The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a new report with recommendations for the American diet. These guidelines are only released every five years, and 2016’s report drew criticism from the climate change community, especially from climate change champ Barack Obama, and deservedly so. The guidelines failed to address one of the most prevalent source of greenhouse gas and health issues: meat.
The biggest change introduced in the report is a recommended drastic decrease in sugar consumption. Americans are advised to consume only 10 percent of their normal daily caloric intake, reducing the current average of 30 teaspoons of sugar to 4 to 9 teaspoons. The same bold guidelines were not made with regards to overall meat consumption, which is surprising considering the World Health Organization report released in late 2015 which concluded that red meat, especially processed meat, is carcinogenic. The WHO classified processed meats as Group 1, and reported that “there is convincing evidence that [processed meat] causes cancer.” However, other non-processed meats were classified as Group 2A, indicating a high likelihood of causing cancer. Considering Vice President Biden’s long-term movement for green/sustainable living and the FLOTUS’ “Let’s Move” initiative to battle childhood obesity, one might think that a simple way to make a grand impact on both issues would be encouraging little to no meat consumption. Even the “MyPlate” recommendation of lean meats does little to curb global emissions/resource ravaging, and little to help prevent health issues resulting from the unsanitary conditions fish and chicken are raised in.
Some may say that the Obamas played it safe by not inciting a “War on Meat” with big business and the overwhelmingly obese, bacon-loving American public, but that would be a dangerous game. The health of their constituents and the increasingly costly American health care system are in jeopardy. Meat contributes to obesity, and the more obese the average American becomes, the more they will rely on health services like regular checkups, medical prescriptions and emergency services and surgical care for diabetes, cardiac arrest and stroke. The Obama Administration could have made actual change, considering 14.5 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to livestock. The necessary nutrients that are received from animal products can actually be attained through a plant-based diet, without the insane amounts of cholesterol, casein and artery-clogging fats found in animal products. The 6.7 pounds of grain/forage, 52.8 gallons of water, 74.5 square feet of land and 1,036 BTUs of fossil fuel energy that go into making one hamburger could be used more responsibly.
In light of these dietary guidelines, one must question if we should be consuming animal products at all if it means putting our health and environment in jeopardy. We at the Animal Welfare Collective of NYU are rooting for the welfare of Americans, animals and the planet. Hopefully, the USDA, USDHHS and United States will learn to live in a better, meat-free world.