Work is underway to develop a new set of U.S. Dietary Guidelines for 2015, and the American Meat Institute (AMI) has submitted comments asking the advisory committee to limit its recommendations to nutrition and health, and not delve into the issue of sustainability. In its recent request for public comments, the committee specifically asked for input on “food systems sustainability,” as well as on nutritional and health issues. AMI to dietary committee – stick to nutrition

In its comments, AMI told the committee that sustainability is outside the scope of the committee’s charge and that there is insufficient expertise on the committee and insufficient data in the published literature to make science-based decisions in this area. “The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is comprised of experts in nutrition and epidemiology. To address the variety of issues attendant to sustainability is outside the Committee’s expertise and could dilute the importance of the Committee’s recommendations. Sustainability is a complex issue that is being addressed by various experts in a number of other forums. Until those expert panels have drawn more concrete conclusions it would be premature for the Committee to incorporate such considerations into its dietary guidance recommendations.”
Since 1980, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in cooperation with USDA, has issued Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines potentially influence consumer food choices, and have significant impact in guiding purchases and menu planning for schools and other public institutions. HHS and USDA update the guidelines every five years based on recommendations from a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

In addition to its objection to the committee’s apparent interest in food-system sustainability, AMI’s comments addressed these issues:

  • In addition to high quality protein, meat and poultry are important and rich sources of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, and Vitamins B12, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and potassium.
  • Up to 16 percent of U.S. adults and more than 20 percent over 60 years old are marginally depleted in vitamin B12. Deficiency increases with age, with about six percent of those more than 70 years old being deficient in vitamin B12.
  • The iron content in meat and poultry is particularly important for the 1.2 million children in America with anemia or pregnant women who are particularly at risk of anemia. The heme iron in meat is the most absorbable form of iron known.
  • Per serving, meat, poultry, and fish provide more protein than dairy, eggs, legumes, or cereals, vegetables or nuts. That protein is critical for developing, maintaining, and repairing strong muscles and it is vital for reducing the muscle loss that often occurs with aging.
    Incidence of Listeria monocytogenes in retail meat declined 81 percent between 2000 and 2011.
  • Escherichia coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef declined 85 percent between 2000 and 2013.
  • Salmonella in young chickens declined by 79 percent from the original performance standard and a 43 percent reduction from the new standard in 2012.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data have shown a corresponding decline in foodborne illness historically associated with meat and poultry products, AMI said.
  • Sodium is essential for human health and development, particularly in regulating the body’s electrolyte balance, preventing dehydration, and maintaining many of the body’s cellular functions. Salt or sodium chloride also plays a critical role in the production of meat products – whether used by large commercial processors, local butchers, or even within the consumer’s home – to improve the flavor, texture, and safety of those products.
    Nevertheless, food companies are working to reduce the sodium content in foods such as processed meats. In a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed sodium levels in 480 packaged and restaurant foods from 2005 to 2011. While the researchers did not find dramatic across-the-board reductions in sodium, they did note that some of the most significant reductions occurred in meat products, including pork (-27 percent) and sliced deli turkey breast (-21 percent).

AMI’s complete comments are available on the website.