The Pork Checkoff has countered the claims of a cookbook author who recently suggested that America’s “collective hankering for meat has left us with some expensive problems,” including human health issues and environmental degradation.

“We want to make sure that people have correct information and understand that nutrient-rich pork can be an important part of a healthy diet,” says Adria Sheil-Brown, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition communications and research for the Pork Checkoff.

At issue is the article “Eating Less Meat: Signs of a Growing Trend” by Tara Mataraza Desmond, which appeared in the January 2010 edition of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP)’s Frontburner e-newsletter. The author stated that “meat-heavy diets have been consistently linked to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis. She also cited Mark Bittman’s book “Food Matters,” which claims that global livestock production is responsible for “about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases – more than transportation.”

The Pork Checkoff succeeded in getting a letter of rebuttal published in the February Frontburner, which circulates to nearly 3,000 members from more than 32 countries.

Sheil-Brown wrote that:

--The National Pork Board believes that the healthiest diets consist of a balance of fruits and vegetables and nutrient-dense red meat, a position held by many health organizations. Red meat provides many under-consumed nutrients including potassium, phosphorus and vitamin B12.

--Vital nutrients such as iron and zinc are more easily absorbed when they come from meat rather than vegetables. Vitamin B12 is only found in meat from animals.

--Consumption data shows an appropriate actual intake of nutrient-rich meats. The National Pork Board believes the current dietary guideline of an average of 5.5-oz. equivalents in the meat and beans group (based on a 2,000 calories/day diet) remains appropriate based on a wealth of scientific evidence.

--Consumption survey analysis shows that despite an average amount of meat and meat equivalents of 5.3 oz./day by Americans, only 44% of all individuals 2 years and older, 62% of men 20 years and older, and 37% of women 20 years and older consume at least the minimum recommended amounts from the meat group. “Clearly, Americans are not over-consuming meat,” Sheil-Brown says.

--Animal agriculture creates only a small percent of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States and pork production an even smaller amount. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pork production contributed only 0.33% of total U.S. emissions in 2007.

--Livestock-related GHG emissions have declined per unit of production. “At the practical level, every pound of pork produced in the United States today has a smaller carbon footprint compared to 20 years ago,” says Sheil-Brown.

For more information about the Pork Checkoff, go to www.pork.org.