As the Dietary Guidelines are being finalized, industry has a better way to counter the ‘eat less meat’ meme than by pushing back on global warming: The goals being proposed won’t work.
So far, much of the battle over the proposal of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which recommends that people reduce the amount of meat they eat, has swirled around the environmental angle: The notion that eating less red meat would mitigate global warming.
That assertion is highly controversial, yet trying to directly counter the idea is unlikely to represent a winning stance for the industry, no matter how skillful its messaging or how strategic its lobbying.
Let’s not forget, moreover, that the committee relegated the health benefits of lean meat to a mere footnote.
Eco-issues aside, the core of the committee’s recommendations urges Americans to eat less red meat for health-related reasons. To most of the committee members, I’m guessing, the (alleged) environmental impact of reducing per-capita intake of red meat is merely a wonderful added benefit, like piling whipped cream on top of an ice cream sundae — which, by the way, you can eat to your heart’s content. Just as long as you skip the steak that might precede it.
The “healthy eating pattern” the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is trying once again to foist on Americans is merely another variation of the same off-key tune they’ve been singing or almost 40 years now.
Barbara Millen, Ph.D., the head of the committee and a nutritional epidemiologist whose research focuses on dietary and lifestyle factors of chronic disease, told the Associated Press that seafood and legumes, not meat, “emerged most consistently” as contributors to good health, although she did toss a bone to the beef and pork producers.
“Lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern,” she said.
As long as they’re a small and shrinking part of the pattern, apparently.
“The [footnote on red meat] is not an attack on lean meat,” added Miriam Nelson, another committee member and a professor in the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “It’s on the amount and how we’re eating meats overall.”
And therein lies the problem, as well as the best way for industry to counter the prevailing meme that red meat is killing people and killing the planet.
Steering people wrong since 1977
In fact, the very first Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued by the Sen. George McGovern-led Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1977, urged people to “reduce consumption of meat and increase consumption of poultry and fish.”
You can look it up.
That initial report insisted that people decrease the intake of dietary fat — especially saturated fat — to no more than 30 percent of calories and decrease cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg a day, all of which required cutting back on beef and pork.
And we did it!
In 1977, according to USDA data, Americans ate an average of more than 139 pounds of red meat a year. Since those first Dietary Guidelines were issued, average consumption of red meat has declined by about 30 percent to only 98 pounds per person per year. And the consumption of beef — big, bad eco-destructive beef — has dropped by a whopping 43 percent to only 52 pounds per capita per year.
And what’s been the result? Far from delivering the “healthy lifestyles” the committee members have spent their professional careers researching, we’ve turned into a nation of overweight, over-fed, chronic disease-ridden patients struggling to stay healthy even as we’ve embraced exactly what this pack of Dietary Gurus has told us to do.
That’s the position to take in response to yet another demand to “cut back on unhealthy red meat:” It doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked for four decades and counting.
Regardless of the arguments for or against meat’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, or the livestock industry’s carbon footprint, or the percentage of climate change somebody can try to pin on global meat production, the best response to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans is very straightforward: They won’t work.
The geniuses sitting on that committee can flout their academic credentials all they want. They can reference their learned studies, their academic papers and their scientific research ’til kingdom come. But the bottom line remains the same: Their advice sucks.
The proof of any theory is in the end results, and the nearly 40-year history of the Dietary Guidelines proves that the recommendations to eat less meat and switch over to other, healthier foods has been utterly disastrous.
I urge every person in animal agriculture to file a comment on these guidelines suggesting that the committee set aside the health of the planet and instead figure out something other than cutting out red meat to improve the health of the nation.
Because what they’ve been recommending so far ain’t working.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator