America’s meat industry has fought for decades against changes to the nation’s official dietary recommendations that would suggest limiting meat consumption as part of a healthy diet. Now, the companies that represent plant-based food products such as tofu and seitan are biting back.

The Tofurky Co., Lightlife, Field Roast Grain Meat Co., Chicago Vegan Foods, Emmy’s Organics and Tomato Sushi are among the nearly two dozen vegan, vegetarian and natural food companies that have banded together to support proposed changes to U.S. dietary guidelines suggesting that Americans should consume more fruits and vegetables while restricting intake of red and processed meats. 

Current guidelines only suggest that people should eat leaner, rather than fewer, meats. The plant-based food companies launched a website and sent comments in support of the proposed changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday. 

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says red and processed meats contain saturated fats that have been linked to cardiovascular disease and that meat carries a higher environmental impact than plant-based foods since livestock are responsible for 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This year marks the first time that the committee has chosen to consider sustainability alongside health impacts in shaping the American diet. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the North American Meat Institute have bristled at this approach, saying that the committee shouldn’t factor environmental concerns into dietary recommendations. The National Pork Producers Council and National Chicken Council also have expressed their distaste.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the Wall Street Journal that he “has read the law” and also considers the scope of the committee to be limited to health issues only.

Barbara Millen, the chairwoman of the committee and a professor at Boston University School of Medicine, defended the approach to the Hill. She emphasized that her group outlined three examples of a healthy diet in the recommendations to show how meat can be both incorporated into and removed from a diet, based on consumer preference.

In 1977, the first dietary guidelines presented by a panel of the Senate suggested that Americans should “reduce consumption of meat and increase consumption of poultry and fish,” the Missourian reports. After the meat industry filed complaints, the revised version only encouraged leaner choices, stating: "Decrease consumption of animal fat, and choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake."

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services consult the draft recommendations as well as public comments received before Friday, May 8, to shape the official dietary policy of the U.S., which is updated once every five years. This policy dictates school meals, military rations and which foods are made available to women, infants and children through the WIC program.