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White House conference met with backlash due to anti-meat study

By: Sydney Sheffield

The United States White House announced for the first time in more than 50 years, that it will hold a conference on hunger, nutrition, and health. The conference is set to be held on September 28, 2022, along with the publication of a National Strategy containing actions the federal government will take to drive solutions to these challenges. Unfortunately, a piece of literature being presented at the White House is considered flawed by some in the animal agriculture community.

A scientific report called the Food Compass, published in Nature Food in 2021 is set to be presented at the White House conference. Created by researchers at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the Food Compass claims to be a food scoring system that is the “most comprehensive and science-based” nutrient profiling system that will “help guide consumer choice, research, food policy, industry reformulations, and mission-focused investment decisions.” One of the study’s authors is on the task force for the White House conference. 

The Food Compass Score (FCS) ranges from 1 (least healthy) to 100 (most healthy) for all foods and beverages. The study ranked 8,000 different items and weighed nutrition rations, vitamins, minerals, food ingredients, additives, processing, specific lipids, fiber, protein, and phytochemicals. Towards the bottom of the ranking system, containing foods that should be minimized, are cheddar cheese, ground beef, and sausage. Interestingly, chocolate peanut butter candies were considered healthier than roast beef, chocolate puffed cereal healthier than chicken breast, and pumpkin pie healthier than lean pork chops. 

“The idea that M&M’s, potato chips, and cereal are somehow healthier than natural beef ignores scientific evidence and frankly doesn’t measure up to logic,” said the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) CEO, Colin Woodall. “No one sits down to a plate of candy and chips expecting a healthy meal, but a lean cut of beef accompanied by vegetables or fruits and whole grains is a healthy choice every time. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible, and it confuses consumers at a time when we should be working to meet their nutritional needs, rather than confounding them with agenda-driven faux science.”

Those in the animal science community understand animal proteins are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. According to an article in Animal Frontiers, red meat is a nutrient-dense food providing important amounts of protein, essential amino acids, and some of the most common nutrient shortages in the world, vitamin A, iron, and zinc. Moreover, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 (often referred to as the DGA) never mentions red meat(s), but rather refers only to “lean meats” or simply “meats” as part of a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. Let me say that again – lean meats are considered by the DGA to be one of the “nutrient dense” foods that are an important part of a healthy diet (https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov).

One hundred grams of chocolate puffed cereal is 370 calories and contains 3.7 grams of protein. On the contrary, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) FoodData Central, 100 grams of chicken breast contains 158 calories and 32.1 grams of protein. From a nutritional standpoint, the consumer will choose chicken breast every time, regardless of what Food Compass Scores might indicate. 

Learn more about the White House conference here, including details on how to view the presentations.