An expert panel preparing recommendations for new U.S. dietary guidelines is expected to promote foods that are good for the health of the environment as well as that of people.
The panel that advises the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments is expected to suggest people consume more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and other plant-based food, while cutting back significantly on foods from animal products.
Such a plant-rich and meat-avoiding diet is "more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet," the panel said in a draft recommendation circulated in December.
Such a sustainable diet would help ensure food access for both current and future generations, the draft said.
The beef industry has expressed objections to the possible recommendations on the grounds that an environmental agenda is inappropriate in what has always been seen as a blueprint for a lifestyle based solely on human health concerns.
The industry has fought back for years against any dietary guidelines calling for the consumption of less meat, and when the advisory panel discussed another draft recommendation calling for less "red and processed meats," the National Cattlemen's Beef Association released a statement saying lean beef has a proper role in a healthy diet.
The beef industry has found itself in the environmental spotlight; a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated raising beef has higher environmental costs compared to other meat industries such as chicken or pork.
Cattle produce more greenhouse gases, emit more nitrogen pollution, require more water for irrigation and use more land, the study found.
The advisory panel, which includes academics and doctors, says there can be "compatibility and overlap" between what's beneficial for people's health and at the same time good for the environment.
Environmental groups have been vocal in urging the advisory panel and the departments to consider the environment in any new guidelines.
"We need to make sure our diets are in alignment with our natural resources and the need to reduce climate change," says Kari Hamerschlag of the group Friends of the Earth.
And the idea of broader guidelines isn't without precedent, says Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The guidelines have already seen expansion to address issues such as physical activity and food safety, he noted.
"You don't want to recommend a diet that is going to poison the planet," he says.