WASHINGTON, May 7, 2015 -- The deadline for public input on the scientific report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is midnight Friday, giving supporters and opponents of the report just hours to speak now or forever hold their peace.
The May 8 deadline was extended from April 8, giving stakeholders 30 more days to digest the 571-page report. The primary hang-ups remain: Meat and livestock groups hold opposite opinions with environmental and health groups about the same language concerning lean meat and sustainability. Recommendations relating to caffeine and pregnancy, added sugars, alcohol intake, sodium, and cholesterol are also likely to receive attention from the broad spectrum of individuals and organizations impacted by potential federal food policy changes within the next edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Almost 23,000 comments on the entire DGAC process have been submitted online, and many more were expected to come in late, especially from trade organizations. In comments already submitted, Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, blasted recommendations that Americans should east less beef, saying the committee is ignoring evidence showing the health benefits of lean, red meat.
“The Advisory Committee chose to base its conclusions on outdated and weaker forms of evidence,” his comments read. “The bottom line is that there is significant scientific evidence to support the inclusion of lean red meat, like nutrient-rich beef, more often as part of a healthy dietary pattern.”
Ellis also reiterated the position shared by NCBA and others that the DGAC exceeded its purview with its sustainability recommendations, but he said any discussion on the topic should also make note of sustainability improvements already made in livestock production.
“It is important for the discussion of sustainability to include many of the improvements animal agriculture has already undertaken, especially in the U.S. but to also realize how U.S. animal agriculture is providing nutrient-dense, high quality protein for international consumers,” Ellis said in his comments. “It is not appropriate for the Advisory Committee to provide recommendations on a topic like sustainability where much of the research is in development and outside of their expertise.”
As vocal as organizations like NCBA, the North American Meat Institute, and the National Pork Producers Council have been in asserting their positions, groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have been just as vocal from an opposite perspective. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Laura MacCleery, CSPI’s director of regulatory affairs, said she hopes the group charged with drafting the final guidelines will keep the sustainability language as is.
“There’s an alignment, a really important alignment, between what’s good for public health, which is a diet with more abundant fruits and vegetables, and what would be good for overall resource cost of our food system, which is a plant-based diet,” MacCleery said. “I think noting that alignment is really useful for public policy, and while I’m unsurprised it has caused a political response, I hope the drafters of the guidelines see that for what it is, which is just politics, not at all evidence-based.”
MacCleery added that the report calls sustainability an additional rationale to follow the guidelines, “not the centerpiece of the nutrition analysis.” She said CSPI will likely submit its comments toward the end of the week, and those comments would touch on clarifying labeling information on added sugars and sodium as well as asking for clarification on language concerning cholesterol, among other things.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue are also getting into the act. Speaking at a Capitol Hill event on last week, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she was disappointed in the “politically motivated attacks” on the integrity of the committee and the very Dietary Guidelines process. She said those charged with drafting the final guidelines should “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” and stick to their guns.
“The cigarette industry tried to suppress the evidence on tobacco, big oil tried to do the same thing on lead poisoning, let’s not let the food industry suppress the evidence about healthy eating,” DeLauro said. She added that the evidence in the committee’s report is conclusive and doesn’t need further verification. “We don’t need more studies, we have the data, [and] we have the information to move forward.”
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture waited until Thursday to file its comments. The group’s CEO, Barbara Glenn, said the DGAC strayed from its charter by including “extraneous and unfounded recommendations.” She said the physicians and nutritionists who contributed to the report lack the technical expertise to write a report that makes “sweeping and uninformed recommendations on food sustainability.”
“Additionally, the committee’s removal of lean meat from the definition of a healthy diet contradicts decades of research which shows the benefits of lean meat for good health. The final recommendations must include lean meat in the definition of a healthy diet. Federal nutrition policy should not prejudice particular agricultural commodities or consider non-nutrition related elements such as environmental impacts.”
Unless the comment period receives another extension, submissions will be accepted through 11:59 p.m. EDT Friday. Once comments are submitted, the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will jointly review the comments and release the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, expected out late this year.
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