New US Dietary Guidelines cave to the meat lobby

Last year we were so excited that the new guidelines might include environmental and considerations, such as "eat less meat." Unfortunately, it doesn't say that anywhere.

Yesterday’s release of the new Dietary Guidelines for the United States has been met with widespread disappointment. For the past year, Americans have been waiting to see what would come out of the months of public feedback, reviews, reports, and debates. Many hoped that the guidelines would tackle two main issues – the need to reduce both meat and sugar consumption. Unfortunately, only the latter has appeared in the guidelines -- still a good thing, but not good enough.

“If I were the meat industry, I would break out the champagne,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and author of seminal book Food Politics. “Nowhere does it say eat less meat.”

A preliminary report, released last February by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, sounded very promising: “A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.” Clearly the advisory committee’s recommendation, however, did not withstand the barrage of protest from the meat lobby.

The problem lies deeply rooted within the system. As Vox describes it:

“A panel of government-appointed science advisers crunch nutrition data for months and then hand that information to officials at the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services. That data goes through a sausage-making process that involves gathering feedback from the public and, importantly, food industry representatives. Out pop the guidelines.”

Much of 2015 was spent lobbying by groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the North American Meat Institute. These groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the threat of “eat less meat” appearing in the new guidelines.

Vox quotes Nestle: “Every state has cattle and every state has two senators,” said Nestle who served on a past Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and reviewed the 2015 guidelines. “So they are enormously powerful.”

It is disappointing and infuriating to think that corporate profits matter more than human health, especially in a country already ravaged by dietary illnesses. In addition, the guidelines are so wordy, vague, and confusing that it’s hardly worth the effort of decoding what they are trying to say. “Protein food” is supposed to mean meat? Oh, please. It’s easier just to shrug them off as ridiculous political jargon.

If the U.S. government doesn’t know how to instruct its citizens in how to eat properly, then it’s reassuring to know that other countries have already figured it out. Sweden and Brazil have both published excellent (and understandable) dietary guidelines in recent years. Use those instead and see how you feel in five years, when the new guidelines are due for review. Maybe by then the U.S. guidelines will have gotten with the times.

Tags: Animals | Diet | Food Security | Health | United States

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