Groups that have been engaged in the process of developing the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans are trying to get the ear of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar before the last meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

The DGAC meets Thursday and Friday, the last time it will convene before holding a webinar in May to present its draft report. The meeting this week will not be held at USDA, as originally planned, but will be webcast because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The move to an online-only meeting was made “out of an abundance of caution due to various employer travel restrictions and to ensure a quorum can be reached,” USDA and HHS said.

Meanwhile, more than 40 groups and individuals have written to Azar and Perdue asking that the final DGA for 2020 “acknowledge and incorporate the body of scientific literature linking dietary patterns, sustainability, and food security.”

“A rapidly expanding body of research shows that the average U.S. diet contributes to environmental impacts such as biodiversity loss, climate change, soil erosion, and water pollution that may threaten the availability of a healthy food supply in the future, putting healthy diets further out of reach for many populations,” says the letter, signed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and others.

Sustainability was discussed at meetings to come up with the 2015-2020 DGA and eventually included in the DGAC's report to USDA and HHS, but not included in the guidelines later released by the agencies. Tom Vilsack, the ag secretary at the time, said in 2015 the DGAC report "informs our work, but certainly does not and should not dictate it.” Livestock and meat groups were furious at the discussion of the issue as well as conflicting recommendations on lean meat during the 2015 deliberation process. 

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Sarah Reinhardt, lead food systems and health analyst for UCS’s food and environment program, said “we’re not necessarily expecting they’ll be able to address sustainability” because of the amount of work the committee has had to do over the last year — and the work still in front of it as it scrambles to finish the draft report.

“We have gotten a sense they’re a bit pressed for time on everything,” said Jessi Silverman, a policy fellow at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Neither Silverman nor Reinhardt said they expected any surprises coming from DGAC’s deliberations.

Silverman said she expected the committee to “reaffirm the risk of” added sugars and saturated fats in its draft report.

But some groups are pushing for reconsideration of the current guidelines’ recommendation that people limit their saturated fat consumption to 10% of their daily calories.

The International Dairy Foods Association, for example, highlighted a letter from nutrition scientists to Perdue and Azar that said scientific evidence does not support limits on saturated fats.

“Numerous recent meta-analyses of both controlled randomized trials and observational studies have found no significant evidence for effects of saturated fat consumption on cardiovascular or 2 total mortality,” the scientists said.

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