Around the world, more people are suffering and dying from chronic disease than ever before.
This onslaught of lifestyle-based diseases is increasingly being accepted as an unavoidable part of modern life, rather than being recognized for what it is: the devastating impact of a socially-irresponsible industry that has been given free-reign to push their products on a population unsuspecting of the fact that they are being slowly poisoned by the very hand that feeds them.
Over 50% of deaths in the US alone are caused by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes1. Research shows that a plant-based diet yields a decreased mortality due to heart disease and cancer2, as well as a decreased risk of diabetes3. In another study published in 2018, a vegan diet outperformed the American Heart Association’s in terms of reducing inflammatory marker (high sensitivity C-reactive protein), a major risk factor for adverse cardiovascular outcomes4.
Meanwhile, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
“Appropriately planned vegetarian (including vegan) diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”5
While veganism is an ethical stance against exploitation that extends well beyond diet, it’s reassuring to learn that moving to a plant-based diet also happens to be one of the most powerful steps you can take to reduce your susceptibility to some of the chronic diseases that are becoming an increasing source of concern for the global community.
Nevertheless, in spite of mounting evidence to suggest the very opposite, many people (including some medical and health professionals) still cling to the belief that consuming animal products is necessary for adequate or optimum health.
But what some people might not realize is that these positions (including statements released by the news media) may have been at least partially informed by the tremendous influence the animal food industry still maintains over public perception, including the educational resources that many rely on for nutritional information.
Dietary Guidelines are Influenced by Food Lobbyists
In the United States, for instance, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are published every five years by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture. These guidelines are the official position of the federal government, and serve as the country’s go-to source for nutrition advice, while also informing practices for all kinds of state and federal programs, including the food stamp program, federal cafeterias and public school lunches.
When the guidelines were updated in 2015, a number of news outlets, including TIME Magazine, ran stories exposing the powerful industry lobbies that exert influence over what should be an unbiased and subsequently trustworthy source of public information.
“A number of leading nutrition experts say the guidelines are influenced too much by food manufacturers, food producers, and special interest groups.”
It’s hard to believe but, sadly, it was just as true when the guidelines were created for 2020-2025.
As reported by PBS, meat industry lobbying groups such as the American Meat Institute, the National Meat Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association maintain a tight relationship with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defending decreased US safety regulations. Not surprisingly, they’re not interested in America’s health, either; these meat lobby groups have maintained a long-running economic relationship with the US nutritional guidelines6, using their financial persuasion to ensure their influence over dietary guidelines.
The Cattleman’s Beef Board (CBB) is another organization aimed at “increasing demand for beef.” Their program “The Checkoff” is responsible for the distasteful slogan “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” Very transparently, this organization’s goal is to ensure sales and consumption of beef through advertising and public relations.
According to CBB’s own FAQ page, they cannot use their funding to influence government policy and lobbying, but the federal government has stepped in to reinforce the CBB agenda:
“By law, all producers selling cattle or calves… must pay $1 per head to support beef/veal promotion, research and information through the Beef Promotion and Research Act.”
Meanwhile, its board members are selected by the United States Secretary of Agriculture, reinforcing the political bias.
In 2016, the plant-based advocacy collective Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services charging that the research relied on by the 2015 report was unduly influenced by egg-industry interests. The lawsuit alleged that the USDA and HHS had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which mandates that the advisory committee “will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or any special interest.”
According to PCRM’s website, there were several members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) who came from institutions that were funded by the egg industry, and the committee relied on egg-industry-funded research findings when it removed limits on dietary cholesterol. It’s hardly surprising then that the current “My Plate” guidelines established by the USDA emphasize the cholesterol-rich egg as the prominent source of protein for vegetarians.
An estimated 65% of the human population displays some level of lactose intolerance, according to Medline Plus, part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. That percentage increases among individuals of non-white ancestry.
It is beyond frustrating to see the American My Plate guidelines continue to push dairy as one of five essential food groups when many people can’t even digest it properly. By contrast, Canada’s food guide omits milk as a food group entirely and promotes water as the drink of choice.
In early 2019, the Guardian reported that the International Dairy Foods Association spent $1.3m lobbying on a variety of issues, including school milk, as well as giving another $260,000 to candidates through its political action committee. The 2019 article also explained that the Dairy Farmers of America spent $924,000, including on the push to serve milk in schools.
At the same time as the dairy industry pushes their business into the dietary guidelines across America, government funding ensures the industry’s success from every angle. Per USDA’s website, the “Dairy Margin Coverage” program subsidizes the difference between feed costs (which are also subsidized) and dairy production to ensure a farmer’s profit.
When the demand for dairy drops too low, the “Dairy Revenue Protection” program subsidizes dairy farmers, creating job security for a dying product. Can’t sell your milk? No problem. Dairy farmers are even promised reimbursement through donations of dairy milk to low-income individuals through the “Milk Donation Reimbursement Program.”
Seeking Unbiased Nutritional Support
In preparation for the launch of the 2020 guidelines, the US administration predetermined the topics to be addressed, limiting the discussion to 80 questions to be answered by the advisory committee. As explained by a Washington Post article, these questions ignored several of the most pressing issues explored by the panel in 2015, including the consumption of red and processed meat, as well as ultra-processed foods.
“A wide range of experts say these are among the most critical questions as the nation faces an epidemic of lifestyle diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They also represent the issues that large food companies find most objectionable…”
~ The Washington Post
The Post goes on to explain that according to a Freedom of Information Act document obtained by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, many of the doctors, dietitians and academics making up the 2020 committee were put forward by and have worked closely with the food industry.
“Thirteen of the 20 have ties to industry. Several committee members were nominated by four or more food industry groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the trade association of the snack food industry. The majority were nominated by institutes backed by food industry lobby groups.”
With such a heavy influence being exerted by the industries that profit from the sales of animal products, it’s no surprise that the general public remains largely in the dark about how unnecessary these are for our nutritional well-being, and how eliminating animal-based foods can actually reduce one’s risk of disease and encourage overall physical health and well-being.
It is not only our national nutritional guidelines that have been hijacked by this reprehensible industry, it is our very healthcare system itself, which is crippled under the weight of millions of suffering individuals seeking relief from conditions that are largely avoidable.
While rejecting the standard animal-based way of eating may require us to step outside the mainstream, it also empowers us to take our health into our own hands, and to free ourselves from dependence on an industry that profits from providing a diet promoting death and disease.