Note: I don’t usually post on weekends, but I didn’t feel like waiting until Monday to say this. I’m pretty sure this is the longest post I’ve ever written.
“Will the DGAC recommendations ultimately find their way into the 2015 Dietary Guidelines? That’s hard to say. The DGAC is a panel of scientific experts in the areas of nutrition, food science, public health, medicine and agriculture. Their 2015 recommendations, which also address sustainable agriculture and the environmental impact of our food choices, have been called courageous. Unfortunately, he USDA and HHS choose which recommendations to include in the actual 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Considering that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made comments likening the DGAC to a 3-year-old child, it’s anyone’s guess to what degree politics will override the science this time.”
“One of the points of the DGAC is to ensure that policy is driven by science. We simply cannot have Congress ‘not like the science’ and make policy decision on ‘belief.’ This bill and these decisions will influence the nation’s food and nutrition programs. Not to mention a host of other bad precedents.”
Caving To Industry Interests?
House appropriators are seeking to ensure the Obama administration doesn’t use environmental factors in writing the federal dietary guidelines for meat consumption.
A draft fiscal 2016 appropriations bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration includes a provision that would strictly limit the 2015 recommendations to “matters of diet and nutrient intake” and also require the guidelines to be based on the strongest level of evidence.
In a move that raised widespread concern in the meat industry, the scientific advisory panel assigned to recommend changes to the current guidelines said that factoring sustainability into the dietary guidelines was “essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year the 2015 guidelines would be kept focused narrowly on nutrition.
House Appropriations: Accepting no Science Beyond 2010
Identical language in both the House Agriculture and Labor and Human Services appropriations bills threatens the future of the Dietary guidelines:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, revised pursuant to section 301 of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 5341), unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:
(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—
(A) shall be based on scientific evidence that has been rated “Grade I: Strong” by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and
(B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrition intake.
(2) The Secretaries shall release a preliminary draft of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a list of the scientific studies and evidence supporting each revised or new nutritional or dietary information or guidelines, for a period of public comment of at least 90 days
(3) Following the end of the public comment period, the Secretaries shall provide a period for agency review of public comments of at least 60 days
Why Politicians Should Leave Science to Scientists
There are some fundamental problems with the appropriations language:
- The type of studies that could produce “Grade 1: Strong” evidence is extremely difficult to do in nutrition science research, because of the realities of studying free-living human beings. Mainly, you can’t control every facet of their lifestyle and environment (humans are not lab rats). Even otherwise strong, important studies may have minor flaws that knock their results down to “moderate” status, which is primarily what the 2015 recommendations are based on. It’s also important to consider the overall body of evidence on specific nutritional questions, which the DGAC did, in a very systematic way!
- The language in the appropriations bills would effectively keep the 2010 Dietary Guidelines but prevent the 2015 revisions—even though the 2010 guidelines include plenty of recommendations that are based on moderate, not strong, evidence. It makes no sense to use different standards for existing recommendations than for new recommendations.
- The language would force the removal of the DGAC’s recommendations on physical activity—because it is not within the scope of “matters of diet and nutrition intake.” This is insane, because good nutrition and physical go hand in hand when it comes to preventing disease and promoting overall good health.
- Similarly, to separate sustainable agriculture from diet and nutrition is also insane. Food does not just magically appear, it has to be grown, and if we want to be able to keep growing it, we should all care about sustainability.
- The DGAC report already went through a lengthy public review and comment period. The additional review period suggested in the appropriations bills duplicating what has already been done, and thus is a waste of government resources. (Government waste? I know, go figure.)
Help Stop The Insanity
So what can you do to speak up in support of nutrition science and the DGAC report? If one of your state’s representatives is listed below, you can call or email them with this message:
“I urge you to let the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health do their jobs and consider the recommendations of the expert committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans regarding the impact of diet on both human and environmental health.”
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee
- Robert Aderholt, Alabama, Chairman
- Kevin Yoder, Kansas
- Tom Rooney, Florida
- David Valadao, California, Vice Chair
- Andy Harris, Maryland
- David Young, Iowa
- Steven Palazzo, Mississippi
- Sam Farr, California, Ranking Member
- Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut
- Sanford Bishop, Jr., Georgia
- Chellie Pingree, Maine
House Labor & Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee
- Tom Cole, Oklahoma, Chairman
- Mike Simpson, Idaho
- Steve Womack, Arkansas, Vice Chair
- Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee
- Andy Harris, MD, Maryland
- Martha Roby, Alabama
- Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania
- Scott Rigell, Virginia
- Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut, Ranking Member
- Lucille Roybal-Allard, California
- Barbara Lee, California
- Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania
But Wait, There’s More
“Until 2005, the DGACs wrote the actual guidelines with minimal editing from the agencies. That was certainly how it worked in 1995 when I was on that committee.
“We did the research and wrote guidelines based on that research. The agencies published them pretty much as we wrote them.
“That changed in 2005 under the Bush II administration.”