The ‘Super Bowl’ of nutrition policy is in the first quarter

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It’s something that happens every five years, affects dietary patterns across the country, but generally receives little attention until the last second is about to tick off the clock. I’m talking about the multi-year process undertaken by our federal government, namely USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are designed to provide science-based advice related to food and physical activity choices to promote good health, a healthy weight and prevent disease for Americans ages 2 and older. What’s more, these guidelines are the basis for federal nutrition policy, education, outreach and food assistance programs used throughout the nation by families, schools and health professionals.

USDAThe USDA's updated food guideline visual, released on June 2, 2011. Between now and sometime in fall 2015, USDA and HHS will publish an updated set of guidelines. The first guidelines were published in 1980 and have been updated every five years since. So why am I bringing this topic of now, nearly two years ahead of schedule? It’s simple, the process to update the guidelines has started, and it’s important for the protein industry to engage today and stay engaged throughout this process.

Here’s how it works, in late 2012 and early 2013, USDA and HHS solicited nominations for health and nutrition professionals and experts to serve on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). That committee was appointed May 31, 2013, and held its first meeting in mid-June 2013. In addition, at this time, the agencies published a request for public comment seeking input on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Earlier this week, the DGAC held its second public meeting to hear public oral comments from stakeholders. Several animal agriculture organizations were on tap for this week’s public meetings in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., including NCBA, the American Meat Institute and the National Milk Producers Federation.

This round of meetings was originally scheduled to be in October but was rescheduled due to the federal government shutdown. In all, more than 50 individuals participated in the meeting. A next round of meetings will be in March, but public comments are not anticipated to be heard during the March meeting. Between now and late this year or early 2015, the DGAC will review comments, available science in the USDA Nutrition Evidence Library and the USDA Nutrient Database before publishing its report to USDA and HHS, which will be the basis for the 2015 guidelines. Throughout 2015, the agencies will review the report as well as public comments and will prepare the Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document. And, finally, in fall 2015, the 8th edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is scheduled to be published.

The latest version of the dietary guidelines was established in 2010. The result of the 2010 process included 23 key recommendations focused on three overarching goals:  balance calories with physical activity to manage weight; consume more nutrient-dense food and beverages; and reduce sodium consumption. At one point in this lengthy process, the DGAC published a report that recommended a shift to a more plant-based diet and only moderate amounts of lean meat, poultry and eggs. This recommendation was confusing to consumers and not consistent with scientifically-proven information about the positive role of lean meat in a well-balanced diet. After receiving input from the public about this confusing language, it ultimately removed from the final recommendations.

I remind you of that example to demonstrate the importance of weighing in early and staying engaged. NCBA Executive Director of Legislative Affairs Kristina Butts says the dietary guidelines are the “Super Bowl of nutrition policy” in Washington, D.C., and impact nutrition policy throughout the country for multiple years. She said while NCBA will monitor the policy situation throughout the process on behalf of its members, current focus is on the scientific information the DGAC uses to develop its report. That, she said, is where the Beef Checkoff Program plays a big role. On behalf of all cattle producers across the country, the Beef Checkoff Program will work in this process to make sure the latest information and science is available for the committee members to use as they make their recommendations to USDA and HHS.

Clara Lau, director of nutrition research for NCBA, which is a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, said beef contributes only 5 percent of today’s calories but supplies more than 5 percent of eight essential nutrients. Over the past several years, the Beef Checkoff Program has invested in a nutrient database improvement project to update beef cut nutrition information in the USDA database because the information previously being used did not match what people were consuming and was being used in observational studies. Lau said it is important for the USDA Nutrient Database to accurately reflect what’s being sold in stores.

“When the first edition of the Dietary Guidelines was issued, fat trim on beef was half of an inch,” Lau said. “Today, fat trim on retail beef cuts averages less than one-tenth of an inch - virtually devoid of external fat. In fact, two-thirds of the beef cuts sold in the retail meat case meet government guidelines for lean when cooked and trimmed.”

Dr. Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute Foundation, told the committee that naturally nutrient-dense meat and poultry products provide Americans a ‘simple, direct and balanced’ dietary source of protein, iron, selenium, Vitamins A, B12, and folic acid.

“Meat and poultry are rich in nutrients your body can use, and help people derive more nutrients from vegetables and grains when consumed in combination. Iron and zinc in beef, pork, lamb, poultry and fish are more ‘bioavailable,’ meaning they are more easily absorbed and utilized by the body, than these minerals from grains or vegetables,” Dr. Booren said.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) urged the advisory committee to keep the recommendation of three daily servings of dairy products for most Americans.

“Dairy foods are uniquely nutrient-rich and virtually irreplaceable in the diet if we want to meet nutrient recommendations,” said NMPF Vice President for Dairy Foods & Nutrition Beth Briczinski. “Many population groups do not consume anywhere near the recommended amounts of dairy. The good news is that if people who under-consume dairy would add even one serving a day, that would bring average daily intakes much close to meeting Dietary Guideline recommendations.”

While it is still early in the process, and no words have been put to paper on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the process has started. According to Lau, in addition to her testimony, there were individuals who presented comments targeting animal protein and dairy and urging reduced and/or eliminated consumption of these nutrient-dense food items. If this is a topic that interests you, if you believe lean meat plays a role in a healthy, well-balanced diet and don’t want those who’d like to see meat off the plate entirely tell your story for you, submit comments directly to USDA and HHS by visiting

This is a topic Drovers/CattleNetwork will continue to monitor and report throughout the process. What should the next guidelines look like? What should our dietary patterns consist of? Leave us a comment with your thoughts. 

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Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  January, 16, 2014 at 10:37 AM

And they will use none of this information to make sure those on food stamps start eating properly. SNAP recipients can use every penny on pop, pastries and potato chips and the government could care less. Apparently getting their votes is more important than making sure they get healthy.

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