Today in the United States, politics run practically every aspect of our lives. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are no exception. The guidelines, which are updated every five years, are ostensibly determined by scientific evidence that an expert panel organizes into a number of dietary recommendations for the U.S. public.
Despite this claim, the influence of corporate interests on this round of recommendations is impossible to ignore. And it’s clear that the meat industry is the largest corporate offender.
The most glaring flaw in the guidelines is the absence of straightforward advice to eat less red and processed meat — statements that were a critical component of the advisory panel’s initial draft. This omission is remarkable because research has shown that the consumption of red and processed meat increases risk for the primary causes of death in the United States, including diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
Rather than including a recommendation in line with scientific evidence and public health goals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) caved to corporate influence by omitting an essential direction that U.S. citizens cut back on red meat intake. What the public received instead is the weakened suggestion that they choose lean meats.
Prior to the release of the new guidelines, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report that revealed a link between eating red and processed meats and developing cancer. In their report, researchers classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Specifically, they revealed that there is strong evidence that processed meats (e.g., sausage, hot dogs and ham) cause colorectal and stomach cancer and moderate evidence that red meats (e.g., beef, pork and lamb) contribute to colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. Furthermore, WHO found that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily — that’s a little more than a single hot dog — increases your risk for these types of cancers by 18 percent.
In light of these findings, it is disquieting that the new Dietary Guidelines fail to recommend that people avoid red and processed meats. Also concerning is that their recommendation to eat “lean meats” includes certain red meats.
For instance, lamb is considered lean meat according to FDA standards, but is also considered a red meat by WHO. Thus, these guidelines can be interpreted as recommending that U.S. citizens choose foods that may in fact cause cancer.
Michael Taylor, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), recognizes the unjust corporate influence on the new Dietary Guidelines and remarked that the USDA is “thinking of the industry as the customer rather than the consumer, and thinking in terms of efficient inspection rather than protecting public health.”
The numbers further support Taylor’s point. The meat industry spent nearly $3.5 million lobbying against the new guidelines. And other experts agree that the strong relationship between USDA and the meat industry amounts to a conflict of interest. Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, stated that the meat industry was successful in manipulating the guidelines because “the USDA’s primary stakeholders are major food producers and manufacturers.”
How is it that the Dietary Guidelines — the so-called “cornerstone of federal nutrition policy” — fail to advise U.S. citizens about the dangers of red and processed meat, for which there exists strong, reliable evidence? How is it that the U.S. government can be persuaded by the meat industry to omit consequential dietary recommendations and put the public’s health at risk? It’s clear that the government has yielded to industry pressure and failed to protect the U.S. public.
The health of citizens should not come second to politics, money and power. Fight back against this tragedy by leaving meat off your plate and out of your shopping cart. Put your interests first.