Red meat industry questions sustainability ‘remit’ of Australian Dietary Guideline review

Red meat industry questions sustainability ‘remit’ of Australian Dietary Guideline review

The red meat industry has questioned the inclusion of environmental impact, accessibility, and food affordability as considerations in new official dietary advice.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is reviewing guidelines about what Australians should eat to meet nutritional requirements.

During its background work, the independent statutory agency identified dietary patterns, processed foods, nutrition needs at different times of life, and protein-rich foods as priority areas for research. 

It also identified sustainable diets, which it defined as accessible, affordable and equitable with low environmental impacts, as a very high priority for consideration.

The red meat industry wants its work to improve sustainability factored into the review.(ABC News)

But some farmers, such as Australian Beef Sustainability Framework chairman Mark Davie, want more information about how that sustainability will be measured. 

“We think the role of the guidelines should be to firstly focus on nutrition,” he said. 

The central Queensland grazier said the current Australian Dietary Guidelines, which had been in place since 2013, acknowledged the complexities of sustainability.

But he was not confident the review would do the same. 

What’s at stake   

The guidelines are primarily used by health professionals, policy makers, food retailers, and manufacturers.

They seek to provide evidence-based information on the types and amounts of foods, food groups, and dietary patterns to promote health and reduce the risk of diet-related conditions.

Reviewing them is a multi-year process that started in 2020 and the new version is expected to be released in 2026.

An NHMRC spokesperson said applications were currently open for people to join the working group that would advise the committee on sustainability. 

“Farmers and farming organisations have an important role to play, particularly given their knowledge of food production,” the spokesperson said. 

Once the evidence is analysed, draft guidelines will be written and released for public consultation, followed by an independent expert review, before they are made official. 

“All stakeholders, including farmers and farming organisations, will have the opportunity to comment on the draft guidelines,” the spokesperson said. 

The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been in place since 2013.(ABC News: Helena Burke)

But John McKillop, the independent chair of the Red Meat Advisory Council, which represented producers and advised on policy, said the dietary committee should not give environmental advice. 

“You may as well have the Bureau of Meteorology start issuing nutritional guidelines along with the weather forecast. It’s just not in their remit to do it,” he said.

On its website, the NHMRC said the expert committee was appointed “based on their expertise in areas such as evidence translation, epidemiology, research methodology, food and health relationships, and nutrition communication”.

It said sustainability was intended to be addressed by a separate process to other research priorities. 

Carbon on the table

In 2017, the research and marketing body Meat and Livestock Australia set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030, spending more than $200 million on projects to reduce methane emissions and improve sustainable outcomes. 

Mr Davie said in assessing the sustainability of red meat, practices like feeding food waste to cattle needed to be recognised. 

“There are cattle in feedlots that eat the excess biscuits that would be thrown out of food factories,” he said. 

“We cycle things like the by-products of the wine industry through cattle because its full of micronutrients that we can upcycle back into food products.” 

He said on-farm biodiversity and the reliance of regional communities on certain food production should also be considered important for sustainability. 

Farmers and farming bodies can make comments on the draft guidelines to be released.(ABC Rural: Fiona Broom)

An NHMRC spokesperson said evidence farmers and farming organisations were working on sustainability, and the role of the industry in the broader community, would be included.

“Consideration of contextual factors is part of standard guideline development,” the spokesperson said. 

“The NHMRC standards for developing guidelines ask all guideline writers to consider the evidence and other factors that influence decision making.” 

That included benefits and harms, values and preferences, resource use and acceptability.

Expressions of interest to join the Sustainability Working Group to advise on the guidelines are open until March 5. 

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