Proposed dietary guidelines are troubling

The following op-ed piece by TFB President Russell Boening appeared March 4 in the Houston Chronicle.

By Russell W. Boening

Thousands of Texans will flock to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the days ahead to see the best of livestock production in our state. The scene, with its unspoken endorsement of meat production, is seemingly incongruous with the recent report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which I and many cattle ranchers find troubling.

That group’s recommendation on American diets was presented to the U.S. Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture last month. While that report, confusing in many ways, said meat could be part of a healthy diet, it did advocate eating less meat.

In our “supersized” culture, eating less of many things might be good advice, but to single out meat is absurd. Official guidelines of years past have emphasized eating more high carbohydrates such as grains. In this respect, the report is not new. Yet, obesity is described by some as an epidemic.

I’m a farmer and a rancher and I grow many food crops, from grains to watermelons, and my family does raise beef. We also have a dairy.

In the past several decades, the meat business has aggressively sought a leaner product. Today, the government recognizes more than 30 cuts as lean. The American Heart Association recognizes lean beef as part of a healthy diet. Beef is high in protein and several other essential nutrients and can deliver them to the body with fewer calories than the same nutrients from plant-based foods.

An emphasis on sustainability is perhaps the most unsettling thing in the report. Sustainability is a politically charged word without an official definition. It often supports a wide variety of sometimes inconsistent messages. The term is also used to attack agriculture.

It’s puzzling that the advisory committee chose to focus on sustainability, though no one on the committee has any real expert credentials on the subject. The word sustainability can mean a great deal, but it’s little more than a buzzword in the context of this report. For these guidelines to have any value and earn the confidence of Americans, the authors must escape their biases.

To those of us who raise beef, sustainability is an important mix of personal responsibility, environmental diligence, economic viability and response to a growing global demand for beef. We live on the land with our children and grandchildren. Taking care of the land, water and air is not a concept. It’s personal and real.

Rather than singling out a single food with suggestions that Americans eat less of it, wouldn’t it make more sense to build a balanced diet around reasonable and recommended portions of foods we like?

Right now, the guidelines are just suggestions and not yet official. Whether the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopts them remains to be seen. A public comment period must first be completed. Plenty of debate will follow.

In the meantime, Americans will vote with their food shopping choices and Texas livestock growers will do their best to put a healthy and affordable product on America’s plates.

Boening is president of the Texas Farm Bureau.

2 Responses to “Proposed dietary guidelines are troubling”

  1. Dave Kruschke says:

    Surely all foods are not equally healthy. Some foods might be less healthy than others. Beef might not be as healthy as fish, as suggested but not proved by more than a few studies. James Garner, former spokesman for the Beef Council quit after having heart bypass surgery. But no, some beef people said Garner’s problems were due to smoking, not from eating beef. Maybe, maybe not. I’ve lived long enough to remember the smoking industry constantly saying that studies suggesting smoking as harmful weren’t “good enough” to prove that smoking was actually harmful. People don’t live forever so they can’t wait long some kind of “proof.” And, if enough evidence piles up, publicizing suggestions to eat less beef might not “be absurd” as Mr Boening writes. Agriculture will continue on even if people decide to eat less beef and instead, more fish or beans as fish, beans and carbohydrates are surely part of agriculture. Finally, I do agree with Mr Boening’s lack of enthusiasm for the word “sustainability” as this word is way too general and undefined…

    • Gene Hall says:

      Oh, by all means, let’s dismiss smoking as a contributing factor to Mr. Garner’s heart disease. As for evidence piling up, there is not a lot of it in this guidelines report, which is Mr. Boening’s point. Other than that, I’ll let his piece stand on it’s on. Secretary Vilsack has already publicly hinted he will make changes.

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