What You Should Eat—Do You Want The Government To Tell You?


Well, a little advice, based on research, can be good...but only if the advice has NOT been influenced by big corporate food interests!

Sometimes all of us need a kick in the pants about some of our eating habits. Salt...and more salt. Fries...and more fries. Meat fats...and more...and juicier...and well-marbled.

You get the picture.

So along comes the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which just released its 5-year review of the nutrition guidelines in which it gave updated recommendations for how Americans can eat a healthy diet. Most independent nutrition experts like these recommendations: they discourage the consumption of salt, sugar, and fat (the staples of the junk-food/Big Food industry) and they also encourage eating for a healthier planet by limiting foods that have negative environmental impacts. In short, the shift to a plant-based diet is beginning to gain traction, even with DGAC.

The DGAC recommendations ultimately become the USDA nutrition guidelines, so there is a lot of interest (particularly from food companies) as to what goes into them. And Big Food isn’t happy.  A recent update from Politico’s Morning Agriculture team gives us an update on the state of the DGAC’s recommendations, noting that they are under more scrutiny than ever before:

The chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee have requested that the USDA and HHS supply an accounting of how they intend to review the more than 29,000 public comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, as well as an accounting of the staff maneuvering that’s been required to review those thousands of comments in a timely manner."

Typically, according to Dr. Marion Nestle who has sat on the DGAC, there have been limited public comments on the recommendations. For example, in 2010, the last time they were reviewed there were roughly 2000 comments. Nestle, ever critical of Big Food and their involvement in not only shaping our food system, but also shaping public opinion about the entire food sector writes her brief account of how it once was:

We did the research and wrote guidelines based on that research. The agencies published them pretty much as we wrote them.

That changed in 2005 under the Bush II administration.

By now, nutrition advice has become so politicized that the public—from individual consumers to corporations—has a say in them."

Nestle’s argument is that nutrition advice has become less about real science and more about marketing from the various corporate interests who have a stake in profits based on what people buy. While advertising health claims is not a new phenomenon (“Got Milk?”, “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,” “Pork, the other white meat”), the slew of comments on this years DGAC recommendations, Nestle believes, is the result of the politicization of our food system for corporate gain.

For instance, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association calls the report “appalling and severely misguided.” They, of course, have a lot to lose based on these guidelines, their views are clearly not science based, but their comments are in the mix all the same.  

We, the people, by all means should have a say in any policy that is created for our health. Yet, when corporations are speaking on our behalf and even informing our views on public policy, it is no longer our voice. Nestle and others are feeling hopeful that this deluge of comments will not change the DGAC recommendations to any large degree, but we remain curious as to what changes will be made in the final USDA guidelines.

PHOTO: via Flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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