Sugar, fat the enemies – not protein

Your article, "Protein-rich diet linked to Bay's unhealthy state," May 2012 is irresponsible and misguided.

First, reducing nitrogen use by producing less meat is not a zero sum gain with respect to the loading of nitrogen into the Bay.

Reducing meat consumption, as suggested in your article, will cause family farms to go out of business. When farms go out of business, the land is typically altered to some other use, such as residential or commercial development.

The astronomical population growth in the Bay watershed, has already converted thousands of acres of farmland to development each year. Your article's call for less meat production will accelerate this land use conversion.

The conversion of farmland to other uses is counterproductive to improving the health of the Bay. The nutrient-holding capacity of well-managed farmland is far greater than the impervious surfaces of developed land.

Family farmers, such as the livestock and poultry producers in the Bay watershed, have an inherent desire to take care of their land and the streams running through it. They take pride in it. Many have installed dozens of conservation practices at considerable expense. These practices have helped to reduce agriculture's contribution to the nitrogen load in the Bay by more than 50 percent. 

With respect to poultry litter, a recent study by the University of Delaware suggests that the EPA's Bay Model estimates of broiler chicken litter production could be as much as five time greater than current university estimates. According to the study, Bay Program watershed modeling uses outdated assumptions that do not reflect new management practices, feed technology and bird genetics that have enhanced efficiencies. In one Delaware County, the study indicates that Bay modeling overestimates nitrogen in litter by nearly 60 percent. If this study is accurate and applicable throughout the watershed, poultry litter could be much less of a factor in Bay nutrient loadings than many have assumed. 

Finally, the article is based on an assumption that Americans are overeating meat and not eating according to recommended protein guidelines. In fact, the opposite is true. According to USDA's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which helped craft the most recent "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," the protein group is the only food group where we are actually eating the recommended amount: 5–7 ounces per day. Americans are under-consuming fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and over-consuming added sugars and fats, but protein is right on target.

It is past the time to stop painting agriculture as the poster child for pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and other rivers, lakes and estuaries. Everyone should have a vested interest in preserving watersheds across the country. The poultry industry, for one, is doing its part, and we are making progress.

The real answer to an improving Bay is retaining farmland with profitable farms, not eliminating it through flawed, model-driven proposals such as reducing meat consumption or basing Bay restoration efforts on outdated manure production estimates that drastically overstate the nutrients associated with manure.

Retaining farmland in this region is impossible without vibrant and growing livestock and poultry production. Meat consumption is not only good for the Bay but also is good for the people who live and work around it. 

Hobey Bauhan, President
Virginia Poultry Federation

Healthy diet good for the environment

Your recent article, "Protein Rich Diet Linked to Bay's Unhealthy State," May 2012 overstates both the amount of protein consumed by Americans and the impact that our protein consumption has on the environment.

According to the U.S. 2010 Dietary Guidelines Technical Report, the meat and beans group (now called the protein group) is the only food group consumed at proper levels. The guidelines recommend that people consume 5–7 ounces from this category per day depending upon age, gender and activity level.

On average, women consume 4.4 ounces of meat and poultry daily and men consume 6.9 ounces daily. Excess calories come from discretionary fats and sugars, the guidelines say.

Also of interest is a new paper published this year in the journal Environmental Economics by a team of French scientists who analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a variety of self-selected diets. These researchers acknowledged the nutrition value of fruits and vegetables but concluded that substituting them for meat is not necessarily the best approach to decreasing diet-associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers calculated the greenhouse gas emissions increased when fruits and vegetables were substituted because greater quantities needed to be consumed to substitute for the nutrition value of meat.

Your article appropriately calls upon readers to be more thoughtful about what they eat. We agree, and being thoughtful means not simply embracing the popular wisdom espoused in your article, but rather confronting all of the data with an open mind. Such a thorough examination will show that a healthy balanced diet that includes recommended levels of protein targets we are currently hitting according to federal data — can be good for the environment.

Dennis Boik
Director of Environmental & Sustainability Issues
American Meat Institute

Consumers should pay for unhealthy food choices

The article, "Protein-rich diet linked to Bay's unhealthy state," May 2012 states: "Fertilizer and animal waste running off farms are the largest source of nutrients which spur the growth of huge algae blooms that foul the Bay's waters."

Most of these pollution sources are a result of sugar and meat production, as well as overconsumption, which is also responsible for our epidemics of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease and makes the United States — one of the unhealthiest societies in the world. There are two obvious solutions. Either force producers of meat and sugar to pay for the cost of restoring our water and soil resources by taxing these products, or tax the fertilizer and other chemicals used in the production process to cover the cost of Bay and health restoration.

For the first time, the Bay Journal is making an issue of the real source of Bay destruction. Mandating that the consumer of unhealthy food pay the cost to our health and natural resources is a concept whose time has come. Congratulations to the Bay Journal for standing up to the powerful forces who are destroying our health and natural resources.

Donald Kerstetter
Trappe Landing Farm & Native Sanctuary
Trappe, MD

Editor's Note

The USDA document, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Appendix 5 recommends 46 grams of protein a day for adult women, and 56 g/day for adult men. This is in agreement with calculations from scientists working on the N-Print project reported in "Protein-rich diet linked to Bay's unhealthy state," (May 2012). A person could consume 5-7 ounces of chicken to get that 50 grams of protein, but then they would not need protein from any other sources (beans, milk, etc.) Overall, scientists working on the N-Print project show that actual U.S. protein consumption is around 90 grams a day, based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which tracks food consumption globally. That is significantly higher than the recommended amount.