Cattle groups fear new guidelines may shun red meat

Phillip Sherman, a marketer for Lucky Dog Ranch in Dixon, Calif., prepares to sell sides of beef at a farmers' market in Davis, Calif., on Dec. 20. Cattle groups are concerned that updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans may advise consumers to eat less red meat.

Cattle groups fret that a federal committee that’s been working on revisions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans may call for consumers to eat less red meat.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other groups contend a growing body of evidence supports lean beef’s role in healthy diets and vow to push back against any claims that red meat is unhealthful.

Groups voiced concerns after the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s final meeting Dec. 15, at which members appeared to some to be leaning toward removing references to lean beef as a beneficial protein and advising consumers to reduce red meat consumption.

The committee was taking public comments through Dec. 30 and plans to submit its report to the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services in early 2015.

The panel appears ready to discourage eating beef despite acknowledging evidence showing that there are healthy dietary patterns with red meat intake above current U.S. consumption levels, asserts Richard Thorpe, a Texas medical doctor and cattle producer.

The committee “appears to be out of touch with today’s lean meat supply in the retail counter and the 30-plus years of nutrition advice showcasing benefits of lean beef,” Thorpe said in a statement on the NCBA’s website.

Tim Koopmann, a Sunol, Calif., rancher and the California Cattlemen’s Association’s immediate past president, said research into the health benefits of beef has helped change the image of red meat in recent years.

“I think the red meat badmouthing is starting to decline, or at least I thought it was,” Koopmann said.

Officials from the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services did not return emails from the Capital Press seeking comment.

The government has updated its Dietary Guidelines every five years since 1980. The current guidelines released Jan. 31, 2011 recommend that people eat “a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.”

The role of red meat in the diet has long been a source of controversy. Critics of the protein cite studies like one by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2012 that linked red meat consumption with increased cardiovascular and cancer morbidity.

However, industry groups point to the American Heart Association’s decision in recent years to allow its stamp of approval — the heart-check mark — to be shown on retail labels for a half-dozen extra-lean cuts of beef.

Further, they note a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that showed test participants who ate beef as part of an optimal lean diet achieved lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, known as the “bad cholesterol”.

When the committee recommends the new guidelines, another public comment period will open, NCBA spokesman Chase Adams said. Industry groups can also appeal to Congress, which has oversight authority, he said.

Whatever the guidelines recommend, they won’t likely have much if any immediate impact on overall consumer demand for beef, Adams and Koopmann agreed. However, the guidelines are used as a basis for the National School Lunch Program and other federal food programs, Adams said.

“It really just sets broad policy,” he said. “I think overall the bigger concern is just the precedent that this sets and the image that this sends to consumers overall.”

Online

Dietary Guidelines for Americans process: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/

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