Health professionals praise Dietary Guidelines' push for reduced meat consumption

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, May 26, 2015 - A group of 700 physicians and other healthcare professionals sent a letter of strong endorsement to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell today praising the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's (DGAC) emphasis on lowering consumption of red and processed meat in its 2015 recommendations.

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The signatories called the “shift toward a more plant-based diet” in the DGAC's recommendations a potentially “powerful tool for health promotion” that would help reduce healthcare costs.

“Three of the four leading causes of preventable death, heart disease, cancer, and stroke - are diet-related,” the letter reads. “Heavy meat consumption, especially red and processed meat, is associated with increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, while plant-based diets are associated with decreased risks of all three.”

Chronic and preventable diseases account for approximately 75 percent of U.S. healthcare costs and diminish labor supply and worker productivity, costing the country $1 trillion in lost economic output and billions more in rising healthcare costs, the healthcare professionals said.

Reducing consumption of industrially produced animal products “is (also) key to conserving water and reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and ecosystem harm,” the letter said, supporting the DGAC's recommendations on sustainability.

To help consumers modify their eating habits, the group suggested the DGAC “explicitly” list the “common names” of foods in the guidelines and identify appropriate “non-animal protein sources.”

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Vilsack has said that he would be personally involved in writing the new federal dietary guidelines and indicated he would keep them narrowly focused on nutrition. He has not said he is opposed to including sustainability concerns in the final guidelines. U.S. meat producers and many general farm organizations have criticized the DGAC for recommending reduced consumption of red meat and say the panel went beyond its statutory charter in including sustainability language.

The guidelines, which are revised every five years to reflect advancements in scientific knowledge, are used to guide federal nutrition programs, including school meal standards, and to inform consumers. They have never included environmental standards or sustainability language before. 

The 75-day public comment period on the DGAC report closed earlier this month and USDA and HHS are expected to jointly publish the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year.

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