In a recent article on Huffington Post, they covered the issue of the USDA planning on revising their dietary guidelines to not only encourage good health but also environmental sustainability. In these guidelines they are going to call for a greater emphasis on plant based diets and a reduction in meat consumption. The article doesn’t spend much more time on the regulations but covers the politics going on surrounding these changes. In doing so they point out the fundamental problem with our current regulations and therefore why they work so poorly in practice.
Which groups are involved in lobbying for the new reforms? The first group that is lobbying for the reform are the environmentalists that want us to start reducing meat consumption to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. The current methods for raising meat at the volume we consume it are draining rivers and causing substantially higher levels of greenhouse gases to be generated than, say, what you’d get on Joe Salatin’s farm. That all sounds well and good, the problem lies in the question of what are we going to replace it with.
“Plant based” covers a whole host of products. You can eat piles of texture vegetable protein veggie “chicken” nuggets that will be mostly made of corn and soy. Those crops will be grown in very intensive agricultural operations with lots of pesticides, diverted irrigation water, et cetera. It won’t make you healthier since it’s devoid of micronutrients. It won’t help with a substantial number of agricultural problems that they are trying to address, even though it is less intensive than CAFO meat production. It therefore won’t address the objectives that the guidelines are supposedly being propped up to address. But believe it or not, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is who has been and is currently formulating the guidelines.
We believe that our current nutritional guidelines are being driven by doctors and nutritionists. Anyone who has researched these areas before knows that’s not the case. However when reforms to the system come to the forefront so too does the evidence of how this sausage is actually made. How do we have our current levels of recommendations on meat consumption? The article makes it clear that it is beef producers, not doctors or dietitians that are driving the ship. What about the grains consumption? That is from the corn and wheat growers. It’s not just the growers, it’s the politicians from the states with these, or related, interests embedded. Who is glaringly missing from the voices that should be making these decisions and actively driving the ship on it? The doctors and nutritionists.
I do not know where they will ultimately land in their quest to come up with “healthy and environmentally friendly” regulations. They haven’t been able to come up with effective healthy regulations so far. I don’t have much faith they will be able to do both at the same time.