When science and education collide with politics
As the prolonged debate over global warming has demonstrated, politics and science often don’t mix well. And, for that matter, neither do politics and education in the highly charged, ideological atmosphere in which we find ourselves today.
The latest example is the bit of political theater that Sid Miller, Texas’ new agriculture commissioner, performed last week for the financial benefit of the Texas cattle industry and the amusement of the political clique that has made Washington-bashing a Lone Star State pastime.
The educated science was compiled and updated by a committee of nutritionists, physicians, and other health care experts from some of the country’s most prestigious universities. In an advisory report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the panel urged Americans to limit their consumption of red meat and sugar in favor of more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. This is the kind of advice we have been hearing from doctors and nutritionists for years but is worth repeating.
The new report will be sent to the respective Cabinet secretaries, who are scheduled to release national dietary guidelines later this year. The committee also called on state and local officials throughout the country to make policy changes – such as taxes on less-healthy foods — to encourage healthier eating habits.
“This report would take meat off the menu,” Miller retorted, according to the Texas Tribune. “I don’t think it hurts a kid to have a hamburger on Fridays.” He also declared, “We know better how to raise our kids than some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.”
The report won’t force the removal of meat from menus, and it says nothing about outlawing hamburgers. Nor, for that matter, does it dictate how to raise children.
But Miller was responding to scientific evidence with political rhetoric in a transparent effort to defend the Texas beef industry, as well as his own future political support from that industry and, perhaps, his own livelihood as a cattle raiser. Cattle-raising was one of the things he did before he was elected last year.
The cattle industry is a large, important part of the Texas economy, and Texas politicians have been circling the wagons around it for years against threats, both real and perceived, from health experts who believe that too much red meat in most people’s diets is, well, too much.
Miller may know how to raise cattle, but he isn’t qualified to debunk the nutritional science or the alarming increase in recent rates of childhood obesity.
Political posturing, though, doesn’t require much education.