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What’s the beef with meat?

A recent report is advising Americans to eat less meat, for both nutritional and environmental reasons.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its 2015 Dietary Advisory Guidelines, a report released every five years and is generally used as an eating guide to promote healthy lifestyles. This year, however, the report is also encouraging plant-based diets, due to their lighter environmental impact.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in response to the USDA’s guidance that the committee should focus less on environmental impacts and solely on nutritional value of meals.

“The USDA should only focus on nutrition here. No extraneous factors should be taken into consideration,” Hoeven said. “We all want to have a healthy diet, especially for our children. That’s the main point. That’s what we need to be focusing on here.”

According to the study, healthy diets were higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and lower in animal-based foods.

Larry Schnell with Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange deals with beef for a living and said he isn’t convinced that cutting it and other meats out of diets is a healthy option.

“People need to use judgement when deciding what they are going to eat,” Schnell said. “To cut one of the food groups out of our diet is not necessarily going to be healthy, especially if the replacement is something worse.”

He used soy as an example, which is a common protein replacement. Schnell said soy has been found to contain a higher percentage of growth hormones than meat.

“You can’t just sit back and have people tell you from higher up what you should and shouldn’t be eating,” Schnell said. “It’s not about bread, it’s not about meat. Everything needs to be eaten in moderation.”

Schnell also said these types of dietary advice have been proved wrong in the past. As an example, the food pyramid was constructed in a way that encourages people to eat the most of categories that have been found to lead to weight gain.

The government has since revised the food pyramid, making it into a plate, which suggests a more equal distribution of food groups.

Nutrition aside, the USDA is also concerned with the environmental impacts that raising livestock is having on the environment.

Studies the organization have done show that, based off of current evidence, raising animals has a potentially larger environmental impact, with an increase of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and energy use.

And while Hoeven believes the two issues should be separate from one another, he said he doesn’t believe raising animals is having negative environmental impacts.

“These ranchers are raising good, healthy beef, which provides consumers with a good, healthy lifestyle,” Hoeven said.

However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that agriculture contributes to approximately 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with a large percentage of that attributed to domestic livestock. Animals such as cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats produce large amounts of methane during the digestive process.

“Federal dietary guidelines should be on addressing the nutritional needs of children rather than on issues like the president’s environmental agenda,” Hoeven said in a news release.

And while neither issue may be solved, the new dietary guidelines could have a far-reaching affect on ranchers in North Dakota.

Schnell said people are already eating less beef per capita than they did 20 years ago.

“We are raising around the same amount of beef that we were, but the population in the country has increased,” Schnell said.

He attributes that, at least in part, to the government advising people to eat less meat.

The comment period for the guidelines expires April 8 and final decisions regarding this issue will be made later this year.

Kessler is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Call her at 701-456-1206.

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