Save a Cow, Eat a Carrot? New U.S. Dietary Guidelines May Recommend Limiting Red Meat Consumption

Every five years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is reviewed, updated and re-published, an endeavour involving collaboration between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year, those guidelines might recommend Americans change their diets for the sake of sustainability.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee held its final meeting on December 15, 2014, where, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), they “made clear their intention to remove lean beef and reduce red meat consumption from healthful dietary patterns.”

According to a presentation at the meeting, “A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods, is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet.”

The change in guidelines is vastly opposed by many in the meat industries.

“Despite a large body of strong and consistent evidence supporting lean beef’s role in healthy diets, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appears to be out of touch with today’s lean meat supply in the retail counter and the 30+ years of nutrition advice showcasing benefits of lean beef,” countered Richard Thorpe, a Texas medical doctor and cattle producer, in an NCBA release. “I am deeply disappointed that the Committee missed this opportunity to positively influence the American diet by blatantly disregarding sound science and removing lean beef from a healthful dietary pattern.

Comments from Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives respond to the Committee’s efforts to address sustainability.

“While NCFC sees real value in promoting sustainable practices, we feel the DGA is not the appropriate median to discuss such practices,” Conner wrote. “Consumers have enough to take into account when trying to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Including environmental factors will only add confusion and distract from the fundamental purpose of the Guidelines. Additionally, there is no research which shows that sustainably produced products offer greater nutritional benefits than those produced conventionally. Furthermore, the expertise of the Advisory Committee is in nutrition and it should maintain its focus within that area.”

On December 30, 2014, public comments to the 2015 DGAC closed, though they’re still available to read.

Replacing the food pyramid with a plate was fantastic, but it is not enough. You must recommend a sustainable diet with drastically reduced meat and dairy consumption. The public, and indeed the planet, relies on your suggestions. Please inform Americans that the current quantities of animal products we are consuming are killing us and our world.
-Anonymous, Comment ID #958

Meat and poultry are an integral part of the American diet and the DGAC’s failure to recognize the role of lean meat as a component of a healthy eating pattern is concerning and ill considered. Indeed, the Committee’s last minute, back room decision to omit “lean meats” in a healthy pattern because of the purported absence of a definition of “lean meat” calls the Committee’s final recommendation into serious doubt. It also reflects either an astonishing lack of awareness of the scientific evidence or a callous disregard of that evidence, again calling into question the entirety of the recommendations submitted by the DGAC to the agencies…
-Anonymous, Comment ID #970

Recommended quantity and frequency of consumption of meat and dairy products should be decreased. Numerous studies show a dose response relationship between consumption of meat and dairy and risk of developing cancer, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Current levels of consumption are also environmentally unsustainable. Meat and dairy production are the nation’s second largest source of methane emissions. The global warming potential of methane over the next 20 years, a critical time period to meet US GHG reduction goals, is 72 times greater than CO2. The projected public health impacts of failure to substantially reduce emissions are well documented.
– Anonymous, Comment ID #967

The Committee’s report will soon be submitted to the Secretaries of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. It will then be available via the Federal Register, along with another public comment period and the date of a public meeting.

The HHS and USDA are expected to publish and release the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans this fall.

For more information: Listen to the red meat discussion in the 7th DGAC meeting, which starts at about 164.00.

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