Ending factory farming. Ending animal cruelty.
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News Icon 1/25/2024

by Allie Molinaro

In a nation where nutrition access continues to plague public health, it's imperative that dietary recommendations reflect the latest scientific consensus. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) serve as the cornerstone for federal food programs, healthcare, education, and food policy. However, a concerning trend has emerged where corporate interests, particularly from the industrialized animal agriculture sector, have influenced these guidelines to the detriment of public health. As the next edition of the DGAs are drafted, we must ensure they best serve the interests of American citizens for optimal health.

What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a comprehensive handbook aimed to guide federal nutrition programs, institutions, and individuals in offering and selecting foods as part of a healthy diet. The DGAs directly inform the meals served in programs such as the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. They also inform the meals served to U.S. military personnel at military bases. These programs serve millions of meals per year, and many children, military staff, seniors, and vulnerable groups rely on them for adequate nutrition.

The DGAs are updated every five years to incorporate new science. The process starts with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a team of 20 appointed experts tasked with making recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Committee's recommendations, along with thousands of accompanying public comments, are then reviewed by the agencies. The USDA and HHS also conduct scientific literature reviews internally.  Together, the Advisory Committee's report, public comments, and internal scientific reviews are analyzed and incorporated into the next published DGAs at the USDA's and HHS's discretion.

A collage of a family at a kitchen island, a military family, schoolchildren in line at a cafeteria, and a mother and son receiving food at a disaster distribution site.
The Dietary Guidelines are the foundation of nutrition programs serving families, schoolchildren, military personnel, and disaster victims.

The Impact of Lobbying on the Dietary Guidelines

In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that the upcoming DGAs limit red and processed meat consumption over both personal health and environmental sustainability concerns. The Committee stated that "the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and -non-fat dairy products," and "lower in red and processed meat" after finding moderate to strong evidence of increased risks of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and depression in diets high in red and processed meats. They also noted that a "diet higher in plant-based foods" and "lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and associated with less environmental impact than the current U.S. diet." In addition, 97% of the public comments submitted that mentioned adding sustainability considerations to the DGAs were positive.

However, these crucial recommendations were ultimately omitted by the USDA in the final DGAs due to heavy lobbying from the meat industry. Instead, the industry's lobbying efforts created heated debate in Congress over whether environmental sustainability should be incorporated into the DGAs. Bowing to industry pressure, the leaders of the USDA and HHS released a statement promising that the upcoming DGAs would not consider environmental concerns, and the two secretaries held a 3-hour hearing with Congress to answer questions about how the DGA creation process was handled. Later that year,  Congress passed a provision barring the 2015-2020 DGAs from including environmental and sustainability considerations. Three of the top meat industry lobbying groups reportedly spent a combined $1.1 million campaigning against the Advisory Committee's recommendations.

In addition to the complete omission of environmental considerations, the published guidelines largely omitted guidance on red meat consumption, focusing on "lean" meat instead, and stated that healthy eating patterns "may include processed meats and processed poultry" despite the Advisory Committee's findings.

This omission gave federal food programs the green light to purchase virtually unlimited red and processed meats, which agencies purchase almost exclusively from industrialized corporations that are characterized by concentrated animal feeding operations. Meanwhile, vulnerable groups who rely on federal nutrition programs are often served excessive quantities of red and processed meat as a result of cheap production, and in turn, afforded limited access to other foods needed for proper nutrition, such as nuts and legumes, exacerbating malnutrition and diet-related disease.

Government-backed nutrition recommendations should prioritize the well-being of all Americans. Unfortunately, the influence of the industrialized animal agriculture sector has led to the censorship and obscuring of guidelines related to meat consumption. Despite the scientific consensus on the adverse health effects of excessive red and processed meat consumption, the current guidelines lack clear intake recommendations, perpetuating the consumption of unhealthy meats in federal nutrition programs.

Health Implications of Excessive Meat Consumption

Scientific research has established strong correlations between excessive red and processed meat consumption and prevalent health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and colorectal cancer. The World Health Organization, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Institute for Cancer ResearchMayo ClinicNational Institutes of Health, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Cancer Research Fund have publicly cautioned against excessive red meat consumption and to eat little, if any, processed meat. However, the current DGAs do not make explicit recommendations on limiting red and processed meat consumption.

Beyond Personal Health: The Broader Impact of Factory Farming

Excessive meat and dairy production from factory farms not only affects individual health, but also contributes to broader public health crises such as climate change, pollution, zoonotic diseases, and antibiotic resistance. The United Nations recently urged governments to incorporate climate and environmental considerations into their national dietary guidelines, especially in high meat-consuming nations like the U.S. Otherwise, the effects of climate change could negate the gains of proper nutrition, as natural disasters and searing heat put more people—and the crops we depend on for food—at risk. A 2020 review found that global adoption of the existing DGA-recommended diet would require three Earths to support

Ultimately, this system perpetuates the suffering of billions of animals per year. As one of the industrialized animal agriculture industry's biggest customers, the U.S. government incentivizes continued mass production of meat and dairy on mega-sized factory farms. Some of the largest mega-dairies have upwards of 20,000 cows, and large industrialized poultry barns can hold millions of chickens in one complex. In these environments, animals can suffer from inhumane breeding, mutilations, lesions and physical discomfort, boredom, and even depression.

Barn filled with pigs and divided into groups by metal barriers and a metal feeder
Industrial farms cause animal suffering and pose environmental disease risks for both animals and humans.

How We Can Act

With the drating process for the 2025-2030 DGAs underway, we must ensure that the next edition is uncensored by corporate interests. Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is urging the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to continue pushing the USDA and HHS for holistic, science-based guidelines despite past industry victories. Specifically, we are asking the Committee—and ultimately the USDA and HHS—to:

  • Provide explicit red and processed meat intake maximum recommendations in accordance with medical and nutritional science.
  • Consider the wider public health impacts of animal-sourced foods from concentrated animal feeding operations and promote obtaining these foods from safer, higher welfare, and more sustainable sources.
  • Clearly encourage increased protein consumption from diverse, plant-based sources, aligning with peer-reviewed nutrition and health science.

Ensuring that the upcoming Dietary Guidelines are based on science and free from the influence of corporate interests is essential for providing access to healthy, humane, and sustainable diets for all Americans.

Allie Molinaro smiling at the camera wearing a black Compassion in World Farming t-shirt

As Campaign Manager, Allie Molinaro works to advance Compassion USA's state and federal policy work, thought leadership, and activist mobilization. She focuses her work on placing factory farming in a broader context, highlighting its impacts not only on animal welfare but also on pollution, climate change, public health, and social justice. Allie holds an M.S. in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management from The New School and a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Connecticut.




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