A group of U.S. Senators told the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services on Thursday that contrary to recommendations provided by a committee to review U.S. dietary guidelines, lean red meat plays a key role in a healthy diet.
The bipartisan group said scientific literature supports inclusion of lean red meat in a healthy diet, though the committee, which provided its guideline recommendations to both HHS and USDA last month, didn't offer lean red meat a prominent place in its report.
Instead, the committee said scientific 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 Senators, the committee's suggestion to decrease consumption of red and processed meats "ignores the peer-reviewed and published scientific evidence that shows the role of lean red meats as part of a healthy diet."
Senators also took issue with the committee's other indication that a diet higher in plant-based and lower in animal-based foods would also be more environmentally sustainable.
"We have strong concerns with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee going beyond its purview of nutrition and health research to include topics such as sustainability," the Senators wrote in the letter. "The 14-member advisory committee does not have the background or expertise required to make these suggestions in this report. We strongly encourage you to stay within the statutory authority of your respective departments when finalizing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines."
The letter coincided with the North American Meat Institute's release of a change.org petition of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, also expressing concern with the committee's suggestions on lean meat and sustainability.
"We believe the dietitians and nutritionists who make up the Committee overstepped their bounds by not focusing on nutrition and instead wandering into environmental issues," the petition says. "We petition you to embrace nutrient dense meat and poultry in a healthy, balanced diet."
Following the release of the Committee's report in February, NAMI and other livestock and meat groups were largely in opposition of meat's treatment. And according to Kansas State Extension Fresh Meat Specialist Travis O'Quinn, the proposed recommendations do have the ability to change the meat industry due to their involvement in determining school lunch guidelines, for example.
Another K-State expert, human nutritionist Sandy Procter, said the recommendations are just representative of the guidance evolving as research expands.
"While some might view the changing information as a concern, I believe we should be encouraged by the dietary guidance revisions reminding us that nutrition is a relatively young science supported by ongoing research," Procter said.