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Congress turning up heat on dietary guidelines

Congress turning up heat on dietary guidelines
The latest dietary guideline recommendations remain a hot topic during hearings on Capitol Hill.

THE latest dietary guideline recommendations remain a hot topic during hearings on Capitol Hill.

The latest line of fire came from House agriculture appropriations subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), who asked Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg whether she would commit to adhering to the statutory directive for developing the dietary guidelines by staying focused on "nutrient and dietary recommendations and not include environmental factors and other extraneous material."

The prior week, Aderholt received just such a commitment from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said, "I know my role, and I will color within the lines."

Hamburg said FDA tries "very hard to color within the lines, too. We already have responsibilities that outstrip our resources. We have no desire to take on new activities that are outside of what we've been mandated and asked to do."

She added that FDA is "well-positioned to help advance understanding and to make sound policies based on evidence."

Aderholt asked how the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) could recommend a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods as more health promoting, even though lean meat has been included as part of a healthy, balanced diet in previous dietary guidelines.

He also questioned how consumers can feel confident about following the dietary guidelines when the recommendations contradict those put out just five years ago.

Hamburg said one of the challenges is that the "science base is always changing" in the nutrition arena.

Calling the current 45-day timeline to comment on the DGAC report too short, Aderholt has requested an additional 60 days.

Top House Agriculture Committee Republicans also sent a letter to Vilsack and Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell expressing their "grave concerns" with the DGAC recommendations. Chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas), nutrition subcommittee chair Jackie Walorski (R., Ind.) and livestock and foreign agriculture subcommittee chairman David Rouzer (R., N.C.) asked for the comment period to be extended a full 120 days.

In the letter, they said they recognize that the "comments being developed by stakeholder groups will likely include scientific studies and other evidence that observers assert has been ignored by the advisory committee," and they expect that these comments will be fully reviewed and considered by the agencies as they develop the final proposed dietary guidelines.

In a statement, Conaway said the agriculture and HHS secretaries both share responsibility for the "flawed recommendations because they failed to keep the (DGAC) focused on nutritional recommendations and away from areas such as sustainability and tax policy, which are outside of the committee's purview."

He added, "At a time when consumers are already subjected to conflicting and often contradictory nutrition and health information, the dietary guidelines must provide the public with realistic, science-based recommendations."

So, the challenge remains whether the agencies can find the perfect recipe for properly educating consumers that allows science, rather than political agendas, to encourage healthier eating.

Volume:87 Issue:10

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