Food Politics

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In elementary school, children learn that Americans have a government that is run for the people by the people. By adolescence, most of us were pretty surprised to learn the staggering reality that money and politics have a huge say in how the world is run. Apparently, even rules about what we eat are fair game for influence by those with deep pockets.

Meat Wins Big

In January, the federal government released the most recent draft of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which are revised every five years. Several nutrition recommendations were updated, like new limitations on sugar and salt intake (see page 13). But one place where the panel was surprisingly silent was with their recommendations for red and processed meat consumption. In fact, they included no language at all suggesting that Americans should limit their beef intake.

Shortly after the final draft was released, I heard an interview with Tom Brenna from Cornell University, Wakunaga of America Co., Inc.who served on the advisory panel for the guidelines (1). He says his group had originally recommended that the guidelines include the suggestion to eat less meat. But, the sentiment was met with a lot of resistance and never saw the light of day in the final guidelines. Instead, a somewhat indirect way of saying the same thing—a recommendation to consume more alternative protein sources—was included.

So, who exactly influenced the guidelines and why? The why is easy: money. The who is trickier. The meat industry (not surprising) and the very agency that should be looking out for our nutrition: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA is not only tasked with developing and releasing the guidelines, but it also represents the interests of the farming industry. The meat industry is said to have lobbied hard (including pushing back with the slogan “Hands off my hot dog.”) to keep any talk of limiting its chief moneymaker out of the picture. And, the USDA apparently cannot cross its stakeholders and offer the legitimate research-backed suggestion that Americans should limit their red meat intake both for their own wellbeing and the health of the planet. Nutritionists, physicians, dieticians and others aligned with the health industry have no problems telling Americans to cut back their meat intake. But apparently, we’re more likely to see pigs fly than hear USDA voices make a similar call to action thanks to where its interests lie: in the pocket of the meat industry.

It’s sad and disappointing that a select group of food industry executives have so much influence over the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, recommendations that are supposed to make Americans healthier in an unbiased fashion. Money should have no role in the discussion. Americans deserve better than that. WFEditorial
 
Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

Published in WholeFoods Magazine February 2016