Food Sustainability & Politics
Friday, October 30, 2015
The October 9, 2015, issue of Science, the prestigious journal of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, reported that, for the first time, a February 2015 decision by the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that food system sustainability become an integral part of Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).
The secretaries of Health and Human Services and of the USDA are expected to make their final decisions about ways to incorporate sustainability into dietary guidelines and ways to deal with the political maneuvering happening to tax it.
The dietary guidelines, updated every five years, started recommending a diet higher in plant-based foods, including nuts, fruits and vegetables and lower in animal-based foods five years ago. The consensus was and still is, this is not only more healthful but also associated with less environmental impact than the average American diet.
You can imagine the political backlash when diet and environment converge!
Sustainability in this instance is defined as, “Low environmental impact, which contributes to food and nutrition security and a healthy life for present and future generations.”
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee based its decision on scientific evaluations. Opponents of the sustainability language assert that the committee is overstepping statutory bounds, even though there is nothing in the 1990 DGAs preventing them from including sustainability issues in dietary guidelines.
Fortunately, the UK, the Netherlands, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden take their government-issued sustainability dietary guidelines seriously, while the US is still debating the profit-driven issue.
The authors of the Science article suggest that political maneuvering is centered on four reasons:
1. Food industry leaders do not want any food disparaged, and a DGA process that evaluates sustainability will lead to conclusions that some foods are better than others. Fear of regulation underlies industry protest of the current FDA proposal to require labels for added sugar, because industry may see transparency as a step toward a ban, as eventually happened with trans fats. It seems important to add that the US banned the use of trans fats in food production almost ten years after most every other industrialized country.
2. Sustainability has potential to move dietary guidance from a system based on food groups to individual foods within a food group (chicken vs. beef). The environmental footprint could elevate certain foods over others. Because fish are now deemed ecologically detrimental, many countries are now evaluating the sustainability of fish species.
3. The sustainability discussion has potential to forge new political coalitions. Brazil adopted new dietary guidelines in 2014 despite food industry protests over the recommendation to avoid ultra-processed foods. This bold approach may be attributed to the impact of a sustainability and health-seeking society, which became more politically powerful than the traditional coalition of big agribusiness.
Impact is becoming the coin of the realm, and profits are about a whole lot more than money.
4. The authors of the food sustainability article wrote, “Debate has awakened civil society…and has aligned public health and sustainability advocates.” If the US government adopts the DGAC reference to sustainability, it will sanction and elevate more discussion of sustainable diets. However, in addition to the environmental impacts of food production, its economic sustainability must also be considered.
The ongoing challenge is how to produce the most healthful food in a way that sustains employment in the agricultural sector and minimizes adverse impacts on the environment.
The Science article on food sustainability ends with this sentence, “It is right and proper for the DGAC process to lead the way.”
Ellen Troyer with Spencer Thornton, MD, and the Biosyntrx staff
PEARL: Biosyntrx supports Sustain, the UK alliance for better food and farming, and their seven good food principles.
We can't stress enough the impact our readers can make by using their voices, their votes and their food and supplement choices to let government and industry know how strongly they feel about food and environment sustainability.
Biosyntrx and AAO: Ellen Troyer and David Amess, Biosyntrx Chief Operations Officer will be available for appointments in booth 3309 at the upcoming American Academy of Ophthalmology (AA) meeting in Las Vegas, November 14 through 17.
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