In a closed-door meeting in December, discussion over what constitutes a lean meat by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for proposed healthy diet recommendations has sparked criticisms from many in the meat industry.
The advisory group is charged with revising Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. The advisory group is as it's name notes, only advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services department on final recommendations. The final decision lies in USDA and HHS hands, which they expect to have completed by the end of this year.
During the past year, the DGAC Subcommittee examined the common characteristics of dietary patterns associated with positive health incomes.
Throughout the DGAC deliberations, in addition to being recognized as nutrient-dense in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, lean meat was considered a component of a dietary pattern associated with positive health outcomes.
However, the December meeting began to examine lean meats and meat industry groups remain concerned as to what the advisory committee will suggest when it was reported that lean meat was removed from what constitutes a healhy dietary pattern.
“The committee’s removal of nutrient-dense lean meat from a healthy dietary pattern is stunning,” says North American Meat Institute president and chief executive officer Barry Carpenter. “The change was made behind closed doors during a lunch break at the final December 15 meeting. Actions made in haste behind closed doors are not rooted in science and do not make good public policy.”
The National Chicken Council took exception to the change and wrote to the committee to reinforce poultry’s role in a healthy, balanced diet.
“Including meat and poultry in the diet allows consumers to more easily fulfill their nutrient requirements by providing abundant essential amino acids and macronutrients,” wrote Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “We recommend that DGAC provides information around portion control and how to choose healthier products as opposed to picking winners and losers in the food pyramid by restricting or completely eliminating nutrient dense foods such as fresh and processed chicken.”
In NAMI’s comments, they noted that the Committee’s actions suggest that given an inability to achieve consensus, it chose to delete “lean meat” from its recommendations of components of a healthy eating pattern.
Definition of 'lean'
“Ironically, the Committee decision-making could have been much easier had it simply used the regulatory definition of ‘lean.’ According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service “lean” is defined as 100 grams of individual food with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol,” NAMI said in its comments. “This ‘lean’ definition would include all meat and poultry products, including red and processed meats.”
“The Committee’s decision to omit ‘lean meats’ in a healthy pattern due to lack of definition of ‘lean meat’ amidst rushed deliberations questions the validity of the omission,” Peterson said. “It also casts an astonishing lack of discernment in reviewing scientific evidence and again calls into question the entirety of the recommendations submitted by the DGAC to the agencies.”
The National Pork Producers Council added the move by the DGAC to exclude meat confirms a suspicion NPPC has long had: “that the advisory committee is biased against consumption of animal protein and is ignoring the many health benefits lean meat provides.” NPPC also raised concerns that the DGAC may have excluded from its evidence library science that supports the health benefits associated with meat consumption.
In 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics endorsed the total diet approach of encouraging consumption of nutrient rich dense foods, which includes meat and poultry, rather than energy dense foods as the most important focus of a healthful eating style. NAMI’s comments noted that the DGAC’s actions, however, “may cause consumers to perceive lean meat as ‘bad foods,’ which is inconsistent with the scientific evidence and the total diet approach.”
If there is a “no comment” or indication that lean meats aren’t part of healthy and balanced diet, it could have a lasting impact on school lunches, summer feeding programs and foods served to the military, warned Shalene McNeil, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. executive director of human nutrition who is also a registered dietician.
The DGAC’s recommendations are expected to be delivered to the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments in February and the final guidelines are expected to be released later this year.
“At that time, the Secretaries will have the opportunity to review the recommendations and request input and comments. Following that, the recommendations will then be published in the Federal Register, with a comment period,” the NCBA says.
"The committee's activities are solely advisory in nature," says a USDA spokeswoman. "We look forward to reviewing the recommendations from the advisory committee, as well as public comments and the views of other experts, as we formulate the 2015 Dietary guidelines for Americans over the course of the year."
Although USDA has not received the recommendations from the dietary committee, but indications from the November public meeting show that it's likely recommendations on consumption of meat are likely to be in line with the 2010 guideline levels.