Nutrition policy must be based on sound science: NAMI

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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WASHINGTON – The Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture hosted a meeting for public comments on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) report released in February. Report recommendations, made by government-appointed nutrition scientists, fail to fully recognize the nutritional benefits of lean beef and conclude by advising Americans to eat less meat, claim several; leading industry organizations.

After a thorough review of the science used by the DGAC, indications reveal that more than 70 percent of the committee’s recommendations were not based on the reviews of USDA’s Nutritional Evidence Library (NEL), reports the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). NEL is designed to reduce bias in scientific analysis by serving as a primary resource to inform the committee about the best-available scientific research and answer important food and nutrition-related questions.

Betsy Booren, Ph.D., NAMI vice president of scientific affairs, delivered comments to USDA and HHS at a public meeting. She said meat and poultry products, which include red and processed meats, are an important component of a healthy American diet. She questioned the inconsistency of the inclusion and exclusion criteria for studies by the DGAC, saying the inconsistencies undermined the credibility of many of the committee’s recommendations.

“Lean meat and poultry products, which can include red and processed meats, should be part of a healthy dietary pattern because they are nutrient dense proteins that are necessary for a healthy life,” she said. “These products provide Americans a simple, direct, and balanced dietary source of all essential amino acids and are rich sources of micronutrients such as iron, selenium, Vitamins A, B12, and folic acid. While it is common today for food processors to add protein, our products are the obvious and natural protein choice for most Americans.

“It is incumbent on HHS and USDA to develop nutrition policy based on recommendations derived by the NEL. To do otherwise implies policy is being developed under a shroud of bias,” she added.

Booren also criticized the DGAC’s actions outside the statute and scope of expertise to include recommendations related to sustainability, noting that the group’s expertise is on nutrition and epidemiology and no member has expert credentials concerning sustainability.

“The same concern would exist if an expert sustainability committee were making nutrition policy recommendations,” Booren said. “It is not appropriate for the person designing a better light bulb to be telling Americans how to make a better sandwich. Sustainability is a complex issue best left to those with the necessary expertise.”

The DGAC report also reveals the NEL review for the subcommittee evaluating sustainability was preliminary, incomplete and deviated from the evidence review approach used by all other subcommittees, NAMI claims.

Meanwhile, Shalene McNeill, nutrition scientist and registered dietitian with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), said the Advisory Committee’s recommendation to exclude lean meat from a healthy dietary pattern is a historic move that ignores decades of nutrition science and all previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Although the committee defends the report saying lean beef is mentioned in a footnote, the recommendations are contradictory.

“Despite being charged with examining new evidence, the committee based its conclusions on outdated, weak evidence from stereotypical dietary patterns,” McNeill said. “Advising people to cut back on their red-meat intake has had harmful consequences. As red-meat intake has declined, we are consuming more empty calories and obesity rates have steadily increased. History has shown us that sweeping recommendations often get lost in translation and exacerbate obesity and nutrient shortfalls.”

While the recommendations in the report are influential in the development of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have the responsibility to review all the scientific evidence in tandem with the recommendations before developing the guidelines, McNeill said.

“It’s time to take a step back and look at the real world application of these recommendations,” said McNeill. “Americans have already moderated their red-meat servings, and science reinforces that current consumption is within amounts needed to promote good health, protecting the population from a shortfall of nutrients and providing a satisfying form of nutrition. Rather than cutting back, Americans need to be encouraged to eat lean meat with more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”

Significant scientific evidence supports lean red meat, such as nutrient-rich beef, as part of a healthy diet. NCBA encourages both secretaries to finish the scientific review of red meat’s role in a healthy diet and re-instate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommendation on lean meat, McNeill concluded.

The public comment period for the DGAC’s report is open now until May 8, 2015.
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