The U.S. Department of Agriculture could finally add environmental concerns to their list of dietary recommendations. According to the Associated Press, the advisory panel in charge of dietary guidelines admits that a sustainable diet is key to protecting food access now and in the future. That means they could include it in the USDA’s new dietary guidelines when they’re updated later this year and start calling on Americans to add more plant-based foods to their diets while reducing meat consumption.

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The USDA is preparing to release an updated version of their dietary guidelines, and speculation indicates that they could recommend that Americans eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant-based foods, while reducing their meat intake. The advisory panel in charge of the guidelines has recently recognized that a sustainable diet is essential to this and future generations. A draft of the new guidelines released last month admits that a diet lower in animal-based foods is healthier and “is associated with lesser environmental impact than in the current average U.S. diet.”

If the USDA recommends a primarily plant-based diet, they’ll be echoing what groups like Meatless Monday have been advocating for some time now. Instead of focusing solely on what is healthy for the body, the USDA is finally making a connection between eating habits and environmental impact. Farming animals for consumption uses near 50-times the amount of water needed to grow vegetables. Meat production has also been identified as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Related: INFOGRAPHIC: How We Can Make the Food Supply Chain More Eco-Friendly

Reducing meat, particularly beef, from the American diet can have a massive impact on the environment. Americans already consume about four times as much animal protein as the global average. After the USDA completes their recommendations, the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments will work together to create the new dietary guidelines in the next year. Those guidelines become the basis for school lunch and other federal food programs, so shifting the recommendations could have a wide influence on eating in America.

via Associated Press

Images via Marc Dulmulder, USDA, and Jennifer via Creative Commons.