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Do Babies Need to Eat Meat?

A federal committee’s recommendations for what babies and toddlers should eat highlight growing concerns about nutrient deficiencies and later obesity. But advice that youngsters eat a significant amount of meat is spurring a backlash from advocates of plant-based diets.

The recommendations encourage parents to feed their children more whole grains—and fewer refined ones—along with fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and no added sugar. They also suggest that babies and toddlers eat meat as well as poultry, seafood and eggs to meet the needs for critical nutrients for growth and development, particularly iron, zinc and choline.

The advice is part of a process of revising the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It’s the first time the guidelines will include recommendations for kids under two. Dietary recommendations are a fractious topic right now, with debates over the impact of carbohydrates, meat and many other foods.

The goal of the committee’s recommendations for babies and toddlers is to lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating, says Kathryn Dewey, professor emerita in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, who chaired the birth to 24 months subcommittee. “If we can establish those healthier patterns right away, it will get them used to eating these types of foods,” says Sharon M. Donovan, professor of nutrition and health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the committee.

The committee, which was composed of 20 academics and doctors, released its recommendations in July. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will review them and issue final guidelines by the end of the year. The dietary guidelines have a wide impact: They shape school lunch programs, mold state and local health-promotion efforts, and influence what food companies produce.

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The baby and toddler recommendations have drawn some criticism. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization that advocates plant-based diets, disagreed with the committee’s emphasis on animal products. “There isn’t scientific evidence to suggest somehow infants would be better off consuming meat, seafood, eggs and dairy,” says Susan Levin, a registered dietitian and the organization’s director of nutrition education. She says that infants and toddlers can get iron, for example, from foods like fortified cereals, spinach and lentils.

For adults, federal recommendations suggest eating less red meat—a diet high in red meat has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. The baby/toddler committee decided that developmental needs for kids younger than two are different, says Ronald Kleinman, chief of the department of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a member of the federal committee. “The most important message is that we eat somewhat differently at each life stage,” he said.

The recommendations reflect a shift in how doctors think about feeding babies who are ready to move beyond breast milk or formula alone, says Dr. Kleinman. Before “it was a

After Meat Workers Die of Covid-19, Families Fight for Compensation

After Saul Sanchez tested positive for the coronavirus at a hospital in Greeley, Colo., he spoke to his daughter on the phone and asked her to relay a message to his supervisors at work.

“Please call JBS and let them know I’m in the hospital,” his daughter Beatriz Rangel remembered him as saying. “Let them know I will be back.”

The meat-processing company JBS had employed Mr. Sanchez, 78, at its plant in Greeley for three decades. He was one of at least 291 people there who tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

On April 7, Mr. Sanchez became one of at least six employees at the plant to die of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. “My dad was a very hardworking, happy-go-lucky, selfless person,” Ms. Rangel said. “It’s a great loss.”

Now Ms. Rangel, 53, is in the middle of a new struggle. Hers is one of several families of JBS employees in Greeley seeking compensation for a death caused by Covid-19. The company has denied her family’s claim, as well as at least two others, according to lawyers representing the families who are now taking those claims to court.

Those denials, first reported by Reuters, offered a view of the difficulties faced by families of essential workers who have fallen ill or died because of the coronavirus, many of whom are struggling to cover medical or funeral costs.

“We just have a stack of bills, and I think it’s really taken a toll on my mom, because my dad used to be the one handling all the finances,” Ms. Rangel said.

Across the United States, more than 100 meat-processing plants operated by different companies, including Smithfield and Tyson, have had outbreaks of Covid-19, in part because of crowded working conditions. So far, more than 44,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 200 have died, according to the Food & Environment Report Network, which has been tracking the outbreak.

Workers’ compensation has traditionally been used to address on-the-job injuries — not fatalities tied to a pandemic that has disrupted millions of lives and killed more than 200,000 people in the United States. Tracing the exact origins of individual infections can be difficult, which appears to have given JBS an avenue to deny compensation claims on the grounds that the illnesses were not necessarily work related.

“It is my understanding that JBS was stating that the workers didn’t contract Covid at the plant,” said Kim Cordova, the president of the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that represents many JBS employees.

“I think that it’s just further proof that these companies put profit over people, and that they have treated these poor essential workers as disposable or sacrificial human beings for the sake of production or profit,” she added.

Nikki Richardson, a spokeswoman for JBS USA, said in an email that “the worker’s compensation claim denials were