The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group which considers revisions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, on Thursday submitted its final report to the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services for public comment and final changes.
The report informs the guidelines, which offer advice for making food and physical activity choices that promote good health, a healthy weight, and help prevent disease for Americans more than two years old.
The committee's recommendations have caused a stir with meat and livestock groups, which criticized Thursday's report for its treatment of lean meat.
According to the report, the committee said evidence suggested a healthy diet should be "higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and 116 nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar- sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains."
The dietary recommendations included a footnote that said "lean meats can be part of a healthy dietary pattern" as demonstrated in the food pattern modeling of the Healthy U.S.-style and Healthy Mediterranean-style patterns.
According to the North American Meat Institute, lean meat consumption should be "more than a footnote."
"Lean meat’s relegation to a footnote ignores the countless studies and data that the Committee reviewed for the last two years that showed unequivocally that meat and poultry are among the most nutrient dense foods available," NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter said.
The group also took issue with the recommendation on processed meats, noting that processing meat and poultry so that it can be more readily consumed helps people include it in their diets.
"It is also unfortunate the Committee is generalizing about an entire category of foods. Processed meat and poultry products are diverse and include low-fat, low- sodium, gluten-free, natural, organic, kosher, halal and regular formulations, along with countless flavors and styles," Carpenter said in a statement.
The recommendations, while maintaining the Recommended Daily Allowance of 5.5 ounces of "protein foods," also suggested a diet higher in plant-based and lower in animal-based foods would also be more environmentally sustainable.
In response, the National Pork Producers Council said animal proteins offer a "complete protein" – containing all essential amino acids, vitamin B12, Heme iron and potassium.
NPPC said lean meat is also beneficial to school children because it promotes satiety and preserves lean muscle mass.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Dr. Shalene McNeill, a registered dietitian, added that the recommendation that a healthy dietary pattern should be lower in red meat is "not consistent with scientific evidence."
"Lean meat is red meat. Today's beef supply is leaner than ever before with more than 30 cuts of beef recognized as lean by government standards," McNeill said in an NCBA statement. "The protein foods category, which includes meat, is the only category currently consumed within the current guidelines, and it is misleading to conclude that a healthy dietary pattern should be lower in red meat."
The sustainability claim also concerned NPPC, which said pork producers today are much more environmentally friendly than they were 25 years ago. NPPC President Howard Hill cited a UN report on greenhouse gases that "cited intensive agricultural production, such as the modern U.S. meat production system, as a way to address those gases."
"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," Hill said.
"Have we really come to the point where alcohol is okay and meat isn't?" he asked, citing the committee's recommendation in support of moderate alcohol consumption.
On beverages and dairy, however, the National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association praised the proposed guidelines' support of low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products.
"Milk, cheese, and yogurt not only taste great, but also are nutrient-rich, affordable, readily available, and versatile," the two groups said. "Milk is the number one source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of America’s children – including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, three of the four nutrients the 2015 DGAC found to be under-consumed. Dairy foods’ nutrient package can be hard to replace with other foods."
After publication in the Federal Register, the public has 45 days to review and comment on the committee's recommendations. The public will also have an opportunity to offer oral comments at a public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 24, 2015.
For more information on the guidelines' process, read: Groups fear meat trimmed out of nutrition guidelines on Farm Futures Now!