Row intensifies over 'Eat less red & processed meat’ message in dietary guidelines report

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Were the DGAC recommendations on red meat consumption right, or did they show an 'astonishing lack of awareness of the scientific evidence'?
Were the DGAC recommendations on red meat consumption right, or did they show an 'astonishing lack of awareness of the scientific evidence'?

Related tags Dietary guidelines Nutrition Beef Meat

The row over the health and sustainability of meat consumption prompted by the recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) report has intensified this week as stakeholders rushed to submit comments on the report ahead of a May 8 deadline.

The DGAC – an expert panel tasked with developing recommendations about what Americans should eat – recently submitted its report​ to the federal government, which will publish the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year.

While the report was welcomed by many health advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, it angered the meat industry​ after concluding that a healthy dietary pattern was “lower in red and processed meats” ​and that diets “lower in animal-based foods” ​were also “associated with less environmental impact than is the current US diet”.

Meat industry: Nutrient density must be factored into environmental impact studies

Not only did the committee stray beyond its remit and expertise by discussing sustainability, it also ignored recent research that factored in the nutritional contribution that animal products make when considering their environmental impact, argued meat industry groups via public comments​ submitted this week.

In other words, while the carbon footprint of producing 10lbs of rice might be lower than that of producing 10lbs of beef, for example, the two do not deliver an equal amount of nutrients.

However, supporters of plant-based diets said the DGAC report was based on sound science and urged the government not to bow to pressure from the meat industry when it came up with its final recommendations.

Sustainability landscape
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently argued that a healthy dietary pattern was “lower in red and processed meats” and that diets “lower in animal-based foods” were also “associated with less environmental impact than is the current US diet”.

Michele Simon: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines should spell out which foods to limit

In a comment submitted this week on behalf of 20 plant-based food companies including Lightlife Foods, The Tofurky Company, and Daiya Foods, Michele Simon, JD, MPH, public health attorney and author of the ‘Eat, Drink, Politics​’ blog, argued that the DGAC report didn’t go far enough.

Michele Simon
Michele Simon

She added: “We are concerned that a message to ‘eat less meat and processed meat’ is not explicit enough for consumers to understand. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) should specifically say to limit red meat such as steak, hamburgers, roast beef, pork, and lamb, and to avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon, corned beef, salami, bologna, pastrami, and hot dogs.”

And when it came to advice on what nutrients to reduce, the DGA needs to spell out what this means in practice, she argued: “Consumers don’t shop for ‘saturated fat’ but for meats, eggs, and dairy.”

Plant-based brands: ‘Convincing’ evidence that diets high in red & processed meats increase risk of colorectal cancer

As for the DGAC's advice to cut down on red and processed meats, which is supported by the American Cancer Society, she said: “The evidence that diets high in red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats, etc.) increase the risk for colorectal cancer is convincing.”

Recommendations for plant-based diets also support consumer trends, she said, claiming that 4% of Americans and 10% of Millennials are “strictly vegetarian​” and that the trend toward ‘flexitarian’ diets (where meat-eaters are reducing meat consumption) “indicates that more Americans need guidance on how to eat less meat and more plant-based foods”.

 As to whether Americans can get sufficient nutrition from a more plant-based diet, she said that people on a plant-based diet were consistently slimmer and healthier than meat eaters, with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and diabetes, and that “the majority of under-consumed nutrients of concern are found primarily in plant foods”.

Meanwhile, plant-based diets “tend to be higher in dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals​”, she said. While milk is a good source of calcium, so are plant-based products including tofu, almonds and almond butter, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, dried figs, and beans, she added, while plant-based milks are also typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Large almonds
Plant-based sources of calcium include tofu, almonds and almond butter, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, dried figs, and beans

Hy-Vee RD: ‘Beef contains 80% less external fat than it did in the 1980s’

However, in her comments to the government, Rochelle Gilman, a registered dietitian at supermarket chain Hy-Vee, said dietary guidelines “should help people eat lean meat more often, instead of sending signals to reduce or eliminate all red meat”.

beef
While the carbon footprint of producing 10lbs of rice might be lower than that of producing 10lbs of beef, for example, the two do not deliver an equal amount of nutrients, claim meat industry stakeholders

She added: “Beef contains 80% less external fat than it did in the 1980s, and about 66% of the beef cuts sold at retail are lean.”

Mary Kraft, President of the Colorado Livestock Association, meanwhile, argued that the DGAC's recommendations were "based on outdated, flawed reports" ​and that none of its members "have backgrounds or academic training to qualify them to give recommendations on sustainability".

The North American Meat Institute added: “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.”

Read the FULL REPORT​ of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, plus the COMMENTS​.  

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