Meat matters

by Keith Nunes
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Industry makes the case for meat as part of a balanced diet.

WASHINGTON – The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee’s (DGAC) recommendation consumers adopt a “healthy eating pattern” that is lower in red and processed meats has struck a nerve with industry representatives, most notably the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). In addition to recommending the DGAC consider changing the recommendation, the NAMI also has published a Change.org petition in an effort to enlist consumers to pressure the committee.

Published in February, the committee’s recommendation said, “The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

“Additional strong evidence shows that it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns,” it added. “Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual’s health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions. Current research also strongly demonstrates that regular physical activity promotes health and reduces chronic disease risk.”

Within the dietary pattern recommendation is also a footnote that specifically states lean meats may be a part of a healthy dietary pattern.

“We appreciate the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recognition of the important role that lean meat can play in a healthy balanced diet, but lean meat’s relegation to a footnote ignores the countless studies and data that the committee reviewed for the last two years that showed unequivocally that meat and poultry are among the most nutrient-dense foods available,” said Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of NAMI. “Nutrient-dense lean meat is a headline, not a footnote.

“As they develop the final policy report, we urge the Agriculture Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to acknowledge lean meat’s role in a healthy diet and to undertake a careful review of the information about processed meats that was reviewed by the committee,” he added. “Consumers should rely on common sense and make all meat and poultry a part of their healthy balanced diets with confidence.”

On March 12, 2015, 30 US Senators signed a letter to Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Tom Vilsack, secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, expressing their concern about the “scientific integrity” of the DGAC’s recommendation to remove lean meat from the statement of a healthy dietary pattern.

“Unfortunately, this statement ignores the peer-reviewed and published scientific evidence that shows the role of lean red meats as part of a healthy diet,” the Senators’ letter said. “Furthermore, the statement is misleading as it suggests current American diets include too much meat.

“Government data ([show] the protein food category is the only food group being consumed within the 2010 daily recommended values,” the letter added. “It is misleading for the report to suggest eating less meat when meat is not being over-consumed based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommendations.”
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, issued a statement noting the Senators were misrepresenting the committee’s recommendation.

“The Senators could not have read the 571-page report very carefully,” he said. “In fact, they must not have read much past page three, since page four clearly states that ‘lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern. When they get such an obvious thing wrong, it’s no surprise that they mischaracterize the science surrounding consumption of red and processed meats on health. Diets high in red and processed meats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and the expert panel sensibly recommends eating less of those foods.

“If anything, the 30 Senators have provided a useful reminder why scientists with expertise in diet and health, and not politicians, make the recommendations that form the basis of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” he continued.

On March 12, the NAMI posted a petition on the web site Change.org to alert consumers to the DGAC’s recommendations.

“We hope our petition will give a voice to the 95 percent of Americans who make meat and poultry part of a balanced diet and who want to ensure that no restrictions or taxes are placed upon their dietary choices,” Carpenter said. “While the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee may think consumers aren’t capable of making common sense nutrition decisions and must be taxed and restricted, we believe Americans are intelligent people and we want their voices to be heard.”

Late in the day on Monday, March 16, 593 people had signed the NAMI petition.

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