Health care professionals strongly endorse new federal dietary guidelines, which say to eat less red and processed meat

A group of 700 physicians and other health care professionals sent a letter of strong endorsement to the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services praising the recommended federal dietary guidelines that emphasize eating less red and processed meat, Whitney Forman-Cook reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter.

The letter said the “shift toward a more plant-based diet” in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations is a potentially “powerful tool for health promotion” that would help reduce healthcare costs, Forman-Cook writes.

“Three of the four leading causes of preventable death, heart disease, cancer, and stroke — are diet-related,” the letter reads. “Heavy meat consumption, especially red and processed meat, is associated with increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, while plant-based diets are associated with decreased risks of all three.”

They also noted that 75 percent of U.S. health-care costs and diminished labor supply and worker productivity is caused by chronic and preventable diseases, costing the country “$1 trillion in lost economic output and billions more in rising healthcare cost,” Forman-Cook writes.

For the first time, the guidelines include environmental standards and sustainability language. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “has not said he is opposed to including sustainability concerns in the final guidelines,” Forman-Cook writes. He told her that “he would be personally involved” in writing the new guidelines, keeping them “narrowly focused on nutrition.”

U.S. meat producers and many farm organizations have pushed back against the recommendations and the sustainability language.

The health-care professionals also endorsed the DGAC’s recommendations on sustainability and calls for the DGAC to “explicitly” list the “common names” of foods in the guidelines and identify appropriate “non-animal protein sources” to help consumers modify their eating habits.

The guidelines, which are revised every five years to reflect advancements in scientific knowledge, are used to guide federal nutrition programs, including school meal standards, and to inform consumers. They are expected to be published later this year.

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