Proposed federal dietary guidelines that point out that eating less meat is good for the planet have drawn approving public comments from tens of thousands of people – and the ire of the meat industry.

The guidelines are released every five years by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture and based on recommendations by the Dietary Guidelines Committee, a federally appointed panel of nutritionists.

A first

This is the first time the committee has considered environmental sustainability in its recommendations. The 30,000 comments the new guidelines have generated dwarf the 2,000 received in response to the 2010 version.

Environmentalists say raising animals for food contributes significantly to climate change and acid rain and uses 12 to 15 times more land, water and fossil fuels than producing soy protein. Nearly 80% of land deforested in the Amazon is now used as cattle pasture.

In a 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.

Health advocates have long advocated a reduction in meat consumption, which has been linked to heart disease and cancer. Studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than people who eat meat.1-3

“Hands off my hot dog”

In its comment on the guidelines, the American Association of Meat Processors’ submitted a petition signed by 2,494 people.
“In response to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent, anemic recommendations to eat lower amounts of red and processed meats we say, unequivocally and without hesitation, ‘Hands off my hot dog,” the petition said.
The National Pork Producers Council expressed a similar sentiment in its public comment.

“We fully appreciate the importance of this subject — as noted the pork industry has made large investments in building on the sustainability of our product — but this advisory committee had neither the mandate nor breadth of expertise needed to do this topic justice.”
The committee’s recommendations will be among the input considered for the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will be released later this year.

1. Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. Br Med J. 1994;308:1667-1670.
2. Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality patterns of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology. 1992;3:395-401.
3. Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R. Dietary and lifestyle determinants of mortality among German vegetarians. Int J Epidemiol. 1993;22:228-236.