On Tuesday, though, that proposal appears to have failed, handing the disgruntled meat industry a major victory.
“Moving forward, we hope the agencies will continue to focus on the clear science highlighting the wide variety of nutrition benefits of all meat and poultry products to develop a Dietary Guidelines for Americans best suited to achieve healthy outcomes for all Americans," Barry Carpenter, president and chief executive of the North American Meat Institute, said in a statement.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had recommended in February that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer that come from animals. Red meat was deemed particularly harmful because of the amount of land and feed required in its production.
“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, 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 panel said.
The meat industry disputed the claim, and the notion that dietary guidelines ought to consider the environment.
On Tuesday, in an item posted on the USDA blog, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell rejected the proposal, indicating that the forthcoming Dietary Guidelines will focus on the immediate health aspects of food, rather than how food choices impact the environment.
"We do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability," their blog post said.
Both agencies stressed that sustainability is an important issue. USDA officials said the department already spends billions annually on sustainable food production and protecting natural resources.
But in coming to their decision, Vilsack and Burwell wrote, they were guided by the legislation that describes the scope of their task as providing “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines.”