New recommendations released earlier this year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), an independent group of doctors and nutritionists, say we should cut down on meat for the sake of our health and the environment. In response, congressional Republicans are throwing a temper tantrum.
But because “you can’t make us eat more fruits and vegetables” sounds kind of petulant, they’re pretending their objections are all about the science.
The report, which informs the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that are updated every five years, found that “a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.” This is the first time the sustainability of our dietary choices has been taken into consideration by the DGAC; according to the report, it is “essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.”
Yet the move has predictably been met with hostility, particularly on the part of the meat industry, which accused the recommendations of being “flawed” and “nonsensical.”
Republicans agree. This past Wednesday, the House approved two spendingbills that would completely alter the way the government is permitted to adapt the DGAC’s evidence-based recommendations. They do so by raising that standard of evidence: the agencies that form the Dietary Guidelines, they say, can only rely on the very strongest science in these matters. The DGAC rates its evidence on a three-level scale — “strong,” “moderate” and “limited” — and the science supporting a plant-based diet was deemed “moderate”: too low, by the bills’ standards, to be relevant.
The bills are, in effect, a giant roadblock to progress pushed through under the guise of reasonability. That’s because the term “strong,” as defined by the DGAC, is an extremely difficult ideal to obtain — it’s only when a large number of studies are able to reach near-uniform conclusions that any piece of evidence will be granted that classification. According to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, straightforward health advice included in past guidelines, like “try to spend less time sitting in front of the T.V.” and “eat less fast food,” would fail to quality under the new standards House Republicans are demanding. This new directive to “eat more fruits and vegetables,” for that matter, also seems pretty common-sensical.