CP Editorial: Keep sustainability out of USDA nutrition guidelines

Dietary guidelines should focus on health and nutrition rather than environmental issues. For the past few months, the United States Department of Agriculture’s new set of dietary guidelines was in the news — not because of nutrition issues, but because some of the proposed guidelines focused on environmental concerns.

The USDA first began developing dietary guidelines in 1980 to be followed by government institutions (such as public schools) and as a reference for anybody wanting to have a healthy lifestyle. The guidelines are revised every five years, and later this year the new guidelines will be released.

Sustainability was the term used in the proposed guidelines. What many people do not understand is that sustainability has many sides to it, and agriculture practices are already employing sustainable practices within their operations. According to Marcia Shannon, state swine nutrition specialist, sustainability, as it relates to agriculture today, is indefinable; it contains many aspects that include maintaining soil fertility, having high quality water and using less energy and resources.

“The government can define sustainability to an extent,” Shannon said. “Regulations need to be similar with other states, but there also needs to be freedom.”

Different states have different environments and produce different commodities, so the definition of sustainability for one state cannot be the same for another state, but they can be similar.

Yes, I have heard that agriculture is responsible for producing greenhouse gasses, which is an environmental issue, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, fossil fuel emissions produce 35 percent more greenhouse gasses than methane produced by agriculture and nitrous oxide released through agriculture practices.

When the USDA added sustainability to the guidelines, there was uproar. Lobbyists headed to Washington, D.C., for both sides of the issue. The meat industry fought back. This, in the end, paid off.

Regardless of the issue of sustainability, I cannot understand why the USDA suggests reducing the amount of red meat consumption. Lean red meat (especially beef) is high in so many nutrients that can benefit us.

“Red meat is high in iron,” said Tamara Roberts, a University of Missouri associate extension professional nutrition specialist located in Bates County. “Iron is found in hemoglobin [red blood cells that transfer oxygen throughout the body], and if iron levels are low it will cause a person to be tired and not as energetic.”

According to Harold H. Sandstead of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, in the Journal of Nutrition, consistently low iron levels in children can cause serious brain damage.

Personally, I am anemic, and I know how it affects me. I have headaches, difficulty sleeping and fatigue. Some days are harder than others, and I have noticed that those are days that I do not eat beef. I have made it a mission to eat beef or pork at least once a day so I can get enough iron to function with a decent level of activity.

Industry and consumer reaction to these proposed recommendations led the USDA to retract statements encouraging less red meat consumption and to apologize.

Taking sustainability out of the guidelines was the right thing to do. Nutritionists do not have expertise necessary to recommend what is good for the environment and what is not. Those of us involved in livestock production must be vigilant in defending our industry from such attacks