Meat is good for you. This very simple fact has strangely become controversial in our health-conscious culture. “Red meat,” meaning not sourced from birds, has been especially tenderized in the media lately by politicians, some health professionals, and green activists.
When asked about how to get Americans to consume less red meat, Vice President Kamala Harris answered that the government should work on “creating incentives and then banning certain behaviors.” The USDA is currently taking comments for its Dietary Guidelines production process and red meat is probably on the chopping block.
There are two basic ways the government can reduce meat consumption—by increasing the price of meat or discouraging consumers from buying it. An increase in price could come from a particular tax or some added regulatory hurdle, while a decrease in demand could come from a cultural shift where the government acts as a sort of influencer. One of the major ways the government influences the lives of Americans is through these Dietary Guidelines. Although most Americans don’t follow the guidelines exclusively, health professionals look to the science endorsed by the agency, and various federal food assistance programs are based on the guidelines. The military also bases its menus on the Dietary Guidelines.
These guidelines are reviewed every five years when the U.S. Department of Agriculture solicits input from other federal agencies, the scientific community, and the public and creates the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is the intra-agency body that issues the final guidelines. This year, the DGAC highlighted two important topics in which they are especially interested: alcoholic beverages and sustainability and the complex relationship between nutrition and climate change.
I previously wrote a blog about alcohol and the Dietary Guidelines. Now, I’ll take a closer look at “nutrition and climate change.” Cows and other livestock are often seen as climate culprits because manure produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Currently, New Zealand is the only country to pass laws to cut greenhouse gasses, specifically from livestock, and direct farmers to shrink their herds. Cattle farmers responded by dumping manure around their capital and blocking streets with tractors, but to no avail.
And in the Netherlands, an industry group estimated that about 3,000 Dutch farms will be shut down to comply with the country’s new controversial coalition accord(functionally a directive to those in the agricultural sector) to reduce nitrogen run-off. This reduction will be achieved by offering farmers voluntary buyouts, “likely” for livestock according to the US Foreign Agriculture Service. However, if farmers don’t agree to the buyouts, the state will have to consider taking a different path to achieve their reduction goal. If government power is left unchecked, farmers in the United States could face the same federal threat to their livelihood.
Oddly, beef isn’t even mentioned in the current USDA’s Healthy Recommended Diet plan, only poultry. This omittance is bizarre since the USDA reported that Americans consumed, on average, almost 60 lbs of beef per person in 2022. The recommended diet plan is quite divorced from the reality of the average American’s diet, probably on purpose to slowly move consumers away from red meat.
But that doesn’t matter to the now-politicized DGAC which will ignore the evidence that consuming red meat several times per week as a part of a diverse diet is a great way to get important nutrients like Vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and certain amino acids.
Nutrition science can be incredibly flawed and can often be used to push a particular agenda (like an anti-meat agenda). And while an extremely high daily intake of meats and other foods that are high in saturated fatty acids can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular issues and certain types of cancers, that certainly does not mean that the average person will see any health benefits from decreasing their already moderate consumption of red meat. Further, saturated fatty acids are found in many types of foods, so it could be possible to eliminate all meat consumption and still be statistically at risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
The DGAC’s greatest flaw is that it fails to acknowledge that nutrition is complex and ought to be highly tailored to the individual. While some environmental and nutrition issues are legitimate, the government’s process for providing dietary guidelines is outdated, tainted, and overly politicized. In other words, it doesn’t work.