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.