WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2015 - The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to review the development of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans today amid lots of controversy that the process has veered off its statutory path. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, who are writing the guidelines, are witnesses at the hearing.

However, the hearing may be a little less lively following a Tuesday afternoon joint statement from Vilsack and Burwell saying that they “do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.” They said they will “remain within the scope of our mandate” and focus on nutrition and dietary advice.

The final guidelines are expected to be released before the end of the year and will shape federal food policy for the next five years.

In February, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) released its scientific report suggesting, among other things, a reduction in meat consumption and inclusion of sustainability language as additional rationale to follow the guidelines. But in the days leading up to the hearing, both sides in the debate jockeyed for position in the court of public opinion. In a Monday editorial in U.S. News & World Report, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said the report was straying from its mandate to provide nutrition advice to Americans.

“We have already seen how misguided recommendations have ill effects not only on consumers but for agriculture production as well,” Conaway said, citing recent changes of opinion on cholesterol and eggs. “Before the federal government makes recommendations that could have long-lasting consequences for agricultural industries, we must guarantee the science is clear and irrefutable.”

While Conaway and many others are leery of the path chosen by the DGAC, those advocating for the inclusion of sustainability concerns also made their case. On Monday, Friends of the Earth distributed a study that it said shows 75 percent of the public comments generated by the report – more than 29,000 in total – supported the DGAC’s recommendations “on sustainability and health.”

“The sheer number of comments – 14 times the number submitted (for a similar report) in 2010 – shows overwhelming public support for the science-based recommendations for linking nutrition and environmental concerns, including less meat and more plant-based foods in our diets,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager with Friends of Earth. 


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