We have pointed out many times that it is not acceptable for the federal government to base dietary advice on personal agendas. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives began looking into the matter at a public hearing.
The dietary recommendations of the 2105 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) were released in February and caused a storm of protest from farmers, grocers, cattlemen and the makers of foods and beverages of all kinds. That’s because the Committee in some cases went with its personal dietary preferences rather than doing its job of reviewing the latest solid research on nutrition.
It is wrong for the Committee to disregard the majority of science in favor of personal agendas. That is evident from the nearly 30,000 comments on the recommendations. There is mounting concern from both public health experts and legislators on the inability of this year’s Committee to make recommendations based on science - as it did with low-calorie sweeteners - and remain within scope of its designated responsibilities.
Some are listening. The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing today to question Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack about the dietary recommendations on which the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans will be based.
Just this week, Vilsack and Burwell stated that the recommendations to switch to a plant-based diet for environmental sustainability purposes were outside the scope of the Committee’s responsibilities. In other words, the Committee had gone beyond its authority to try and force a radical environmental agenda on farmers and ranchers.
The Committee has almost certainly done the same in its recommendation on taxing products it doesn’t like, or cutting taxes on ones it does, as pointed out by Dr. Joanne Slavin, a registered dietitian and professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota.
“ … Their mandate explicitly states that the advisory committee’s responsibilities ‘do not include translating the recommendations into policy or into communication and outreach documents or programs’,” Slavin said in reaction to the tax recommendation. “By recommending economic and taxing policies to encourage the production and consumption of healthy foods, the 2015 committee veered from this requirement.”
And when it comes to recommendations on low-calorie sweeteners the Committee encouraged people to avoid using them as a replacement for sugar, suggesting they are unhealthy, despite the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) repeatedly deeming that, based on the overwhelming majority of science, these ingredients are safe.
It is crucial that HHS and USDA stick to the science and ensure the Guidelines are not based on political beliefs or unproven allegations, as happened in the past when the Committee got it wrong on foods containing cholesterol like eggs and saturated fats, such as butter and meat.