No Texan should shy away from a T-bone steak or sweet tea based on a federal department’s suggestions, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is saying in response to a new report on dietary guidelines.
Released Thursday, the report — prepared by an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — called on Americans to increase their consumption of vegetables and limit intake of sugar and red meat.
Miller said Friday that the recommendations are unfounded.
“This report would take meat off the menu, and saying only lean red meat is healthy is inaccurate," said Miller, who has made clear his aversion to federal mandates since taking office last month. "I don't think it hurts a kid to have a hamburger on Fridays."
The report describes a healthy diet as “high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products; lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.” It will be sent as recommendations to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who are set to release national dietary guidelines later this year.
Nutritionists say the report marks a positive step in a nation struggling to reduce obesity levels and increase public health.
“These are excellent recommendations, owing to the contribution of high sugar intake to obesity. They would be hugely important in Texas, for many reasons,” said Charlotte Herzele, a lecturer in the nutrition department at the University of Texas at Austin. “The rate of childhood obesity has doubled and tripled in the last 20 years, and we probably eat two to three times the amount of animal protein that is necessary.”
In addition to offering specific nutritional recommendations, the report also called on local authorities to make policy changes that would incentivize public health. Specifically, it recommends that authorities implement taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, snack foods and other less healthy food items as part of an obesity prevention program, using the revenues to subsidize fruits and vegetables.
“We don’t need big brother placing a sugar tax on drinks, and we certainly should never adopt recommendations that are misleading,” Miller said.
Miller has urged Texans to call Vilsack and Burwell, making clear that the federal officials reject the proposal to implement a beverage tax and the recommendation to lower red meat consumption.
"Americans don't like to do what someone tells them to, and they tend to eye the USDA suspiciously, because it is part of the government," Herzele added. "[Miller] is making fun of the government, and anyone who is weary or distrustful of federal regulations is going to cheer him on."
As the top agricultural representative in the top beef-producing state in the country, Miller is specifically concerned about the exclusion of red meat from the dietary guidelines. In 2012, Texas beef exports generated an estimated $855 million, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture. In addition to possibly threatening the beef industry in Texas, Miller believes that the dietary guidelines boil down to yet another case of federal meddling in an issue that should remain local.
"I don't really agree with any of it," said Miller. "I agree with individual responsibility, local control, mothers, parents and school boards. We know better how to raise our kids than some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C."
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.