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Dietary Guidelines to Curb Carnivores?

Where’s the beef?

A panel that advises the Agriculture Department appears set to recommend that you be told not only what foods are better for your own health, but also for the environment. That means that when the latest version of the government’s dietary guidelines comes out, it may push even harder than it has in recent years for people to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods — at the expense of meat.

The beef and agriculture industries are crying foul, saying an environmental agenda has no place in what has always been a practical blueprint for a healthy lifestyle.

The advisory panel has been discussing the idea of sustainability in public meetings, indicating that its recommendations, expected early this year, may address the environment. A draft recommendation circulated last month said a sustainable diet helps ensure food access for both the current population and future generations.

A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is “more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the draft said.

That appears to take at least partial aim at the beef industry. A study by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year said raising beef for the American dinner table is more harmful to the environment than other meat industries such as pork and chicken.

The study said that compared with other popular animal proteins, beef produces more heat-trapping gases per calorie, puts out more water-polluting nitrogen, takes more water for irrigation and uses more land.

Once the recommendations are made, the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments will craft the final dietary guidelines, expected about a year from now. Published every five years, the guidelines are the basis for USDA’s “My Plate” icon that replaced the well-known food pyramid in 2010 and is designed to help Americans with healthy eating. Guidelines will also be integrated into school lunch meal patterns and other federal eating programs.

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