Harvard Law Urges USDA to Examine Link Between Meat and Disease


The USDA is currently working on updating the national Dietary Guidelines for 2020, and last month, the department accepted public commentary. Among many individuals, experts, and organizations, Harvard Law School took advantage of this opportunity. The school’s Food Law & Policy Clinic encouraged the USDA to take a more serious look at the link between meat and disease and caution consumers accordingly in the upcoming guidelines.

The USDA revises its Dietary Guidelines every five years, and although it has made some effort to encourage the vegetarian diet, the guide still advises constituents that low-fat dairy and lean meats are essential parts of a healthy and balanced diet. As part of the revision process, the government agency allows for public comment. This term, it received significant opinions in favor of promoting a plant-based diet, and explicitly warning consumers about the health and cancer risks associated with meat. Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic was just one of many to speak out.

In a letter to the USDA, the Ivy League clinic asked the agency to consider specific questions while updating the guidelines. The answers to these questions definitively point to a plant-based diet.

“What is the relationship between specific dietary patterns and environmental sustainability? How can a person achieve nutrient and food group recommendations while consuming a sustainable diet?” The letter also advised the government to consider, “What is the relationship between red and processed meat consumption and 1). Risk of cardiovascular disease; 2). Risk of cancer; 3). Body weight and obesity; and 4). Type 2 diabetes?”

Other major plant-based organizations also weighed in. The Animal Legal Defense Fund asked the USDA to clearly define the vegan diet from the vegetarian diet, as the two are not nutritionally equal. The non-profit also requested that plant-based options and meal planning be available on the public health.gov website. “Merely recognizing the benefits of vegan and plant-forward diets is insufficient without educational outreach and suggestions for ways to transition to plant-based alternatives,” the organization stated.

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The Plant Based Foods Association also called for plant-based guidelines and more accessible information. “To help Americans make healthier food and beverage choices, we suggest drafting an additional appendix focused on a vegan/plant-based pattern to include plant-based meat and dairy alternatives to fit into a Healthy US-Style Pattern. This will encourage the public to choose from a variety of healthier food and beverage choices that can be used throughout the lifespan.”

The USDA also received comments from the dairy and meat industries, promoting red meat and ‘healthy animal-based fat’ as part of a balanced diet.

Harvard has already been shown to favor the plant-based lifestyle. In March, the university welcomed David Carter (the 300 Pound Vegan) to speak to the benefits of veganism. The Food Law and Policy Clinic was established to educate current law students and actively improve laws affecting the food system. The clinic also strives to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases, support small farmers and producers, and reduce food waste.

Image Credit: My Plate.