Why a medical group wants plant-based diets discussed at the White House

Dive Brief:

  • The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine petitioned the Biden administration to ask the upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health be centered on the benefits of plant-based nutrition. The group, which seeks to further science and health outcomes without harm to animals, says it has more than 17,000 doctor members.
  • Specifically, the advocacy group recommends the conference address expanding access to plant-based food and beverage in schools and institutions, promoting plant-based diets through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and improving nutrition education for physicians.
  • The conference, which will take place in September, will be the first time the White House has hosted this kind of discussion since 1969. The goal of the conference is to work to end hunger; improve the nation’s nutrition and physical activity; reduce diet-related diseases and close disparities. 

Dive Insight:

Despite a comprehensive scientific report that pointed to recommendations for people to eat more fruits and vegetables and cut down on red meat, the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans did not specifically recommend people adopt plant-based diets. It recommends people cut back on saturated fat and eat leaner proteins, but there is nothing specific that says a plant-based diet is a better option.

Unlike the Dietary Guidelines, which are updated and republished every five years, a White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health is not something that happens on a schedule. In the video announcement for this year’s conference, President Biden said he is committed to taking bold action to ease access to healthy food and end hunger, as well as preventatively combat diet-related disease.

This petition is looking for another chance for plant-based food to come to the center of federal nutrition policy.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s petition to center the conversation around plant-based eating was the result of a policy discussion on a video call last month. More than 100 people, including physicians, dietitians, nurses, teachers, university professors, public health professionals and firefighters participated, the group said. Some also submitted written recommendations.

“With the overwhelming evidence of the role of meat and dairy in chronic disease, it is imperative the Biden-Harris administration advance policies not only to reduce and eliminate the consumption of these foods but also to encourage the further adoption of plant-based diets,” Dr. Neal Barnard, the group’s president, said in a statement. 

Plant-based eating is likely to be discussed at the conference — access to fresh fruits and vegetables and increasing their consumption rates are perpetual issues in expanding better nutrition — but it has yet to be seen how much of a role it will play.

There has recently been a movement toward making plant-based food more available through government programs. Some plant-based meat companies have gone through the process for their products to be more easily used in school cafeterias. A provision in the House version of the still-pending 2023 Defense Department budget bill would create a pilot program to require plant-based options to be available at some military bases.

Regardless, any amount of discussion is just discussion — even if it happens at the White House. Plant-based diet advocates need to convince policymakers, companies and, most importantly, consumers to make different choices for change to be made.