by Marion Nestle
Jul 23 2015

Congress continues to intervene in Dietary Guidelines

Let’s review where we are on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) filed its scientific report in February.  More than 25,000 people filed comments.  Now, USDA and Health and Human Services staff must deal with the comments and write the actual dietary guidelines, the policy document scheduled for release later this year (see Timeline).

Recall that the DGAC report caused much controversy when it linked agricultural to health policy by recommending a diet that promotes health and protects the environment—one that is largely plant-based.

Lobbyists for food companies affected by such recommendations went straight to Congress.

The result?  Congress used the appropriations process to set limits on what the guidelines could say.

House Agricultural Appropriations Bill 

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans…unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:

(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans— (A) shall be based on scientific evidence that has been rated ‘‘Grade I: Strong’’ by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and (B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake.

(2) The Secretaries shall release a preliminary draft of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a list of all the scientific studies and evidence supporting each revised or new nutritional or dietary information or guideline, for a period of public comment of at least days.

(3) Following the end of the public comment period, the Secretaries shall provide a period for agency review of public comments of at least 60 days.

Senate Agricultural Appropriations Bill 

SEC. 733. None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.

The White House Office of Management and Budget objected to the House provision:

The Administration strongly objects to using the appropriations process for objectionable language provisions that are wholly unnecessary to the operation of the nutrition programs…The Administration is also concerned with objectionable language that interferes with evidentiary standards, limiting the ability of USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop dietary recommendations based on the preponderance of the strongest available scientific evidence, as is current practice. The language would also delay the availability of updated guidelines.

The appropriations bills have not yet been reconciled or sent to the President.  Let’s hope Congress decides to leave nutrition advice to people who know something about it and stay out of it.

  • Max

    Oh, that danged Congress. Insisting dietary guidelines by based upon solid scientific evidence. And that dietary guidelines stick to nutrition and not stray over into quackery and urban myth. What are these congressmen thinking, getting all up into our sacred stuff that way? If we wanted science we would call in Bill Nye. We want Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle — we insist pop culture nutrition be imposed on all Americans. We will call the shots and stupid Congress with all their reliance upon science can just go screw.

  • Andre

    The issue here is that Congress is dictating which science should count and which science shouldn’t.

    Congress wants only nutrition science factored in, not global warming science nor pollution science nor atherosclerosis science.

    Plants don’t fart like cows do; it takes far more land to feed us through cows, pigs, and chickens than it would if we ate more plants directly; and it ain’t broccoli or fresh potatoes that are making people obese and putting them on statins.

    I’m pretty sure there’s a strong scientific consensus on each of those issues. They’re not quackery. They’re not urban myth.

    They’re just the wrong sciences, apparently.

    Even if every one of them can be linked to what people put in their mouths.

  • Not so Fast

    And this is precisely the sort of convoluted high-horse designer
    “science” Congress is forbidding DGAC to engage in. And thank goodness.
    See, when the stylishly righteous of this world start stringing together
    complex sciences into one convenient theory of causation…and lick their chops over the inevitable intrusive regulations founded thereupon,
    well, that’s when elitists begin to play God. Way out of your depth in
    this sanctimonious interference in sciences management of which is way beyond your pay
    grade, girls.

  • NYFarmer

    We are farming rainfed grasslands north of NYC. All around us, as each livestock farm falls, land speculators and developers have split the farms into large lot subdivision. Only contiguous large acreage can support threatened grassland birds. We have fought for the open lands, making our living with meat and milk. It has been astonishing to reap the condemnation of urban people who know little of the ecosystems we farm. We refuse to be cast as evil farmers who produce a “bad” food. I sure did call my Congressman.

  • valerie

    What happens if the best diet for health is not the best diet for the environment? Does the committee somehow write up a sort of compromise for the guidelines? De facto deciding for everyone what their priorities should be?

    For instance, if every American ate as muh fish as they should for their health, it would deplete the oceans (let’s say). So what should the guidelines say? Eat just as much fish as the ecosystem can sustain for every American (and sacrifice your health)?

    Or, what if soybean oil is the most sustainable source of dietary fat, but it contains too much omega 6 to be a healthy choice (let’s say)? What should the recommendations be? Should the committee also take into account the health care cost of too much soybean oil before they make a decision?

    Trying to come up with recommendations that balance every possible source of concern (health + environment + cost + acessibility + …) would lead to some sort of mega compromise where individuals cannot know anymore what is best for themselves, or at least not according to their own priorities.

    One more concern: are the members of the committee really qualified to talk about anything other than the health aspect of nutrition?

  • Simple Simon

    That’s why it is so important to resist calls for adhesion to scientific evidence. Sciency stuff just gets too complicated and then you get a headache thinking about it. Instead we will just trust opinionated talking heads to decide for us how it should be. That way nothing is written in stone so if kale goes out of fashion the next fad superfood can be written right in. That’s the reason these things should be food based instead of nutrient based. We all know the importance of eating some quinoa, ample sushi and plenty of garlic. And whole grains but only locally produced by hand by peasant farmers on nearby wildlife preserves. Then our children will be healthier and smarter, well prouder and smugger, at least. That’s the important thing.

  • Nebraska rancher

    I raise pinto beans and I raise beef; That experience leads me to question the notion about feeding more people with vegetable proteins takes less land is false.

    We generally budget 2,200 pounds of pinto beans per
    irrigated acre. We generally budget 180
    bushels (10,000 pounds) of corn per irrigated acre or 70 bushels (3,900 pounds)
    on dry land. Fed to a pig, corn from an irrigated acre would produce 2,500
    pounds or pig or 1,600 pounds of pork.
    The pork would meet the daily protein requirement for 5,000 men while
    the pinto beans would meet the daily protein requirement for 1,100 men. The same corn per acre could be fed to finish
    steers from after grass. They too, would
    provide 1,600 pounds of beef and meet the daily protein requirement for 5,000
    men. Although there are variations in
    the crop inputs of water, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, when analyzed
    for protein, not calories or weight, the results are similar; meat is a more
    efficient protein source than vegetables.

  • Andre

    I generally follow your math – don’t know enough about what % of a hog or the pork yield would be protein to confirm. I’m willing to take your word for it on the conversion factors. Your math may have the corn and the hogs growing on the same acre, however 🙂

    I think using protein as a yardstick is a mistake, though. Know anybody suffering from Kwashiorkor?

    Protein deficiency is not a thing in this country. We consume at least twice as much protein as we need already (17% of calories vs. typical human needs of 5%-8% or even the conservative guideline of 0.8g/Kg of body weight, which would be about 10%).

    “Protein efficient” foods generally come packaged with excessive amounts of saturated fat.

  • Nebraska rancher

    Saturated fat as a problem dates back to the earliest notions of how arteries clog. They did not account for how fat is digested or formed in the body. Recent research has shown that the body is adapted to digesting saturated fat without contributing to cholesterol or plaque if consumed in moderate amounts. Folks in NYC seem to be quite upset about transfats. Most vegetable proteins come with significant amounts of natural transfats.

  • Andre

    What is “moderate?”

    What are the figures for transfats accompanying vegetable proteins vs. animal proteins?

  • Andre

    I’s the first time I’m hearing about vegetables having transfats. It isn’t mentioned here:

  • Nebraska rancher

    Moderate would be consistent with the beef “building a heart healthy diet with lean beef” fact sheet. I tried a Link but it would not paste, so that should give you a quick search result. is the entry for the nutrition data base. It lists fat content of food in addition to protein, carbohydrates minerals and vitamins.

    Cooked pinto beans are served as refried beans.
    A one cup serving of refried beans has almost exactly the same calories
    as three ounces of grilled, choice sirloin steak with an eighth inch of
    fat. The beans have about 4.5 g fat of
    which 0.038g is trans-fat. The steak has
    11 g fat that includes 0.082 g cholesterol.
    The beans have natural fiber and sugar, while the steak has none. The critical difference is that the serving
    of beans has 12g protein versus 23g for the steak

  • Nebraska rancher

    It sort of is. Food processing for pulses always includes soaking and boiling them in water, a source of hydrogen. Shortening and margarine are extreme examples made by whipping water into vegetable oil.

  • Andre

    Thanks for the link.

    0.038g out of 4.5g (less than 1%) is not a “significant amount” of transfat.

    I hear ya on the margarines and shortenings; I consider those unhealthy junk foods. I wouldn’t call them vegetables.

    The first beef entry I saw had 3.4g saturated fat and 8.5g fat on a 183 calorie cut. That’s 15% and 40% of calories respectively.

  • Nebraska rancher

    Looks like you found a chuck roast and looked at a 100 gram serving which would meet more than half a woman’s protein needs for a day. The fat in that serving is 14% of a 2000 cal diet. To meet half of the protein requirements with refried beans (other beans are similar) she would need to eat over 2 cups and the fat content would be about 15% of a 2000 cal diet.

    In my opinion, beef is not bad. It’s the company it keeps. A person can meet the protein requirement with meat and still have room for desert.

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  • TR

    Resisting calls from lobbyists only interested in protecting their bottom line should be even more important. Talk about opinionated talking heads… We got more than enough of them in the form of industry backed lobbyists and all they do is muddy up the water.

  • TR

    Thank you for your concientiousness. I understand people being concerned about the environment but sometimes… well you know how they can be. They don’t do themselves any favors unfortunately.

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