Will nutrition be at the core of new dietary guidelines?

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 16, 2014 - As a panel gathers this week to discuss future U.S. dietary guidelines, some agricultural interests hope nutrition itself will continue to play the dominant role in determining a suggested diet.

The 14-member Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) will be meeting this week in Bethesda, Maryland, for the first time since March. The panel is tasked with establishing recommendations for the 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The first edition was released 1980. Since then, the guidelines have been updated every five years, with USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appointing the first DGAC in 1985. In 2010, the recommendations shifted away from the traditional food pyramid debuted in 1992 to the “MyPlate” guide with more emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

Lets Talk Food

While the group is meeting to set five years' worth of nutrition recommendations, ag groups claim sustainability and other environmental issues are playing a growing role - some say too big of a role -- in the nutritional recommendations.

The American Meat Institute (AMI) recently submitted comments to the DGAC demonstrating how processed meats can be included in a diet that fits within 2010 dietary recommendations. AMI said its dietary suggestions are also much more realistic than assuming the majority of consumers will adapt to exact recommendations of the committee.

“If nutritional guidance is to truly impact the healthfulness of Americans, it needs to address how to improve the food choices they already make, not an idealistic version of an eating pattern that bears no resemblance to the average eating patterns of Americans,” AMI said in a press release.

AMI went on to say being overly specific on healthy foods might lead to a reinforced “concept of good-food/bad-food” that may actually increase interest in the “bad” foods.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) submitted comments  highlighting the nutritional value of beef and steps taken to raise the product in an environmentally sound way. Kristina Butts, the NCBA's executive director for legislative affairs, said she hopes the committee will operate within the statutory authority it is given by Congress.

“We think they should focus on their statutory obligations which are the latest science on nutrition and health,” Butts said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “Branching off into issues like sustainability and other topics outside of nutrition and health, we think, are outside of the scope and boundaries for the advisory committee.”

Butts said if the typical DGAC process is followed, it will be evident at the upcoming meetings if sustainability will be an integral part of the recommendation moving forward. She said the earlier meetings are generally used for discussions and brainstorming, but the final two meetings are when the committee starts to demonstrate priorities.

“When you get to the final two meetings of this process, that's really when we have a better idea of the direction the committee is going or what topics they chose to take more seriously or put more time into,” Butts said.

The DGAC meetings come in the same week as a new USDA official with an environmental nutrition background takes office. Angie Tagtow started July 14 as the executive director of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Tagtow was previously a senior fellow with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. She is also founder of Environmental Nutrition Solutions LLC, among many other items on her lengthy resume.

“Ms. Tagtow is an exceedingly knowledgeable nutrition professional that is incredibly well respected by colleagues and fellow nutrition experts. She received an outpouring of recommendations from a wide variety of nutrition organizations, members of Congress from both parties, and many others,” a USDA spokesperson said, calling her “exceptionally qualified” for her new position.

Butts said that based on reading some of Tagtow's previous work, there is an “opportunity for (Tagtow) to hopefully be more familiar with the beef industry” and what the industry has done from the perspective of sustainability. Acknowledging that Tagtow is new to Washington, Butts said she is looking forward to working with her and that it will be important for NCBA to “facilitate that education.”

“We're going to be obviously aware of her background, her writings, her involvement previously in the nutrition world, but she's part of a different role now over at USDA,” Butts said. “(Tagtow) is going to be responsible for putting forward these nutrition policies and making sure she's staying within the statutes delivered to her by Congress.”

This week's meetings, set for Thursday and Friday, are the last scheduled until September 16. The DGAC is expected to present its report to the secretaries at USDA and HHS in late 2014 or early 2015. That proposal will then be posted on DietaryGuidelines.gov for public comment. Officials anticipate the final document will be released in the fall of 2015.

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