Oops! Obama administration dietary recommendations may be tied to increased greenhouse gas emissions

From the University of Michigan, everything you eat is bad for GHG’s apparently, so only eat what the government says. Oh, wait.

USDA-2010ANN ARBOR—If Americans altered their menus to conform to federal dietary recommendations, emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases tied to agricultural production could increase significantly, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers.

Martin Heller and Gregory Keoleian of U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems looked at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of about 100 foods, as well as the potential effects of shifting Americans to a diet recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They found that if Americans adopted the recommendations in USDA’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” while keeping caloric intake constant, diet-related greenhouse gas emissions would increase 12 percent.

If Americans reduced their daily caloric intake to the recommended level of about 2,000 calories while shifting to a healthier diet, greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by only 1 percent, according to Heller and Keoleian.

A paper by Heller and Keoleian titled “Greenhouse gas emission estimates of U.S. dietary choices and food loss” is scheduled for online publication Sept. 5 in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

“The take-home message is that health and environmental agendas are not aligned in the current dietary recommendations,” Heller said.

The paper’s findings are especially relevant now because the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is for the first time considering food sustainability within the context of dietary recommendations, he said.

In its 2010 dietary guidelines, USDA recommends that Americans eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood. They should consume less salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar and refined grains.

The guidelines don’t explicitly state that Americans should eat less meat. However, an appendix to the report lists the recommended average daily intake amounts of various foods, including meat. The recommended amount of meat is significantly less than current consumption levels, which Heller and Keoleian estimated using the USDA’s Loss Adjusted Food Availability dataset as a proxy for per capita food consumption in the United States.

While a drop in meat consumption would help cut diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, increased use of dairy products—and to a lesser extent seafood, fruits and vegetables—would have the opposite effect, increasing diet-related emissions, according to the U-M researchers.

In the United States in 2010, food production was responsible for about 8 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. In general, animal-based foods are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per pound than plant-based foods.

The production of both beef cattle and dairy cows is tied to especially high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

For starters, cows don’t efficiently convert plant-based feed into muscle or milk, so they must eat lots of feed. Growing that feed often involves the use of fertilizers and other substances manufactured through energy-intensive processes. And then there’s the fuel used by farm equipment.

In addition, cows burp lots of methane, and their manure also releases this potent greenhouse gas.

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing the U.S. diet are dominated by the meats category, according to Heller and Keoleian. While beef accounts for only 4 percent by weight of the food available, it contributes 36 percent of the associated greenhouse gases, they conclude.

The U-M researchers found that a switch to diets that don’t contain animal products would lead to the biggest reductions in this country’s diet-related greenhouse emissions.

But Heller said he’s not arguing that all Americans should go vegan, and he believes that animals need to be part of a sustainable agricultural system. However, reduced consumption would have both health and environmental benefits.

In their Journal of Industrial Ecology paper, Heller and Keoleian also looked at wasted food and how it contributes to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. They concluded that annual emissions tied to uneaten food are equivalent to adding 33 million passenger vehicles to the nation’s roads.

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Center for Sustainable Systems at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment: http://css.snre.umich.edu

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60 thoughts on “Oops! Obama administration dietary recommendations may be tied to increased greenhouse gas emissions

  1. “For starters, cows don’t efficiently convert plant-based feed into muscle or milk, so they must eat lots of feed. Growing that feed often involves the use of fertilizers and other substances manufactured through energy-intensive processes. And then there’s the fuel used by farm equipment.”

    Cows efficiently convert corn stalks (silage), alfalfa, unsalable potatoes and apples, and open range grasses into superior proteins and fats, which the human body requires to avoid malnutrition and the many, many complications from that.

    Other micronutrients provided by beef include Zinc, Iodine, and the B vitamins. In each gram of milk, there is a gram of protein. Any more “efficient conversion” would be science fiction.

    If you crave a 100% beef hamburger, my advice to you is to have a 100% beef hamburger. May I recommend a fungus- and nematode-free potato with that, as a side.

    • Keep in mind, “100% beef” doesn’t mean that the hamburger is all meat, it only means that any meat you may find in there is beef and not horse, chicken, pork or anything else. And it doesn’t say what part of the cow they are using (now that’s a real don’t ask don’t tell situation)

      • “Keep in mind, “100% beef” doesn’t mean that the hamburger is all meat, it only means that any meat you may find in there is beef and not horse, chicken, pork or anything else.”

        It’s not perfect, but at least phrasing it that way eliminates the soy, poultry and other added ingredients in “hamburgers” or “burgers,” which are beginning to appear in stores. I believe beef hearts are a separate ingredient which must be listed as such.

        I have asked at least one fast food restaurant if their hamburgers are 100% beef. They referred me to the ingredients posted online. Since the USDA is making noises about beef, I think it is time to make sure that there have not been any requirements and backdoor political pressure to add other ingredients to the beef.

        It is required that all ingredients be listed, and that there cannot be additives of silicon dioxide and other fillers, or more than 2% of insects in a can of food. Insects in food is against the law.

      • Last time I heard the UK regs for british sausages specified at least 50% meat. However, on closer reading it turns out the “meat” does not mean lean meat, it can be upto 50% fat !

        So in theory a sausage can legally be 75% fat.

        It’s not because they would not hold together so a fair amount of meal is added to soak up enough of the fat that they don’t fall apart.

        The usual mix of ear, nose, lip and cartelage finds its way into the meat grinder.

        Here in France if you go to butcher’s shop order “un stek” or “stek hachee” they will grind the meat in front of you press out the requested number of burgers and it’s nothing but prime steak that goes into the machine.

        I would guess that if you buy it frozen form a supermarket it will be the same dubious mix of bits that you get anywhere else.

    • I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this. ” In each gram of milk, there is a gram of protein.” I think you meant to say there is about 1 gram per ounce. Milk contains about 3.5% protein by weight – and that is very high quality protein.

    • Does this study take into account carbon absorption from agriculture too? The plants themselves growing does absorb carbon and the process of replanting crops does act as a carbon sponge. It’s why Biomass, while carbon producing, has a negative effect when coupled with regrowing the plants. Most carbon is deposited into the ground through the root system and naturally in the crops produced.

  2. The sad part is that government dietary recommendations since 1978 are tied to increased obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

    A healthy diet has plenty of fat (including animal fat), adequate protein, and minimal carbohydrates.

  3. Maybe someone should clue these people in the absence of global warming. What are they trying to do – inaugurate a new ice age?

  4. Wow. Bad science and bad nutritional advice in one post. I eat a very high fat diet with minimal carbs I’m learning quickly that all political advice with any scientific backup is wrong.

    • Mark,
      I’ve lost 35 lbs since April, following the Atkins diet of meats, vegetables, and cheeses, but minimal carbohydrates. Five more pounds and I’m at my goal of 188lbs.

      Never felt better,
      Mac

      PS: Who in their right mind would take nutritional advice from lawyer Michelle O? There’s a reason why the press never shows her from the back side…..

  5. ‘They found that if Americans adopted the recommendations in USDA’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” while keeping caloric intake constant, diet-related greenhouse gas emissions would increase 12 percent.’

    So what?

    I am sure that the US tax payer is delighted to pay for the production of garbage like this, in the same way that European tax payers are delighted to fund jobsworths in Brussels to think of more small household appliances, in addition to vacuum cleaners, for which legislation can be introduced to reduce their power ratings.

  6. I have read a lot lately where the USDA & others have it all wrong in terms of nutrition – the key is a low carb / low grain diet with plenty of meat & natural fats, fruits & veggies, no refined sugars. I have seen many friends & family go this way from an eating standpoint & have their health improve substantially. I am sure there was “97% consensus ” on the old”food pyramid”, just like there is “97% consensus” on AGW. I am betting they are wrong on both accounts.

  7. Cow’s milk is another no no. What other animal drinks another animals milk all their life? Cows don’t even drink cow’s milk after they are grown.

    • But you can make Camembert from it.
      Put a slice of Camembert on your eggs and bacon so that it melts, and put some turmeric and sliced tomato on top.

    • My cat LOVES the milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl in the morning. He is 8, and has done this since te day he arrived in our house. Other cats also love milk and cream. Dogs love cheese. Your argument is a standard vegan propoganda tactic, but it does not stand up to scrutiny.

      • Your cat does not go out and drink milk unless you provide it for him, they see it as a treat. Most cats will live to 15 or older, yours won’t if you keep giving it milk. Just to be clear, I am not anything close to a vegan, my favorite meal being a nice chargrilled chuck burger. However, it is not propaganda that cow’s milk is the cause of many allergies in humans. I can attest to that personally. It was and is the dairy lobby that promotes milk to our detriment.

    • “What other animal drinks another animals milk all their life?”

      Come to think of it, what other animal cooks its food?
      What other animal grows food and is able to sell it to others for a living?
      What other animal has a diet which includes food from every growing zone, if so desired?

      What other animal compares itself to what it ate a million years ago and uses that for an argument? What other animal compares itself to what bunnies eats and thinks it should eat like a bunny?

      • For that matter, what other animal uses food for fuel? Or has a government that tells them what they can and can’t do. Or has a blog to discuss these matters.

  8. Since 2008 I have increased my well done beef intake.

    Guardian – 7 September 2008
    UN says eat less meat to curb global warming
    …’In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,’ said Pachauri. ‘Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,’ said the Indian economist, who is a vegetarian….

    • Eat more meat to make Siberia and Canada habitable, in other words.
      Why does the UN hate on Russia and Canada?

  9. They should consume less salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar and refined grains.

    The science is settled.

    Guardian – 23 March 2014
    Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong
    Eggs and red meat have both been on the nutritional hit list – but after a major study last week dismissed a link between fats and heart disease, is it time for a complete rethink?
    ………
    Last week it fell to a floundering professor, Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation to explain why it still adheres to the nutrition establishment’s anti-saturated fat doctrine when evidence is stacking up to refute it. After examining 72 academic studies involving more than 600,000 participants, the study, funded by the foundation, found that saturated fat consumption was not associated with coronary disease risk. This assessment echoed a review in 2010 that concluded “there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease”……
    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/23/everything-you-know-about-unhealthy-foods-is-wrong
    =====================================

    Guardian – 22 Oct 2013
    Butter and cheese better than trans-fat margarines, says heart specialist
    Aseem Malhotra says saturated fat is not a problem, low-fat products are often full of sugar and statins are over-prescribed
    …..
    Butter, cheese and even red meat are not as bad for the heart as has been maintained, a cardiologist has said in a leading medical journal, adding that it is time to “bust the myth” of saturated fat.
    …..
    Trans-fats found in many fast foods, bakery goods and margarine are indeed a problem, Malhotra writes in the British Medical Journal. But saturated fats in milk, cheese and meat are another matter.
    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/22/butter-cheese-saturated-fat-heart-specialist
    =====================================

    Annals of Internal Medicine – 18 March, 2014
    Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury et al
    Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
    Conclusion: Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.

    Primary Funding Source: British Heart Foundation, Medical Research Council, Cambridge National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre, and Gates Cambridge.
    http://tinyurl.com/q3hqfvc

    • My take-away from that is that I sincerely hope KFC changes back to the fat they WERE frying chicken in, since what they’re using now tastes like burning rubber.

      OTOH – Many years ago my mom decided she needed to lose weight (not really, but she wanted to). Someone gave her one of the Atkins Diet books. My whole family was amused as we realized that, for the most part, our entire lives have been spent on the Atkins Diet before it had a name… and NOBODY in my family is overweight or obese.

    • Saturated fat and cholesterol are good for us!
      It’s the massive amount of carbs and the processed “foodlike substances” that is killing us! Read “The Great Cholesterol Con” by Malcolm Kendrick!

  10. The problem with USDA is that it isn’t that great. Whole grain based food is not good for your health as it can make heart disease and diabetes significantly worse for some people. http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/

    Ironically, saturated fat improves your HDL (good cholesterol) while excessive carbohydrate regardless of source raises your LDL (bad cholesterol) which is directly responsible for plaque build up in the arteries.

    They pretty much got it backward.

  11. For anyone who wants the whole story relating to the demonisation of all the food
    that is really good for you, simply go to this website and the whole sordid history will
    be revealed.

  12. What seems odd is that it is USDA that is giving dietary advice. Conflict of interests?

    I would have thought that it would be a health issue not an agricultural one.

    Maybe in a country where healthcare is primarily run for profit they don’t want the customer base to be more healthy, it’s against their business interests.

    • Having said that, I have found that nih.gov is one of the most thorough and informative sources of information on things like vitamins: function, symptoms of deficiency or excess, etc.

  13. The similarities between the issues of the AGW hypothesis and the saturated fats give you heart disease hypothesis and how they have played out are remarkable. It is 8 years since I lost a significant amount of weight by changing to a low carb high fat and protein diet, and it is about that time that I learnt that there are intelligent people out there who are sceptical of the AGW hypothesis and began my journey to being the deep AGW sceptic that I am today. A good read into the intrigue of the diet wars is “Good Calories Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. A scientist by the name of Ancel Keys proposed the hypothesis that dietary saturated fats are what give us heart disease and who convinced the health authorities in the US to adopt his recommendations. It was based on junk science. Basically he is to dietary science what James Hansen is to AGW. The truth is finally coming out about diet, hopefully the same will happen regarding climate.

  14. Pastureland sinks 50 tons of Carbon per year per quarter section. Never taken into account but this is actually more than GHG potential of the methane from the average number of cows per quarter section.

    Otherwise, if someone is so anal that they count the GHG potential of the food they eat, they let them be that stupid. The rest of us are not. Secondly, whoever funded this study should be removed from the funding board they sit on.

  15. So, eating meat means cowfarts cause GHG problems, but eating veggies means humanfarts cause GHG problems.

    Have I got that right?

  16. Trans fats, hydrogenated cooking oils, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, GMO corn and soybean and canola oils- all pilloried by somebody telling us they are bad for us- what’s a person supposed to think?

    • there is plenty of evidence that trans fats are a problem. it appears a great number of us are not genetically selected to eat artificial “food” that can sit on the shelf forever and never rot. how good can it be if the microbes won’t even eat it?

  17. Watch out for the Center for Sustainable Systems, they have sustainable yogurt now, and sustainable soccer balls now according to Rosa Korie…
    Sustainable, green, smart, consensus, United Nations – are words you have to watch out for nowadays.

  18. Last I heard: An army travels on its stomach.

    It might actually come to the point where vegetarians are too weak to hack heads off.
    Then what a world it would be.

  19. Someone please show me where in the Constitution, the Federal government is given the power to ban hummus…..

    I’ll wait…

    Technically, the States have the power to ban particular foods under the 9th and 10th Amenments, but, come on….. Hummus? Really?

    Where does this government run amok BS end?

    History shows a pretty dark place…

  20. Cattle not only “efficiently convert” alfalfa and corn stalks (silage) into milk, cheese, and beef, cows converts vegetation into leather, paint brushes, medication, fertilizers, and ingredients used in tires, roads, musical instruments, and paint.

    Cattle are mentioned 59 times in the Bible. Cattle are a sign of blessing in the Scripture. Traditional American culture has always included cattle.

    Zarathustrians held the Cow as sacred and included milk in many thanksgiving ceremonies – including purification of a well. It was considered a great blessing to the land when there were many cattle, because this indicates peaceful conditions for grazing, and safety from tyrants.

  21. Which of course begs the question. If you had a choice between a ton of cow manure and a ton of Boomer nutritional and agricultural abstracts, which will benefit you more?

  22. I grew up on wild game and fish, along side a plethora of garden grown veggies. And during wheat harvest we would chew on a handful of fresh wheat grain out of the grain truck. So I am not too fussy about this article. Fat is fat and my grandparents were excellent at trimming fat off of kitchen-butchered game and beef (yes, we butchered quarters in the kitchen). If the meat was too lean for ground meat, grandma would add suet or bacon fat she got nearly for free from the local grocery store (they just threw it away back then).

    HOWEVER!!!!! I will not stand for fruit in my s’more’s. That is against the very central tenants of faith and must be listed as a sin somewhere in the Bible, or at least the Catholic Mass Sunday Morning Bulletin! What will they tell me to do next? Drink carrot juice instead of my red wine?????? Hell no!

    http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/09/06/is-nothing-sacred-forest-service-says-drop-chocolate-add-fruit-to-your-smores/?intcmp=latestnews

  23. DirkH wrote
    September 5, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Broccoli is not that bad when you pour a lot of butter over it.

    Broccoli is both nutritious and filling. I think it makes a great snack: crunchy, tastes good, good for you; what’s not to like? The stems can be peeled; the cores are delicious.

    In cool weather, along with carrots, broccoli also serves as a foundation for crockpot meals with a nice cut of steak, or chicken. I add onion, garlic, green peppers.

    I never eat margarine, and I avoid processed meats, and all foods with artificial anything, especially sweeteners and dyes. I drink 1% milk, use butter where it is needed, like on toast, corn on the cob, or maybe popcorn. For sweets I like ice cream & chocolate.

    You know broccoli is good simply by considering who didn’t like it, and who didn’t have to eat it anymore because he was president.

    -☺-

    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2356/2

    By the way, I’m a baby boomer, so your view may vary.

  24. USDA dietary guidelines is at odds with most recent research: Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial NIH-funded study published in Annals of Internal Medicine shows a low-carbohydrate high-fat diet leads to improved cardiovascular health (specifically reduced triglycerides and increased HDL) when compared to a low-fat high-carbohydrate diet.

    But that’s what politicized science leads to, right? I guess now we have to choose between being healthy and saving the planet…

    • The key to good health is physical exertion. Humans were made for it, it is what we need to do to stay healthy. So eat what you will, just get physical.

  25. I like this tongue in cheek article…some people seem to be taking it a little too seriously.

    From a European standpoint (and this is apolitical) I think even the social democrats don’t think much of him anymore. It’s easier to support or oppose someone than (and really that’s all Europeans do anymore – they rely on your presidents to sort things out; as in the young buck taking care of the senile old relatives) have no idea what he’s about.

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