Environmental Regulation / Healthcare / Politics

Meat Industry Challenged by New DGAC Report

Do you love coffee but also love red meat and dessert? If so, there’s good news and bad news. On Thursday, February 19, the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee (DGAC) released a lengthy 571-page report of suggestions to the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The report explained strategies to “transform the food system” and will be used as the footing when government agencies develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines will then be used when developing government food assistance programs and nutrition education efforts. Before the report is finalized into guidelines, it is open for public comment through April 8.

First, the good news, as ABC News reports, is a silver lining for coffee lovers. The DGAC report found that you can consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine, or about 5 cups of coffee per day, without damaging effects. The committee found reasonable caffeine consumption is not associated with previous suspects such as heart disease and cancer. Actually, the committee noted that coffee might even help prevent heart disease as well as Parkinson’s disease and type two diabetes.

Next comes bad news for meat lovers; climate change found its way into the report this year by way of red meat. The federal advisory committee advocated for the next dietary guidelines to take into consideration environmental factors, specifically recommending less red meat and more plant-based foods. The logic behind this is “a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet,” the report stated.

If HHS and USDA adopt these recommendations, it would be the first time environmental factors played a role in guidelines usually designed solely for the purpose of healthy eating and nutrition.

Unsurprisingly, the meat industry is not happy about the change in recommendations. “The Dietary Guidelines Committee’s charter tasked them with reviewing nutrition science which is the field from which Committee members were selected. The Committee’s foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise,” said North American Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter to the Washington Times. “It’s akin to having a dermatologist provide recommendations about cardiac care.”

Meat manufacturers and their supporters on Capitol Hill think the advisory committee strayed too far from its primary task, which is to examine the components of a healthy diet. The report seems to greatly broaden President Obama’s environmental plan, this time going as far as the American kitchen. While climate change may benefit, other consequences are possible. For example, if Americans eat less meat, grain-growing operations could also suffer. Since corn is a large source of feed for cattle farmers, a decrease in demand for meat could also mean a decrease in demand for corn.

Richard Thorpe, a physician and rancher in Winters, Texas, told the Wall Street Journal he was “very disappointed” in the committee’s proposals, as the meat industry has worked to integrate health and environmental concerns into farm practices. “Our industry over the last twenty or thirty years has done nothing but reduce the amount of fat in our animal,” Dr. Thorpe said. “I think these recommendations can hurt some very vital, important industries to the United States in the business of feeding people.”