Every five years the government releases new dietary guidelines to inform the American public of the changing science around food and nutrition, and to provide advice surrounding healthful dietary choices.
The new 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released early this month and there has been scant change from 2010. Much of the advice given in the government’s guidelines is familiar: eat more fruits and vegetables; consume less sugar and salt. However, there was one overwhelmingly controversial recommendation that was pulled from the initial draft.
The panel of experts assigned to write the government’s guidelines originally insisted on advising against excessive consumption of processed and red meat. This makes sense, especially in light of the World Health Organization’s recent classification of processed meats as certainly carcinogenic and red meats as most likely carcinogenic. Additionally, countless studies have shown that increased meat consumption leads to greater risk of cardiovascular disease (the cause of 30% of all deaths in the U.S.), type 2 diabetes, stroke, and often times a higher body mass index.
It seems ridiculous to omit the recommendation to consume less of a food that causes cancer, but that is exactly what the meat industry managed to do. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) claimed the committee of scientists’ initial advice to be “nonsensical.”
They requested and won a 30-day extension on the dietary recommendations comment period, during which NAMI provided feedback to justify its claims. In the end, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided to remove the recommendation to limit meat intake.
These guidelines could have been a critical step towards reducing cancer rates, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, so it is especially disheartening to know that the self-serving meat industry has prevailed in such an impactful way. Food and nutrition scientists around the country disagree with the guidelines post-political adulteration, particularly on the fact that the meat recommendation was removed.
It is absolutely shameful that the USDA allows politics to interfere and block scientific evidence from reaching the public, especially when obesity rates, diabetes, and heart disease are so prevalent. It is my hope that by 2020 real science will dominate America’s dietary guidelines rather than self-involved food industry lobbyists.
Hannah Howell is a junior majoring in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.