`Every stage of food production and consumption affects environment'
Laura MacCleery, chief regulatory affairs lawyer, Centre for Science in the Public Interest, decodes what the new recommendations on environmental sustainability of diet mean for the US. Excerpts How important do you think is the inclusion of environmentally sustainable diet in the 2015 US dietary guidelines? The analysis of sustainability by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) in 2015 was both appropriate and important as a corollary consideration to the dietary recommendations. It is obvious that food and diet have an enormous impact on the environment. Food production produces chemical runoff in water supplies, soil erosion, and in the case of factory cattle farming operations, large-scale methane emissions. Processing of foods is an industrial process, producing large amounts of waste and pollutants that contribute to global warming and lower air quality. Transportation of foods to retailers, similarly, pollutes. Food packaging adds to the waste burden and costs of disposal. These are only some environmental effects—every stage of the food production and consumption process affects the environment in some way. It is, therefore, an appropriately embedded concern when we discuss a healthy diet. How different are the current DGAC recommendations from the previous ones? In many ways, the dietary recommendations offered by the guidelines have remained consistent for decades. Guidelines have long advised a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The core recommendations of the 2015 DGAC are similar to the 2010 DGA.
However, 2015 DGAC Report offers more practical recommendations. It offers suggestions on how to actually implement and promote dietary advice, such as the recommendations for sugar taxes or elimination of sugary beverages from schools. The report also includes common sense advice, such as using mealtimes to model healthy eating patterns for children or advising daily exercises for elderly people to avoid falls and maintain mental acuity. In addition, the DGAC advises companies to implement wellness programmes, and schools to increase nutrition education. In a letter to the US Department of Agriculture, a senator has said that DGAC has over-stepped its role in talking about environmentally sustainable diet. Is that so? The 2015 DGAC simply advises a dietary pattern that it believes will provide long-term food sustainability. Food industry players may fear any analysis of foods for their environmental impact; because such an analysis could expose some processed foods or factory farm-sourced meats as posing environmental hazards or other undue environmental costs.
Forcompleteinterview,logonto www.downtoearth.org.in ed the food items that should be eaten, and not the nutrients.Carlos Monterio,a nutrition expert and one of the formulators of the Brazilian guidelines, says that the new guidelines are a way to pre-empt the disappearance of traditional and local dietary habits and to ensure that consumption of sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods does not impact the dietary patterns in Brazil, like it did in the US.
Apart from advocating environmental sustainability,the guidelines also devised the concept of “ultra processed foods” to differentiate them from minimally processed ones in terms of nutrient and health effects.With Brazil struggling with a nutritional anomaly—malnutrition on one hand, and rising obesity on the other—the new guidelines seem to be a timely intervention.
But like US, the new guidelines faced resistance in Brazil too.“During public consultations, they (manufacturers of ultra-processed foods) criticised almost every guideline recommendation and even tried to stop the promulgation of the guidelines, but with no success,” says Monterio.
Experiences in India
In India, the issue has had its share of controversies. In 2014, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (fssai) set-up an expert committee to frame junk food guidelines for schools af-