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Senate Panel Takes Aim at Dietary Recommendations in Funding Bill

Mary K. Caffrey
Advocates for healthy eating say food industry lobbyists are using the political process to interfere in the scientific process.
In what critics say is an effort to defund what they failed to defeat, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee this week is advancing a bill that would thwart the ability of the Obama Administration to implement recommendations from an expert panel that spent a year reviewing scientific evidence to inform the nation’s nutrition policy.

On Tuesday, the panel approved $20.5 billion in discretionary funding, which The Hill reports is $65 million below current levels and $1.1 billion less than the administration’s request.  Most of the bill includes mandatory funding, and the text will not be released until tomorrow.

Notably, the bill features a rider that requires that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are being finalized now, be based “solely on nutritional and scientific evidence and not extraneous information.” This language has shown up in another bill, The Hill reports.

In February, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, (DGAC) which is mandated by Congress to advise the Departments of Agriculture and HHS on updates to the guidelines at 5-year intervals, called for Americans to eat less red and processed meats and sugar and adopt more sustainable, plant-based diets. Not every recommendation pleased purists—the panel dropped dietary cholesterol for those in good health as a “nutrient of concern,” based on recent studies.

Food industry lobbyists, and the meat industry in particular, reacted with alarm, and the comment period on the report was extended to accommodate all the feedback. The final guidelines remain under review, which is not necessarily unusual, since the 2010 guidelines were not finalized until January 2011.

Advocates for healthy eating, including some members of DGAC, have sounded the alarm about the behavior of the food industry toward the Congress. Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, wrote in a June 24, 2015, essay about DGAC’s unprecedented letter to Congress “to protest legislative interference with the scientific process.”

What rankles critics, Nestle wrote, is the fact that DGAC connected agricultural sustainability to health policy. “Some segments of the food industry don’t like what the science so they are using the political system to fight back,” she said.

Among those expressing concern about the DGAC language is US Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, according to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. He joined a group of 29 senators in March letter that challenged the panel’s decision to remove “lean meat” from the statement of a healthy dietary pattern, and questioned whether DGAC had gone beyond its purview.

The Post-Dispatch report found that many of the signers of the March letter represent beef-producing states in the Midwest and West, and noted that Blunt’s wife, Abigail, lobbies for Kraft Heinz Co., owner of Oscar Mayer.

Frank Hu, MD, PhD, MPH, told attendees at the April meeting of Patient-Centered Diabetes Care, jointly presented by The American Journal of Managed Care and Joslin Diabetes Center, that the recommendation for Americans to reduce consumption of red and processed meat had met resistance.

 
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