how it is wiping out huge tracts of land and poisoning groundwaters. It is in no way sustainable.

Finally, what we have done to animal life has no appropriate words, which is why it must be hidden and protected by draconian laws.

Wind, as I said, I am not asking you to change. I am only asking you to face your decisions by taking the time to be aware of the results your choice makes. That is just intellectual honesty. Of course you can continue as you do and ignore the results, but then, why are you even participating here? Join the greater mass of humanity and simply not concern yourself with the problems. It really is far more blissful.

Otherwise, start here at the links I provided above and here. Your choice and I accept that.

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