Thirty lawmakers from across the country have a message for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell – contrary to proposed dietary guidelines, lean red meat belongs on dinner plates as part of a healthy diet.

The letter, organized by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., requested an extension of the comment period, set to expire on April 8, 2015, to allow enough time for “interested stakeholders” to review the staggering 600-page report.

“Not only do we represent farmers and ranchers who raise animals to provide healthy meat products, but we also represent consumers who enjoy lean meat as an important food in their diet,” the Senators wrote. “We encourage you to carefully consider the most relevant nutrition scientific literature and reject the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s inconsistent conclusions regarding the role of meat in Americans’ diets as you finalize the Dietary Guidelines.”

Click here to read the full letter.

At the 2015 Pork Industry Forum, held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas, Vilsack responded to concerns regarding the recommendations. He stressed it is “important to understand that these recommendations provided by the committee are precisely that; these are not the guidelines.”

Vilsack compared the recommendations to coloring “within the lines.”

“My three-year old granddaughter has the privilege of coloring outside the lines. My grandson, who is in preschool, is learning a little bit about coloring inside the lines. I think that’s a significant difference,” Vilsack explained. “I think the advisory group has the freedom of coloring outside the lines, which is why they proposed the things as far-reaching as a soda tax. Our job is to color inside the lines. We don’t necessarily have the freedom to color outside the line.”

“It’s from my perspective that there is a clear understanding the important role lean meat plays in diets. I will continue to make sure that this viewpoint is present in the discussions and formulation of the guidelines,” he added.

PorkNetwork and CattleNetwork Commentator Dan Murphy suggests that while the guidelines go beyond its “original mission of determining the best foods to keep us healthy,” the answer is not necessarily to attack the committee itself or its agenda.

“The only way to win — and it isn’t easy — is to win on the facts,” Murphy wrote.  “To deploy common sense. To use historical examples with which we’re all familiar. To eventually convince the majority of meat-eaters that the animal foods on which they grew up, on which humanity has thrived for millennia, on which 95 percent of the world depends for quality nutrition are hearty, healthy and wholesome, including the fat.”

“And the only way to stifle the debate over whether livestock production is the scourge of the solar system is to patiently and persistently present the truth — scientifically, anecdotally, emotionally,” he continued.

Read, “Murphy: Tactical turnaround.”