Nutrition Standards Could Create Regulatory Potluck

Latest meeting on how to update dietary guidelines includes concept of eating less meat as a way to improve the environment.

Think meat and protein are a healthy component of a nutritious diet? Input on dietary guidelines are beginning to urge that consumption of eating less meat should be pursued not for health reasons, but for the environment.

Every five years a panel of nutritionists and health experts help formulate the dietary guidelines that are written to help advise the public on what should be part of a healthy diet. Over the years it’s included the basic four food groups, the food pyramid which than was amped up to become the MyPyramid and the latest MyPlate concept.  

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a panel of nutritionists and health experts, recently held its fourth public meeting via a webinar on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Recommendations are due to the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services this fall.

Former agriculture secretary and current Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns fears that the federal diet recommendations are at risk of becoming the latest battleground for the Administration’s “creeping environmental regulatory scheme.”

In a column Johanns wrote called No Appetite for Politics on the Dinner Plate, he said, “Rather than focusing solely on current nutrition and health advances to inform Americans of healthy food regimens, the discussions are skewing towards so-called environmentally ‘sustainable’ practices laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has seemed to go out of its way to be at odds with conventional agriculture. In other words, nutrition science and our producer’s voices may take a back seat to the Administration’s political agenda.”

The joint USDA-HHS committee has established a “Food Safety and Sustainability” subcommittee. During the most recent meeting the subcommittee discussed the topic of sustainability in terms of “lifestyles” and also discussed research around red meat in the diet.

Discussions focused on environmentally sustainable diets, arguing that eating less meat will be better for the planet. Committee members reportedly said that transitioning from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet should be encouraged in all food sectors. DGAC also discussed how marketing new plant-based diet recommendations as environmentally friendly may attract more people to adopt changes in their diet.

“This sort of costly guideline has no basis in nutrition, but it has major implications for farmers, ranchers and those who consume their products,” said Johanns.

The animal agriculture industry is urging the committee to consider the benefits of lean meat and poultry to a balanced, healthy diet. The National Pork Producers Council pointed out that animal proteins are considered complete proteins, containing all the essential amino acids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a number of critical vitamins and minerals, including B12, heme iron and potassium – often lacking in many Americans – are found primarily in meat.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) said it has been engaged in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for several years on behalf of its membership. They also submitted comments for the Advisory Committee to consider on the latest nutrition research like the Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD). They plan to continue to be engaged throughout the process, but also called on agricultural interests to stay involved. Comments can be posted at www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.   

“Improving dietary recommendations should not be a regulatory potluck, where every aspect of the President’s agenda has a seat at the table,” Johanns warned. “The Administration should stay within the scope of science-based nutrition advances when developing new diet recommendations, and save the political battles for other venues.”

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