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Cattlemen running scared 10/14/10

A healthy recipe competition for American schools has the beef industry spooked.

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You just have to love it when a healthy lunch box recipe competition has the American beef industry getting edgy.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in conjunction with Let’s Move! ( First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative which aims to end childhood obesity) has invited kids, parents, chefs and nutritionists from around the US to come up with healthy recipes in one of the following categories: Whole Grains, Dark Green and Orange vegetables, or Dry Beans and Peas.

The winning concoctions could be added to school lunch menus around the country, and there are some nice cash prizes up for grabs.

Good idea? Yes. Introduce healthy, tasty and nutritious meals into the American school lunch menu. What’s not to like?

Well, the meat industry doesn’t think this is just a fun little competition.

The recently proposed 2010 Dietary Guidelines, issued by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, suggests a move towards a more plant-based protein diet. Throw in a kids competition and you get some pissed off cattle farmers.

Kristina Butts, director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) spoke to Beef magazine on the matter:

“First off, USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendation for a plant-based diet causes consumers to wrongly assume that they are eating too much meat. We are not eating too much meat,” Butts says.

“The fact is, plants already make up 70% of our diets. On average, Americans are consuming about 2.3 oz. of red meat/day, well within 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. By excluding meat from its healthy kids recipe contest, USDA continues to add to the misconception that meat is over consumed in the U.S.”

An article by Melanie Warner has some good insights into why the NCBA would react so strongly and says:

“The beef industry has always been thin-skinned about anything that threatens to upend sales, and these days its members are even more on edge. In June, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which counsels the agency on its all-important dietary guidelines, had the gall to recommend that Americans ‘shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.’ It sounds like common-sense advice, but for the USDA, which has been a longtime loyal ally in promoting meat consumption, it’s radical thinking.”

Historically, the meat industry and the USDA have had a very cosy relationship, and according to Warner, it remains to be seen whether the updated guidelines in the States will see the big meat players in a less favourable position than they have previously enjoyed.

It seems to me, that if the First Lady of one of the most powerful countries in the world is encouraging more vegetarian based eating habits, perhaps real change will start filtering through to the rest of the US and, hopefully, elsewhere too.

For more on the US meat industry, read more of Warner’s articles:
New Livestock Rules Mean the USDA is No Longer Big Meat’s BFF

Why Big Chicken May Be Obama’s Next Antitrust Target
By Laura Cooke

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.

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