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Beef Industry Having a Cow over Potential USDA Recommendations

Words by Leon Kaye

Americans’ consumption of beef has been declining at a steady rate since the 1970s, but the beef industry is still a powerful lobbying force in this country. So watch for an onslaught of propaganda if a U.S. Department of Agriculture panel makes new recommendations for dietary guidelines in the near future. In a move that will bring screams of nanny state-ism, socialism and “Blame Obama,” the Associated Press has reported this advisory panel is close to recommending a diet that is both higher in plant foods and reduces its overall environmental impact.

Clearly that suggestion is a shot at the beef industry, which at a global scale has a massive effect on land use and carbon emissions. True, the industry is making a nudge towards becoming more sustainable, but big beef’s impact on water, land and air is hard to ignore. Plus considering Americans’ generation-long struggle with obesity, a diet heavy on produce, whole grains, nuts and other plant-based products is not a bad idea. So that “My Plate” icon, which replaced that disastrous “food pyramid” suggesting we heap on the carbohydrates at meal times, could soon have less room for meat.

Naturally, the beef industry is not having it.

Take this statement from a doctor’s statement issued from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association:

"Despite a large body of strong and consistent evidence supporting lean beef’s role in healthy diets, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appears to be out of touch with today’s lean meat supply in the retail counter and the 30+ years of nutrition advice showcasing benefits of lean beef. I am deeply disappointed that the Committee missed this opportunity to positively influence the American diet by blatantly disregarding sound science and removing lean beef from a healthful dietary pattern.”

Of course, the U.S. beef industry has long been a beneficiary of government largess with its long history of receiving federal subsidies. Most of that largess is going to four large conglomerates while smaller independent ranchers are going bankrupt. So while the beef industry cries foul (which by the way, Americans have turned to more fowl in recent years, one reason why red meat consumption is falling), it has long been a fan of “big government” . . . unless that same government suggests eating a little less of that subsidized meat, which would be a good idea for most of us in the long run.

So watch for the political fireworks to continue later this year when the USDA makes its quinquennial dietary recommendations. This same National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which only exists because of the federal funds received that keeps it afloat, still carries plenty of clout on Capitol Hill. A USDA recommendation to suggest “Meatless Mondays” was torpedoed a few years back, with the suggestion that the government agency only exists to protect the meat industry, not make suggestions for the health of U.S. citizens. One cannot blame any industry for making public relations campaigns and political chess moves to protect its business. But when this is done on the public dime, the bellyaching at the very least is certainly head scratching.

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com.

Image credit: FoodSafety.gov

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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