Congress chides nutritionists for studying environmental impact of foods

Posted at 4:58 PM, Dec 15, 2014

Seven in 10 Americans consider sustainability when shopping for groceries, and books such as Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma have helped elevate the plant-based diet from the realm of health food stores to the American mainstream. 

Eating less meat and more plants not only decreases the likelihood of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but data show the diet also uses significantly less energy, land and water resources

So, when a group of nutritionists tasked with redesigning the USDA food pyramid (officially known as “Dietary Guidelines”) said they wanted to collect data on the environmental impact of certain foods before telling Americans what and how much to eat, it seemed like a no-brainer. 

But apparently that wasn't the case for some members of Congress.

They attached a “congressional directive” to the recently-passed spending bill expressing “concern” about the nutritionists’ plan to study the environmental impacts of certain foods. Instead of studying how certain foods affect the environment, the directive states the nutritionists should only consider “nutrition science,” not environmental factors, when redesigning the guidelines. 

Here's an excerpt from the report: 



Food processing and sales lobbyists, many of whom agree with the congressional directive, have been stepping up their campaign contribution game in the wake of federal anti-obesity and food safety initiatives. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that campaign contributions from food processing and sales lobbying groups have increased steadily in the last decade. 

The CRP data also show food processing and sales groups as an aggregate give about 80 cents of every dollarthey contribute to Republican candidates. 

Although the directive in the spending bill isn’t legally binding, NPR reports that if the nutritionists don’t heed the warning, it could spark disagreement between members of Congress and the Obama administration. 

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