- The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, a nonprofit group representing nutrition educators, wants to see environmental sustainability factors included in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In a position paper published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the group said the topic "should be inherent in dietary guidance" because current diets and agricultural practices contribute to environment trends.
- "Dietary choices have a significant role in contributing to environmental impacts, which could be lessened by consuming fewer overconsumed animal products and more plant-based foods while reducing excess energy intake and the amount of food wasted," the position paper states.
- Lead author Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University, said the position paper was motivated by the severity of current environmental problems, including global climate change. "Based on the best science we have today, it is clear that current environmental problems — including global climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, water shortages, and water pollution — demand urgent attention, threaten long-term food security, and are in part caused by our current food choices and agricultural practices," he said in a release.
The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior said it is advancing this view because many countries commonly discuss sustainability in dietary guidance from their governments. They said that it would also be consistent with previous guidelines, and it fits within the scope of authorizing legislation.
"Dietary choices are a personal matter, but many American consumers are motivated by a concern for the environment and would welcome sound advice from credentialed nutrition professionals. More opportunities are needed for developing such interdisciplinary knowledge among nutritionists," the position paper reads.
It also notes that in 2015, a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provided a report to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services discussing food sustainability, among other issues. But the final version of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2016, made no mention of the issue.
Should the group's proposal be successful, advice from the government about how to impact climate change, pollution and other environmental issues through individual diets might influence some consumers to change practices and influence producers to alter theirs. It's clear that consumers care more about sustainability factors today — and their awareness has affected their purchasing decisions when it comes to foods and beverages. More studies and research are also stressing the importance of creating more sustainability in the food system.
On the plus side, companies adopting more environmentally friendly practices could bolster demand for their food and beverage products. According to Nielsen, 66% of all consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands. And the numbers jump to 73% for millennials and 72% for Generation Z.
Food waste is also becoming a more important issue for many consumers interested in recycling, reusing and upcycling food and packaging. Consumers are increasingly looking for companies to take the initiative on environmental issues. More consumers have sought out products that are eco-friendly, bringing progress on this front.
However, meat producers aren't likely to support the federal government providing guidance about adding more plant-based foods and restricting meat intake in order to be healthier and aid the environment.
Going forward, the most influential factor may be political as producing the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans gets underway. That process, which typically occurs every five years, is getting a late start, according to an analysis from Sean McBride, founder of DSM Strategic Communications & Consulting. He predicted it could drag into the next administration if Congress weighs in with oversight powers and appropriations riders.
"If the process is not completed during this Administration, and a new president is elected, will she or he intervene with their own philosophical/political views?" McBride asked in an email to Food Dive.
Consumer and environmental groups may sense an opening on the issue since the Democrats now control the U.S. House of Representatives, and McBride indicated they could sway the situation to make sure sustainability factors are included this time around.