Congress Wants Government Nutritionists to Leave Environment Alone

Government nutritionists have been told to stop talking about “sustainability.”

farmer subsidies

Even though I don’t believe in evolution, I am very appreciative of Robb Wolf’s work on ancestral eating. Just read the testimonials and you will find many people who have been helped, not only for bodyweight issues, but also in a variety of auto-immunity and other health problems.

But yesterday on his Facebook profile he shares this link, saying:

I know folks do not find the sustainability schtick as sexy as abbz, and I know folks get get their panties twisted when I suggest some of the political underpinnings of all this stuff…but this all fits together the same way that Sleep, Food, Exercise fits together for personal health. I’ll take this a step further: If we do not have these decentralized, resilient food production systems, we don’t really have the option of finding the type of food most of us value.

Please share. Please make sustainability and access to quality food as sexy as abbzz.

Wolf’s link leads to this NPR report, “Congress to Nutritionists: Don’t Talk about the Environment.”

A government-appointed group of top nutrition experts, assigned to lay the scientific groundwork for a new version of the nation’s dietary guidelines, decided earlier this year to collect data on the environmental implication of different food choices.

Congress now has slapped them down.

Lawmakers attached a list of “congressional directives” to a massive spending bill that was passed by both the House and the Senate in recent days. One of those directives expresses “concern” that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee “is showing an interest in incorporating agriculture production practices and environmental factors” into their recommendations, and directs the Obama administration to ignore such factors in the next revision of the guidelines, which is due out next year.

The directive is not legally binding, but ignoring it would provoke yet another political battle between the Obama administration and Congress.

I agree with Wolf that food production and nutrition all fits together, and I’d love to see a change in the way food is produced (as well as what kind of food is emphasized). I also hate that evil spending bill and all its works.

But I have to agree with Congress (shudder) that the dietary guidelines should leave out environmental claims.

My ultimate preference would be to ban Federal agencies from even publishing dietary guidelines. But if they are going to do so, I want their scope to be as limited as possible. The reason is quite simple. The U.S. government exists to protect big business. While there may have been some noises about hurting meat producers, grain production will still get promoted in a way that is unrealistic but encourages and justifies the government subsidies that are in place.

Trying to decide exactly which foods are better than others can provide endless arguments. But economist Thomas Hertel, at Purdue University, says a few big points are pretty clear. Among the biggest: Producing meat is especially costly, and beef in particular. Beef cattle release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. In addition, growing food for animals takes a lot of land.

Hertel says that overall, throughout the world, people are demanding more meat, and that’s pushing farmers to clear forests and plow up grasslands. “Conversion of lands for agriculture has been a major source of greenhouse gas emissions over the past couple of decades,” he says.

If Americans, who eat a lot of meat, ate a little less of it, there would be a little less pressure on the world’s remaining forests.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been considering all of this. In a meeting of the panel a few months ago, Miriam Nelson, a Tufts University professor, told the rest of the committee that “in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.”

I’m not going to take space here to refute the nonsense about “greenhouse gas.” This blog has done it often enough.

But the “costliness of meat” is mostly a myth. It has been known for quite some time that meat is much easier on the environment than some crops. One famous vegan actually quit that way of eating and reverted back to omnivorism after looking at the science. Much of the real cost is unnecessary. Cattle don’t like grain and aren’t designed for it. There are largely political reasons they are fed grain. So, as I’m pretty sure Wolf knows, his own meat recommendations would be attacked inaccurately by this committee.

Likewise, the way to decide how resources, including land, should be allocated is through a free market and a price system. Our mess of subsidies gets in the way of this, so I’m not surprised if problems develop.

But there is no way that the government is going to acknowledge that the grain industry has any problems, or that the Federal government itself is an enabler. If the government started including environmental concerns in the nutritional guidelines it would simply start promulgating more environmental myths. It would do this as easily and for the same reason it produces pro-grain nutritional myths.

The best thing that can happen, other than a termination of federal involvement in farming and nutrition propaganda, is for Robb Wolf and others to educate the public and train them to demand better food.

It is working with butter, so it can happen with other foods.