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May 8, 2015
Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 200-A
Washington, DC 20250
Secretary Sylvia Burwell
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell,
We applaud the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for addressing food sustainability. Considering our growing population, diminishing resources, and the global threat of climate change, it is imperative that we consider sustainability in making dietary choices. Education about food sustainability is one of the ways that government can protect the common good. We also agree wholeheartedly that most red meat produced in the US is bad for human health and the environment. But we offer an important caveat.
The data on the production and consumption of factory-farmed meat is presented as if these facts applied to all red meat. While most of the red meat consumed by Americans is cornfed, feedlot beef, there is a widely available alternative that the Guidelines should acknowledge:
100% grass-fed beef, produced with no grain, and no feedlots. The rotational grazing approach utilized by grass-fed beef producers to finish (fatten) cattle in the last months of their lives, harnesses natural systems that increase soil fertility and combat climate change, and also produce healthy red meat without any of the problems associated with factory-farmed beef.
Though the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee distinguishes between farmed fish and wild fish, it makes no such distinction between the destructive practices of CAFO meat production and the sustainable production of 100% grass-fed beef, which offers multiple health and environmental benefits for our society, including carbon sequestration; energy savings; soil fertility; water capture; and healthy, nutrient-dense food. More and more consumers are demanding 100% grass-fed beef because of these benefits. It is now widely marketed even in the big box stores and is cheaper per ounce than a candy bar - but is not recognized in the Dietary Guidelines. The unintended consequence of this omission is that the Guidelines will work against the continued growth and success of a new, regenerative, agricultural model that produces highquality food.
Health benefits of 100% grass-fed beef
Food produced from depleted soil lacks trace minerals that are essential for human health. Much of the food in our markets today – vegetables as well as meat – does not deliver the same nutrition found in food decades ago. This nutrition deficit is caused by agricultural practices, widespread since the early twentieth century, that have degraded our farmlands. Many diseases now common in our society may be the result of missing vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that our grandparents were able to get from food. Also, our immune systems have been compromised by increasing exposure to pesticidesii and herbicides such as glyphosate, which is routinely used on corn grown for cattle fattened in feedlots, and is now recognized by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency as a probable carcinogen.
This situation is reversible. The stewardship of pastures and skillful grazing management employed by 100% grass-fed beef producers result in deep plant roots and abundant soil microbes that transfer essential nutrients to the plants. Grass and forage that is both nutritious and also free of pesticides and herbicides, means healthy cattle with meat that is optimal for human health:
• Laboratory tests confirm that 100% grass-fed beef contains a perfect ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6. A healthy diet should consist of roughly one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed beef has 1.53 times more, while grain-fed beef has 7.65 times more. While the body requires some Omega 6, an excess can foster cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders, which are suppressed by Omega 3s.
• Meat and dairy products from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA),vii which may be an important defense against cancer.
• Grass-fed meat has also been found to have seven times more vitamin A and three times more vitamin E than grain-fed beef.
• Also, rotational grazing improves soil health and fertility so that nutrients essential to human health are passed from the soil to the grasses and legumes eaten by the cattle; this ensures that the meat is nutrient-dense, that is, high in nutrition relative to the amount of calories.