USDA Plants

Every five years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) work together to publish a comprehensive list of dietary guidelines for Americans. The next revision is due in 2020, and the departments are already looking ahead to their future recommendations. The designated committee is currently accepting public input until March 30, 2018, and there is a strong push for more plant-based recommendations.

These federal guidelines have the power to make an enormous impact on the nation, both in regards to the individualized health of constituents, the environment, and the economy. The guidelines greatly influence federal and regional policy, health professionals, and personal nutrition decisions. For example, the entire public school system bases its cafeteria menus on the USDA recommendations, which explains the abundance of low-fat dairy options for every meal.

If the USDA continues to promote animal-based nutrient sources, it has the potential to expedite the deleterious health and environmental issues that are associated with animal agriculture. However, by recommending a diet rich in plant foods, the department could make a positive impact on the well-being of its people and the planet.

USDA School Cafeteria

Congressman Matt Cartwright (PA17) wrote an article for Fast Company advocating for more plant-based recommendations from the USDA. He stated that the department could greatly reduce its food-based emissions by pushing plant-based foods, asserting that it takes one hundred and fifty times more greenhouse gas emissions to produce a unit of beef protein in comparison to soy protein. Cartwright also noted the economic benefit of plant-based foods, stating, “Plant-based proteins, such as beans and grains, are often the least expensive foods available.” Recommending plant-based foods may help consumers better manage their food budgets, which would be particularly helpful for low-income constituents who tend to gravitate toward cheap, animal-based fast food options.

Cartwright concluded “What should drive our nation’s dietary priorities must be good for both the American people and the planet – otherwise there’s no way to sustain it. And there is no question that a plant-based diet is the key to sustainability and our survival.”

On a very basic level, current dietary guidelines still recommend “fat-free or low-fat dairy,” as well as “a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, and eggs…” However, during the 2015 revision, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted recommendations to support a more plant-based diet, though many of these were not published. With the recent growth of the plant-based food industry and increased consumer demand for transparency, Cartwright suggests there is hope for more plant-based recommendations to come in 2020.


Image Credit: USDA.