Impacts of Dietary Recommendations

Following the government's dietary recommendations may lead to . . . climate change?

New research suggests the following:

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.

Rather than trying to anticipate the unintended consequences of such recommendations, the study authors want to add another layer on top of the nutritional recommendations

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.

As I've pointed out before, trying to integrate nutritional and environmental objectives into recommendations involves value judgement that go beyond scientific evidence. Moreover, focusing just on C02 emissions or nutritional composition (as if that's easy to characterize) ignores many other factors.  On a per-acre basis, which crops are the biggest users of pesticides or water? You might be surprised to find out that it is not corn, soybeans, or wheat but rather many fruits and veggies like lemons, strawberries, etc. 

Rather than trying to add layer upon layer to the dietary recommendations, why not respect people's choices?  The price of food reflects the resources used and the demands on those resources.  If the problem is that prices don't fully reflect water use or C02 emissions, then the idea is to think about assigning property rights in a way that that information-aggregating markets help allocate those resources.  But, I suppose it's less fun to let markets allocate resources.  That would take away our power to tell others what to eat.