When a cookbook author recently claimed that America’s “collective hankering for meat has left us with some expensive problems,” including human health issues and environmental degradation, the National Pork Board’s pork checkoff set the record straight.
“We want to make sure that people have correct information and understand that nutrient-rich pork can be an important part of a healthy diet,” says Adria Sheil-Brown, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition communications and research for NPB.
At issue is the article “Eating Less Meat: Signs of a Growing Trend” by Tara Mataraza Desmond, which appeared in the January 2010 edition of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Frontburner e-newsletter. The author states that “meat-heavy diets have been consistently linked to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis.” She also cites Mark
Bittman’s book “Food Matters,” which claims that that global livestock production is responsible for “about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases—more than transportation.”
In response to this feature, NPB reached out to Frontburner editors to share the most current, science-based information on pork and pork production with IACP and its nearly 3,000 members from 32 countries.
“IACP is very influential in the food industry, so we were very pleased to get our letter published in the February Frontburner,” says Sheil-Brown, who wrote:
The National Pork Board believes that the healthiest diets consist of a balance of fruits and vegetables as well as nutrient-dense red meat—a position consistent with the nutrition recommendations of many health organizations. Red meat provides many under-consumed nutrients such as potassium, phosphorous and vitamin B12.
Additionally, vital nutrients such as iron and zinc are more easily absorbed when they come from meat rather than vegetables. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods.
Consumption data reveal an appropriate actual intake of nutrient-rich meats. The National Pork Board believes the current dietary guideline of an average of 5.5 ounce equivalents in the meat and beans group (based on a 2,000 calories/day diet) remains appropriate based on the preponderance of scientific evidence.
Consumption survey analysis shows that despite an average amount of meat and meat equivalents of 5.3 ounces per day by Americans, only 44 percent of all individuals two years and older, 62 percent of men 20 years and older, and 37 percent of women 20 years and older, consume at least the minimum recommended amounts from the meat group. “Clearly, Americans are not over-consuming meat,” Sheil-Brown says.
Animal agriculture creates only a small percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and pork production contributes an even smaller percentage. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2007, only 2.8 percent of GHG emissions in the U.S. came from animal agriculture through a process called enteric fermentation (the digestion of feed by ruminant animals) and through manure management. Further, according to the EPA, pork production contributed only 0.33 percent of total U.S. emissions.
Livestock-related GHG emissions have declined per unit of production. “At the practical level, every pound of pork produced in the U.S. today has a smaller carbon footprint compared to 20 years ago,” says Sheil-Brown, who notes that pork producers are determined to lead in carbon-footprint knowledge.