2015 Dietary Guidelines will not include a focus on sustainability

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines will not include a focus on sustainability, according to a statement posted Tuesday on the USDA blog. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell wrote that sustainability – defined as evaluating the environmental impact of a food source – is beyond the scope of the dietary guidelines, citing a mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA). The final 2015 Guidelines are currently being drafted, but as Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell wrote, “Because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.”

Dr. Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, issued an immediate response stating:

Sadly, Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell have invoked censorship on a grand scale, again demonstrating the power of the meat industry to distort national policies and priorities. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wisely considered the environmental impacts of food production because they were asked to make recommendations that would support both health and food security. Neither health nor food security are possible without a sustainable food supply. Because climate change is accelerating and is already having a multitude of adverse effects, and the footprint of our current food system is massive, we urgently need to create a national food supply that is both healthy and sustainable. For the sake of future generations, we cannot ignore this.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) advisory report submitted in February 2015 included – for the first time – a focus on sustainability, describing it as an essential element of food security:

“An important reason for addressing sustainable diets, a new area for the DGAC, is to have alignment and consistency in dietary guidance that promotes both health and sustainability. This also recognizes the significant impact of food and beverages on environmental outcomes, from farm to plate to waste disposal, and, therefore, the need for dietary guidance to include the wider issue of sustainability. Addressing this complex challenge is essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.” (1)

The advisory report provides the Federal government with a foundation for developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ultimately decide whether and how to utilize the report’s information when drafting national nutrition policies. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines are expected to be published later this year.

Further reading

New Dietary Guidelines Will Not Include Sustainability Goal (NPR)

The new focus on sustainability: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and for our planet


1. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (Febuary 2015). Part D. Chapter 5: Food Sustainability and Safety. In Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/10-Part-D-Chapter-5.pdf.