April 2015: The growing influence of the anti-livestock lobby

The United States government may think it’s in charge of the world’s biggest superpower, but even it has proved to be susceptible to the influence of special interest groups representing those who would rather animals weren’t raised for meat. Incredibly, controversy is raging in this great farming nation because of proposed dietary advice currently under review by the US Department of Health and Human Services (USHHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) – established jointly by the USHHS and USDA – is charged with setting advice on healthy eating in the publication Dietary Guidelines for Americans; and the latest recommendations have upset America’s meat industry.

This isn’t exactly a surprise; before the latest guidelines were even published for comment, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) had warned that lean meat would be excluded from the recommendations, and claimed the decision had been made behind closed doors during the lunchbreak at the DGAC’s December meeting.

With the 2015 guidelines now open for consulation, NAMI has described the approach to meat as flawed and nonsensical. In particular, it takes issue with the suggestion in the document that diets should be “lower in red meat and processed meats”.

The organisations’ primary “beef” is that the guidelines don’t recognise the positive role lean meat has to play in a healthy diet, but there’s an ever greater issue at play.

“The committee’s contradictory advice to reduce processed meats is also nonsensical,” NAMI says, “especially given data the committee reviewed about the Mediterranean diet. Followers of the Mediterranean diet – the diet hailed by so many for its good nutrition and health outcomes – consume twice as many processed meats as included in the USDA’s food patterns.”

But it turns out what really sits at the heart of this issue has little to do with human health at all. DGAC says its advice is based on research that suggests diets that are higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods are more sustainable and associated with less environmental impact than the current US diet.

NAMI president Barry Carpenter’s pulled no punches when he commented: “DGAC’s foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise.”

US politicians have also now joined the debate. A group of 30 senators has written to the HHS and USDA urging them to: “consider the most relevant nutrition scientific literature, and reject the committee’s inconsistent conclusions and recommendations regarding the role of lean red meat in a healthy diet”.

Meanwhile, the agriculture committee chairman and chairwoman of the subcommittee on nutrition in the House of Congress are both demanding the consultation period on the DGAC guidelines be doubled to 90 days.

> Graeme Kirk has been editor of Pig World since March 2013. Born into a farming family in South-west Scotland, he’s been an agricultural journalist for nearly 30 years

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