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Court dismisses suit over industry influence on dietary guidelines

Physicians Committee lawsuit dismissed despite complaints that American Egg Board influenced decision to eliminate cholesterol limit.

A federal court has ruled that a lawsuit filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) against the federal government over what it called “undue industry influence in nutrition policy” cannot be decided on the basis of federal law and was, therefore, dismissed.

In a complaint filed in January, PCRM alleged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services allowed the food industry to dictate the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) new recommendations on cholesterol.

The court ruled, however, that there are no guidelines for determining how much industry influence is too much, and as a result, PCRM’s complaint was “non-justiciable.”

Several DGAC members came from institutions funded by the egg industry and relied on egg industry-funded research findings when it removed limits on dietary cholesterol earlier this year, the PCRM claim said. The lawsuit alleged that in allowing this to happen, USDA and HHS violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which mandates that the advisory committee “will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or any special interest.”

According to previously unreleased documents PCRM obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the American Egg Board had directly nominated one individual who was then placed on the DGAC; a second member was actively receiving egg industry research grants, according to industry documents, and two others worked at a university that had requested and received more than $100,000 from the American Egg Board for research aimed at challenging the cholesterol limits.

PCRM said the DGAC then skipped its usual procedure of reviewing scientific studies and recommended that the cholesterol limit be dropped without an appropriate review of relevant research. Breaking with the Food & Drug Administration and the Institute of Medicine, both of which hold that cholesterol in eggs and other foods increases blood cholesterol levels, the DGAC reported in February 2015 that cholesterol is no longer “a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” and that “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.”

Ultimately, however, the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2016, reasserted the dangers of dietary cholesterol and called on Americans to eat as little cholesterol as possible, as PCRM had wanted.

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