Ag Policy Blog

Pence, Harris and the Red Meat Battle Over Dietary Guidelines

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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California Sen. Kamala Harris, now running for vice president on the Democratic presidential ticket, talked about dietary guidelines and reducing red meat at a CNN event last fall. Vice President Mike Pence called out those comments in a speech on Thursday in Iowa. (DTN image from CNN video)

In one of his punch lines Thursday in Iowa, Vice President Mike Pence attacked California Sen. Kamala Harris for saying the federal government should change dietary guidelines to reduce red meat consumption.

The comments drew boos from the crowd at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, which was a limited audience because of spacing and crowd issues due to the pandemic.

Pence said, "Sen. Kamala Harris said she would change the dietary guidelines of this country to reduce the amount of red meat Americans could eat."

The vice president then added, "Well, I've got some red meat for you. We're not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America's meat."

The vice president literally used red meat as red meat.

Harris has said she would support changing the Dietary Guidelines that recommend what is considered healthy. For adults, the guidelines do not mandate what people can eat, but they can change eating patterns in federal programs such as school lunches.

Red meat is a constant topic when putting together dietary guidelines and various health groups have pushed for changes. Still, recommended dietary guidelines are updated every five years and the latest scientific report came out earlier this summer for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines are jointly produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and USDA. The guidelines also point out a lot of things we really hate to see and read as Americans, such as that more than 70% of us are overweight or obese. Six in ten of us have a chronic health condition and more than 37 million people are food insecure. The 2020 advisory committee report does not specifically lower recommended intake of red meat from the guidelines, but the summary does state changes in American diets are needed.

"The recommended shift from saturated to unsaturated fats occurs best within the context of a healthy dietary pattern consisting of higher intakes of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, with some vegetable oils, low-fat dairy, lean meat and poultry, and fatty fish and lower intakes of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains," the guidelines state.

2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report…

The International Food Information Council provided one of the better, simpler summaries over some of the conflicts involving red meat -- the concerns over type 2 diabetes for instance -- and how other government bodies issue guidelines on red meat. Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, veal, goat, bison, venison and elk. Lean meats containing less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fats and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams are recommended. That means 95% lean ground beef.…

For years, environmental groups have also argued dietary guidelines should address not only nutrition, but the impact of food on the environment, specifically regarding climate change. Last September, in a CNN town hall discussion with the individual Democrats running for president, a woman identified as an attorney specifically asked Harris about that issue.

Harris responded, "As a nation, we actually have to have a priority at the highest level of government around what we eat and in terms of healthy because we have a problem in America."

Harris added, "We can talk about the subject of this conversation, we can talk about the amount of sugar in everything, we can talk about soda, we can go on and on. So the answer is yes. But I will also say this, the balance we have to strike here frankly is about what government can and should do around creating an incentive, and then banning certain behaviors."

Harris went on to declare her love for cheeseburgers. "Just to be very honest with you, I love cheeseburgers from time to time, right? I mean, I just do. And I think, but there has to be also what we do in terms of creating incentives that we will eat in a health way, that we will encourage moderation, and that we will be educated about the effects of our eating habits on our environment, and we have to do a much better job of that and the government has to do a much better job of that."

The CNN host then broke in and asked if Harris specifically would support changing the dietary guidelines to reduce red meat. "Yes, yes, I would," she answered.

Getting into the topic of how eating habits affect the environment, USDA states food waste accounts for 30% to 40% of the entire food supply. In 2010, that translated into 133 billion pounds and $161 billion in food. That means food that could have been eaten ends up in a landfill. USDA and EPA have set a goal to reduce food wasted by 50% by 2030.

USDA and EPA also point out that food is the single largest category of products going into landfills. There, the rotting food generates methane, which is 80 times more potent than carbon. Landfills account for 14.1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making landfill emissions more than 40% higher than the entire agricultural industry.…

Harris CNN video clip:…

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