Every 5 years, the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services jointly release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They tell Americans what and how much to eat, as though humanity hadn’t figured that out several hundred thousand years ago. 2015’s guidelines have some major revisions: Fat, on the whole, is no longer our enemy, but saturated fat is. Also, Americans should consider switching to a more plant-based diet for the good of the environment.
Unsurprisingly, those two key guidelines have the meat industry (and the Republicans whose coffers they fill) up in arms.
While health experts laud the notion that fat avoidance should be based on quality, not quantity, meat processors (particularly those who process beef) aren’t so thrilled. Red meat accounts for the majority of most Americans’ saturated fat intake, which is fat that stays solid at room temperature. Of course, the recommendation to eat less meat in general have all meat producers holding their breath and stomping their feet.
This is not the first time politics have played a part in the dietary guidelines. In fact, these latest guidelines are something of a positive regression: When the first government guidelines were created in the 1960s, research at the time indicated a correlation between red meat consumption and heart disease. The guidelines seemed obvious – eat less red meat.
The meat industry, however, took umbrage with this, and lobbied for change. The guidelines were amended to say “eat less saturated fat,” but that still seemed too on the nose. The meat industry eventually lobbied to have them read “eat less fat,” which led to both our macro-nutrient obsessed culture and the “low fat” (but loaded with sugar and preservatives) foodstuffs that make America an exceptionally obese nation.
Ironically, the spending bills currently making their way through both the House and Senate call for the guidelines to focus on science and nutrition, not political suggestions. According to the panel that creates the guidelines, the recommendation to eat less meat for environmental purposes is backed by “moderate” scientific evidence. As such, House and Senate Republicans contend that the guidelines should only be based on the most conclusive, definitive “strong” scientific evidence.
The guidelines also proposed a government tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, which went over with industry leaders and Republicans about as well as a lead balloon.