These days, it's not difficult to find a news story pointing out the health and environmental impacts of meat. Study after study has linked meat consumption to cancer, heart disease, antibiotic-resistant drugs, deforestation or climate change. It’s no wonder that people in the United States are eating less meat — and investors are starting to notice.
NASDAQ OMX recently wrote about the trend, cautioning investors that holding meat industry stocks or exchange-traded securities might not be a smart financial decision.
It’s not just the downward trend that prompted the advice, although it’s a factor. The concern is also based on a recent proposal from a committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helps set dietary guidelines with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The committee recommended changing dietary guidelines to reflect not only the health impact of various foods but also the environmental impact; the recommendations include eating less meat (especially red and processed meat) and instead eating a more plant-based diet, which has been shown to have many health advantages.
Americans are consuming less beef, eating about 2 billion pounds less per year from 2002 to 2013, according to the USDA. Consumption rates have changed drastically since about 1990, when meat consumption climbed and climbed, peaking around 2004, according the Wall Street Journal, but the trend has turned sharply down, matching 1990 levels.
If these new guidelines go through, it could have a negative effect on the meat industry, according to the Washington Post. The guidelines would influence all federal food programs, including school lunch programs and food assistance programs. With that potentially at stake, the meat industry is jumping into the fray, suggesting that the panel's expertise lies outside the realm of sustainability and that the draft proposal shouldn’t influence the final guidelines.
For now, the panel's recommendations are just that. The final nutrition guidelines are expected to be released in the fall.
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