INFLUENCE GAME: Meat industry fights new dietary proposal

March 11, 2015 byMary Clare Jalonick
In this Jan. 18, 2010 file photo, steaks and other beef products are displayed for sale at a grocery store in McLean, Va. The meat industry is seeing red over the dietary guidelines. Hoping to rehabilitate its image as critics have encouraged Americans to eat less meat, the industry is swiftly and aggressively trying to discredit a government advisory panel report that they see as damaging. The report, released last month, recommends that people consume fewer red and processed meats and includes the health benefits of lean meat in a footnote, instead of as part of the main recommendations. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The meat industry is seeing red.

Meat companies have tried to rehabilitate an image tarnished in recent years by health and environmental concerns. Now the industry is swiftly and aggressively working to discredit a proposal for new dietary guidelines that recommends people eat less red and processed meat.

The proposal last month by a government advisory committee also relegates the health benefits of lean meat to a footnote to the main recommendations.

"We've been put in a position over the years to almost be apologizing for our product, we're not going to do that anymore," said Barry Carpenter, the president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute.

The meat industry long has been one of the more powerful lobbies in Washington, enjoying an especially close relationship with the Agriculture Department, which has inspectors in meat processing plants.

Together, the meat processing and livestock industries spent about $7 million on lobbying last year and donated more than $5 million to members of Congress in the last election cycle, according to the political money and influence tracking website OpenSecrets.org.

Meat industry executives say their push is about the American perception of red meat, rather than just dollars, though the guidelines can have an eventual impact on government purchases for the military and school lunches.

Carpenter's group recently released a video of the slaughter process to counter criticism about the way animals are killed. It also is trying to better engage with consumers through social media, tweeting links to its "Meat Mythcrushers" site, which looks at nutrition and other issues from the industry's point of view.

Now, they are pushing the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, which will write final dietary guidelines by year's end. They are meeting with officials and asking them to do what they have done in the past: prominently recommend lean meats as part of a healthy diet. They also are asking their many, mostly Republican, allies in Congress to pressure the Obama administration.

Congress appears ready to help.

"The secretaries share responsibility for these flawed recommendations," said House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas. Conaway was among the House members who wrote the departments last week about the overall recommendations, including advice that people eat a more sustainable, plant-based diet because it is better for the environment.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has not said what the final guidelines will look like. But he has pledged to keep them focused on nutrition and diet, giving the meat industry some hope that perhaps at least the environmental portion could be left out.

A spending bill passed by Congress in December asked him "to only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors" in the guidelines.

Environmental groups are lobbying on the issue, pushing the departments to keep that language. Public health groups praised the language on red meat, noting that red meat has been linked to heart disease and colorectal cancer.

Meat executives counter their product is rich in nutrients and helps people get enough protein in their diets. Processed meat is often lean, they say.

Carpenter said he believes the report is encouraging people to eat less lean meat. "The fact that they put it in as a footnote really convinces me that that's true," he said.

Not true, say members of the advisory committee.

"These patterns can be achieved without eliminating any food group," said Barbara Millen, head of the advisory committee, referring to the diets the committee described.

Millen explains that the panel looked at the common characteristics of healthy diets that contributed to good health, and high-protein foods such as seafood and legumes emerged most consistently. But the committee added a footnote to clarify that "lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern."

"I am really sorry that someone took offense to a footnote," said Miriam Nelson, another committee member. She said the guidelines are a technical, scientific report and are written to show a range of diets.

"This is not an attack on lean meat. It's on the amount and how we're eating meats overall," Nelson said.

Other meat groups also are criticizing the guidelines.

"It appears the advisory committee was more interested in addressing what's trendy among foodies than providing science-based advice for the average American's diet," Howard Hill, outgoing president of the National Pork Producers Council, said last month. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Chicken Council also challenged the report.

This is not the first time the red meat has campaigned against dietary guidelines. In 1977, the first guidelines, issued by a Senate panel, said Americans should "reduce consumption of meat and increase consumption of poultry and fish."

Meat groups pushed back, and the Senate panel heard them out. A revised version included new language on meat: "Decrease consumption of animal fat, and choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake."

Explore further: Guide for healthy eating may consider environment

More information: Proposed guidelines: www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines

Related Stories

Guide for healthy eating may consider environment

January 2, 2015
The government issues dietary guidelines every five years to encourage Americans to eat healthier. This year's version may look at what is healthy for the environment, too.

Five things to look for as govt writes new dietary advice

January 8, 2015
For years, the government has told Americans to eat their vegetables. A rewrite of the government's dietary guidelines could include some new advice, too, on sugar, salt, meat and caffeine.

US advisory group makes recommendations on diet

February 19, 2015
A U.S. government advisory panel of medical and nutrition experts on Thursday recommended an environmentally friendly diet lower in red and processed meats. But the panel would reverse previous guidance on limiting dietary ...

Eating red and processed meat—what do scientists say

March 6, 2014
Recent reports warn about a link between eating red and processed meat and the risk of developing cancer in the gut. These reports have resulted in new nutritional recommendations that advise people to limit their intake ...

Processed red meat linked to higher risk of heart failure, death in men

June 12, 2014
Men who eat moderate amounts of processed red meat may have an increased risk of incidence and death from heart failure, according to a study in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.

Recommended for you

India has avoided 1 million child deaths since 2005, new study concludes

September 19, 2017
India has avoided about 1 million deaths of children under age five since 2005, driven by significant reductions in mortality from pneumonia, diarrhea, tetanus and measles, according to new research published today.

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers

September 19, 2017
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists ...

Study suggests link between youth football and later-life emotional, behavioral impairment

September 19, 2017
A new study has found an association between participation in youth tackle football before age 12 and impaired mood and behavior later in life. The study appears in Nature's Translational Psychiatry.

Self-confidence affected by teammates, study finds

September 19, 2017
A person's confidence in their own ability varies significantly depending on who is in their team, according to new research from the University of Stirling.

Video game boosts sex health IQ and attitudes in minority teens

September 18, 2017
A videogame designed by Yale researchers to promote health and reduce risky behavior in teens improves sexual health knowledge and attitudes among minority youth, according to a new study. The findings validate the value ...

Two Americas: Seniors are getting healthier but most gains go to high-income whites

September 18, 2017
Older Americans report feeling dramatically healthier than they did 14 years ago but that good health isn't evenly distributed, with much of the gain going to the wealthiest, most highly educated and whites.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.