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The Grazier's Gazette

USDA food guidelines ignore value of grazing livestock

Cows in pasture
Bringing livestock back to the farm is one of the most profitable, environmentally friendly and satisfying moves farmers can make.

USDA is in the process of formulating new guidelines on their opinion as to what constitutes a healthy diet -- again!

Do you remember the early food pyramid where they decreed that we should eat mostly grains with some fruits and vegetables and very little dairy or meat products? This low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet has been the USDA recommendation for many years. During this time the health of the American people has deteriorated dramatically.

Today a majority of Americans are overweight and a frightening percentage are obese. Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease have increased greatly in a short period of time.

This reminds me it is well past time for the adults to retake control in America. This is true for every aspect of life from the kindergarten class to the White House but this column deals mainly with agriculture and food production.

Prior to about 1930, heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) were extremely rare in the United States; less than 3,000 cases per year were recorded. This was at a time when the average American consumed a great deal of saturated animal fat. Lard was the common cooking oil, butter was consumed in gobs on breads and vegetables, fat meat was consumed in quantity and whole milk was recognized as being close to the perfect food for humans.

By the 1950's the frequency of heart attacks had grown to more than 500,000 per year. They had become the leading cause of death of Americans. What occurred during the thirty or so years that turned a rather minor health problem into a major killer?

The most obvious factor was a massive switch in diet away from animal fats and to vegetable fats. Saturated animal fats were blamed for everything from obesity to heart disease to baldness. A major push was put forth to characterize vegetable fats as "healthy" and to demonize animal fats. A theory was developed that blamed high blood cholesterol for heart disease and the consumption of saturated fat as the cause of high blood cholesterol. Both of these assertions have been proven wrong.

At first the demonization was not very successful, people liked their butter and bacon and choice beef but a storm of research papers appeared, seemingly giving scientific validity to the anti-animal-fat campaign and massive amounts of money were spent on advertizing. People began to switch. This was one of the most successful advertizing campaigns in history; to this day many people consider animal fats to be unhealthy, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

This "lipid theory" of heart disease was primarily the brain child of one man, Ancel Keys. He  published several studies that seemed to support his theory and his position and reputation were such that these studies did not receive the normal critical review. There is not space or time enough to critique these studies in this column but I would urge anyone interested to do a web search on Keys and on the causes of heart disease.

There is a tremendous amount of information available and much of it points to the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet and the replacement of animal fats with processed vegetable fats as the true causes of the current health emergency in the U.S.

Forty years ago a very wise physician told me, "If you want to create instant senility in humans, remove all saturated fat from the diet."

Animal fats have been given a bad rap. They are a true health food and we need to promote them as such.

Given the USDA record on giving advice as to a healthy diet, I am a little bothered that they plan to include advice to "promote reduced environmental impact" in their dietary recommendations. This translates into "reduce beef consumption" on the very thin theory that beef production is more harmful to the environment than cropping corn and soybeans.

Especially fraudulent is the statement that the cow contributes to global warming by belching methane. Methane is produced when cattle (rumen microbes) digest forage and this gas is released into the atmosphere by belching and bowel evacuation. The same is true for humans. This is a tiny portion of the methane released from all sources, including seepage both natural and manmade from natural gas deposits, anaerobic decay of vegetation in swamps and rice paddies, volcanic activity, plus the decay of methane hydrates in cold climate waters all over the world.

These other sources reduce cattle-produced methane to the needle in the haystack status. Sydney University and others have shown that two acres or so of healthy pasture absorbs more methane in one day than a cow produces in a year.

Ultimately, the point of this column is that there are a lot of people, some in positions of authority, that do not like animal agriculture. To be fair, there are a lot of things wrong with American agriculture that need to be and can be changed.

I personally believe that bringing animals back to the farm is one of the most profitable, environmentally friendly and satisfying moves farmers can make. This premise is a main theme in my latest book, The Green Revolution Delusion. I will explore this thought further in future columns.

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