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Should the Federal Dietary Guidelines Consider Sustainability?

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A shopper examines a package of meat in a grocery store.

Every five years, the country’s most powerful group of nutritionists convenes in the capitol to decide what Americans should be eating. A committee of 20 health and nutrition experts, announced last month, is tasked with revising and reissuing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for 2020. The recommendations determine what goes into school lunches and public benefit programs, as well as what goes on the food pyramid—now known as MyPlate—in health classes everywhere. 

Few Americans actually follow these guidelines, and many nutritionists have questioned their effectiveness. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter: Between the military; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and the National School Lunch Program, millions of people’s diets are shaped by the input of one committee. 

Some scientists, however, would like the guidelines to reach even further—addressing not only food‘s nutritional value, but the impact that its production has on the environment. The inclusion of sustainability, which threw last round’s committee into controversy, was ultimately scuttled by pushback from the meat industry. Now, it could be passed over once more: After the last attempt failed, Politico reports that “no one in Washington expects the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to venture into sustainability this round.” 

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