Dietary guidelines comment period extended

Top officials continue to promise nutritional science will be foundation for final recommendations.

In the wake of continued concerns over the dietary guidelines recommendations, stakeholders have an additional 30 days to comment on the recommendations which will be used to establish new 2015 dietary guidelines.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) who are tasked to consider the scientific report established by an advisory committee extended the initial 45-day public comment until May 8, 2015.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway (R., Texas) said the 571 page report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee “not only went way out of scope in dealing with non-nutritional science issues, the advisory committee potentially excluded influential scientific studies when crafting their recommendations. Our constituents will use this additional time to ensure that all pertinent studies are submitted for review by the Secretaries.”

Members from both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees had written the secretaries seeking an extension of the comment period.

The agencies and the advisory committee have come under fire for leaving red meat out of what it considers to be a healthy diet, and also by expanding the traditional scope of the guidelines beyond just nutritional considerations and including environmental and sustainability issues.

Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of human nutrition, food science and technology at Cornell University and member of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said during a roundtable discussion in Washington D.C. March 18 that the committee had “no political pressure” to consider topics such as sustainability and environmental impacts.

Brenna said this was the first time sustainability has been taken up by dietary guidelines and the committee had a couple of consultants that presented the material on the topic. He said he felt “zero political pressure” on any recommendation and that respective staffs from USDA and HHS were very careful not to push the committee in one direction or another.

But it is political outcry that has put Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in the hot seat and he’s promised that he will “color within the lines” of what the law requires for the dietary guidelines to base any final recommendations on science.

USDA undersecretary for food and nutrition Kevin Concannon testified before the House Appropriations Committee on March 17 that at the end of the day he’s confident that the document to be produced at the end of the year by HHS and USDA “will reflect the core of science, the strongest science available, and it will not be subject to what I describe as a one off over here, a one off over there.”

The committee raised over 80 questions to review and analyze for the recommendations and there was a single question on sustainability, Concannon said. He said unfortunately this is one of those things where the media has jumped onto something, overplays it and “makes it look much larger than it really is.”

Concannon noted in his testimony that the amount of meat consumed is basically the same as the 2010 dietary guidelines.

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