In a report issued earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee -- an independent group of 14 doctors and nutrition scientists -- urged Americans to consider the environment when eating, a recommendation that means putting more vegetables and plant-based foods on your plate.
The proposal has prompted an outcry from the meat lobby, which has argued that the Obama administration is going too far in efforts to guide what Americans eat. "Hands off my hot dog," is the rallying cry of the North American Meat Institute's Change.org petition.
Now Congressional Republicans are pushing back with two bills that would make the government consider only nutrition and diet when considering the advisory committee's advice. While the proposed legislation doesn't address the meat issue directly, it changes the threshold for the science that the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should use when they issue their official recommendations at the end of this year.
Let's be clear: The bills say the recommendations should be supported by only the strongest science. The plant-based diet advice from the committee is based on "moderate" evidence. The Senate version was approved by a subcommittee last week, and the House version was approved by the appropriations committee on Wednesday.
Rep. Robert Aderhold (R-Ala.) told the Associated Press that the goal of the legislation "should not be to 'dumb down' the standards but instead increase the science certainty of each guideline."
It isn't a coincidence that individuals and political action committees associated with big meat companies including Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods tend to give most of their contributions to Republicans. "The industry is a strong supporter of the GOP, and has given the party more than three-quarters of the $10 million of its contributions made since the 1990 election cycle," according to Center for Responsive Politics Opensecrets.org project.
Other aspects have also drawn debate. A recommendation that the government consider a tax on sugary drinks and snacks has upset some food makers.
The committee also noted that it did not think limiting the total amount of fat in the diet was necessary -- a major shift from decades of guidance. It still maintains that saturated fat should be limited. "We wanted the emphasis to be on fat quality rather than total fat, because the evidence really emphasizes that saturated fat is the driver of risk rather than total fat intake," Barbara Millen, president of Millennium Prevention and chair of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said, according to CNN.
That recommendation is supported by a commentary in JAMA. It states that while the country has overemphasized the danger of fat over the years, Americans have instead been increasing their consumption of other bad-for-you food products such as added sugars and refined grains.