Dinner plate politics

Dinner plate politics

POLITICS continue to encroach on good science when it comes to what information consumers are being fed about nutrition and what is in their food.

Since first being released in 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides recommendations on foods and beverages that promote a healthy, balanced diet.

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services come together to revise the federal dietary recommendations, which are supposed to be based on the latest nutrition science.

This report serves as the foundation for the policy that determines the next edition, in this case the 2015 dietary guidelines.

On July 17-18, the joint USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) held its fourth public meeting for the 2015 guidelines via webinar. USDA has mentioned that there will be at least one or possibly two more meetings before it finalizes the report to the USDA and HHS secretaries.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.), a former agriculture secretary, fears that the federal dietary recommendations are at risk of becoming the latest battleground for the Obama Administration's "creeping environmental regulatory scheme."

"Rather than focusing solely on current nutrition and health advances to inform Americans of healthy food regimens, the discussions are skewing towards so-called environmentally 'sustainable' practices laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has seemed to go out of its way to be at odds with conventional agriculture," Johanns said. "In other words, nutrition science and our producers' voices may take a back seat to the Administration's political agenda."

DGAC has established a food safety and sustainability subcommittee. During the most recent meeting, the subcommittee discussed the topic of sustainability in terms of "lifestyles" and also covered research on red meat in the diet.

Discussions focused on environmentally sustainable diets, with the argument made that eating less meat will be better for the planet. Committee members reportedly said transitioning from a meat-based to a plant-based diet should be encouraged in all food sectors.

DGAC also discussed how marketing new plant-based dietary recommendations as environmentally friendly may encourage more people to adopt changes in their diet.

"This sort of costly guideline has no basis in nutrition, but it has major implications for farmers, ranchers and those who consume their products," Johanns warned.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. said it has been involved in the 2015 dietary guidelines discussion for several years on behalf of its members and also submitted comments for DGAC to consider on the latest nutrition research, such as "beef in an optimal lean diet."

The group plans to continue to be engaged throughout the process but also called on agricultural interests to stay involved. Comments can be posted at www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.

"Improving dietary recommendations should not be a regulatory potluck, where every aspect of the President's agenda has a seat at the table," Johanns said. "The Administration should stay within the scope of science-based nutrition advances when developing new diet recommendations and save the political battles for other venues."

Volume:86 Issue:30

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