Why do animal products such as beef and dairy, which require vastly more resources to raise and process, cost less than smaller-carbon-footprint plant-based products? One reason is because government policy is usually stacked in their favor. Historically, the beef, poultry, pork and dairy industries have been particularly active in swaying federal policy for their economic interests. 

It’s no accident, for instance, that the infographic for national eating guidelines, MyPlate, features a serving of dairy. The meat industry benefited, too. When MyPlate replaced the food pyramid in 2011, New York University professor and food politics expert Marion Nestle said the MyPlate section distinguishing “protein” was odd, as protein is a nutrient, not a food. “USDA used to call the group ‘meat’ even though it contained beans, poultry and fish,” she wrote on her blog Food Politics. “The meat industry ought to be happy about ‘protein.’ Meat producers have spent years trying to convince Americans to equate meat with protein.”

What Nestle is getting at is evidence of a systemic barrage of Washington, D.C., lobbyists promoting policies that benefit the wealthy dairy and meat industries. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website Open Secrets, in 2016 alone the meat processing and products industry spent more than $4.5 million in lobbying dollars; over the same time period the dairy industry spent nearly $6.5 million.

To be clear, lobbying isn’t necessarily bad. It is OK to inform legislators about your industry’s interests—Simon’s Plant Based Foods Association recently hired a lobbyist to promote the economic development of the plant-based foods industry (more on this in a bit). But it leaves an unsavory aftertaste when certain powerful industries like meat and dairy significantly influence official health guidelines for their own benefit.