In search of "sustainable" food sources, a federal dietary panel is grazing the wrong pastures, critics warn.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is building a new food pyramid with fruits, plants, and dairy as the prime ingredients.
Beef and poultry are nowhere to be found.
"This is all [BS]," said John Dale Dunn, a policy adviser to the market-based Heartland Institute.
Targeting Angela Tagtow, the new executive director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Dunn declared, "She and every one of her allies in the campaign to promote 'healthy' eating have nothing to work with except their enduring interest in telling people what to eat and how much."
Richard Williams, a former Food and Drug Administration official, said the USDA is chasing "food fads."
"'Food sustainability' is a loaded phrase. Talking about 'free range and buying local' while pushing home canning doesn't have anything to do with diet," Williams said.
The American Meat Institute is taking a diplomatic tack, for now.
"We look forward to working with Angie Tagtow," said AMI President and CEO James Hodges.
"We hope that she will help guide the Dietary Guidelines process to ensure that they are achievable, practical, and focus on the core issues of nutrition science."
Yet the dietary panel's fourth meeting, held this month, veered far afield. A slide show concentrated on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy food groups — with no mention of meat-based protein.
"We agree that more plant foods should be consumed, but not at the expense of nutrient-dense protein," AMI Vice President of Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren said in a statement.
After the meeting, Booren said she was disappointed that the committee "did not acknowledge that meat and poultry products are among the most nutrient-rich foods available."
"Sending the kind of negative messages heard today to consumers could be harmful," she said.
In fact, the panel's data undercut its own "sustainability" premise in acknowledging that some population groups who need protein the most — children, pregnant women, and elderly prone to muscle loss — often don't consume enough.
One member of the dietary guidelines committee, Wayne Campbell of Purdue University, said, "It seems like there's a risk that a major food component in our diet [meat protein] is being blanketly evaluated in ways that are different than other food analysis components."
Williams, the former FDA official, said the composition of the panel needs to change.
"They need economists who understand how this will play out in the marketplace. And stick with science," said Williams, vice president for policy research at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Bernadette Barber, director of the small-farm advocacy group Virginia Food Freedom, labels the USDA panel's maneuver a skirmish in a "bureaucratic subsidy war."
"The 'sustainable' part of the USDA is fighting to stay alive to get its own government subsidies," she told Watchdog.org.
Nearly $300 billion in annual farm subsidies are gobbled up by Big Ag producers, and indirectly benefit industrial-scale feedlots.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association declined to comment.
"My attitude is to take the subsidies out," Barber said.
To her point, 10 percent of Virginia farms hauled in 84 percent of government supports last year.
Others say Washington should get out of the business of telling people what to put on their plates.
Bryant Osborn, owner of Corvallis Farms in Culpeper, Va., said, "The meaning of the word 'sustainable' is being twisted to mean whatever people want it to mean."
"Radical environmentalists believe that it takes too much land and too many resources to raise livestock for meat, and they want to see meat production eliminated. This ignores the reality that humans cannot digest grass, and corn is an incomplete protein for us," said Osborn, whose family farm produces vegetables, berries, and specialty flowers.
"You can argue that people in the U.S. eat too much meat, but it is incredibly foolish to think that the consumption of meat can be eliminated, which is what this new food pyramid is suggesting," he said.
Williams said diet should not be about political correctness or government-directed food fads. "That just adds to confusion," he said.
He noted, for example, that nutrition experts formerly declared nuts to be fat-loaded dietary time bombs.
"Now they're the best," Williams mused. "Fact is, everyone has different [dietary] needs. If you tell people not to eat something, you don't know what they will eat, or how they will prepare it."
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