Ag Policy Blog

Worried About Dietary Guidelines? Ask Your Mother

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Dietary guidelines are going to draw a lot of interest this week as the House Agriculture Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on the decisions made by the advisory committee that drafted proposed changes.

Both Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell are expected to testify at the 9 a.m. ET hearing.

Leading up to the hearing, House Ag Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, wrote and op-ed declaring the importance that the guidelines come out "based on sound, consistent, irrefutable science."

(That would be a nice change for Congress to focus on the best nutritional science considering at least some lawmakers feel the need to tinker with the school-lunch program based on YouTube videos and a push by some major food companies to return to the good old days. Of course, if you don't like the science, you beg for flexibility when it comes to following the science, right?)……

Back to the dietary guidelines, Conaway stated he is particularly concerned that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and its report last February "strays from strictly nutrition evidence and ventures into areas like sustainability and tax policy. At a time when consumers are already subjected to conflicting and often contradictory nutrition and health information, providing the public with science-based, realistic and achievable directives is more likely to contribute to improved public health outcomes."

Conaway also noted that the advisory committee also selected particular studies or excluded others "in order to support predetermined conclusions." As Conaway concluded, "Given its expansion of the scope of evidence and movement away from its charter, there is a concern about whether the committee's recommendations will maintain the scientific integrity necessary to benefit the public. It is my hope that as USDA and HHS review the 2015 dietary committee recommendations, they consider the scientific evidence behind each of the determinations to ensure Americans are presented with the best and most reliable information for achieving a healthy, nutritional lifestyle."…

On the flip side are the people arguing that sustainability has a place in helping define the guidelines. Friends of the Earth and the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future both have come out with reports declaring there is "overwhelming support for including sustainability considerations and clear guidance for diets that include less meat and more plants." They have launched an initiative, "My Food, My Planet" to defend the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and its analysis to define sustainability. They base these arguments on the sheer volume of comments on the guidelines, 29,000 or so, of which the groups contend 75% of the comments support their conclusions.…

(The groups kind of conveniently ignore how aggressive everyone has become at pushing form comments, etc., over the last few years, much like these guys did.)

The groups argue that "Linking health, dietary guidelines and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources, ensuring current and long-term food security for the U.S. population."

Vilsack had weighed in earlier this year saying that the dietary committee went beyond its mandate by diving into issues such as sustainability. Vilsack said at the time that it would be up to USDA and HHS to weigh the recommendations and come out with proper guidelines. Friends of the Earth and others, however, argue that it was within the committee's scope to look at some of these environmental topics.

“Our analysis of the law, including the Congressional intent, clearly shows that USDA and HHS would be well within its mandate to incorporate sustainability in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Michele Simon, the attorney who led much of the Friends of the Earth legal analysis.

While some in this fight have altruistic motives of helping 315 million people eat healthy, what this fight is really about is billions of dollars of food sales and marketing over the next five years if a particular food is considered healthy under the guidelines or frowned upon by nutritionists. Regardless of where the 2015 dietary guidelines end up, they will be politically charged.

At this point, if you have any doubts whether what you are eating is healthy, consult your mother. She'll likely tell you to eat your vegetables and clean your plate.

And eat bacon. Don't forget to eat some bacon.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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