USDA Should Stop Dietary Advice

by updated 2011/02/27

The USDA along with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services issues the “official” dietary guidelines. As my post on the most recent U.S. dietary guidelines indicates, these periodic recommendations never come without controversy.  Although there is always some disagreement regarding specific recommendations made in these guidelines, the biggest area of controversy always comes down to the USDA itself.  Whenever new guidelines are released, a few news stories point out the conflicts of interest the USDA regarding what we eat.  However, these conflicts are soon forgotten, never to be raised again until years later when another set of guidelines are released.

It is understandable why this happens since trying to change anything in the U.S. government is like trying to move the proverbial immovable object.  The USDA will not give up its grasp on these guidelines willingly because the guidelines are the single most valuable source of publicity for the politicians and bureaucrats in the USDA.  Think about it, what is a political bureaucrat without face time in the press?  Right now, because the guidelines have just been updated, this conflict of interest is being discussed on NPR, at The Harvard School of Public Health, and in numerous other high profile forums.  This will only last a short while though and change will not be discussed until the guidelines are updated again.

The USDA should get out because they are so closely tied to the corporations that provide the unhealthiest foods in our diets, that they are unable to be direct in their recommendations.  As a couple of examples, I suggest reading the following pages of the Dietary Guidelines PDF. Page 38, “Milk and Milk Products” reads like a PR release from the dairy industry.  This is not surprising since the USDA is joined at the hip with dairy producers by millions of dollars in subsidies and pricing support.

I was able to find only one reference to red meat consumption in the report and this was in a paragraph on page 53 about the “DASH eating plan”.  The closest reference in the rest of the report comes also on page 38; where the discussion of “protein foods” does an amazing sidestep around this issue of red meat consumption in the U.S.  Nowhere does the report say we eat too much, and the wrong kind of red meat.  This makes sense because, like with the dairy industry, the USDA is intimately involved with conventional, corporate, producers of beef and pork.  How can the USDA recommend reducing red meat consumption when they have this incestuous relationship with the very corporations a reduction, or change, in red meat consumption would harm?  Why would the USDA recommend a shift in meat consumption to healthier forms like grass fed, and finished beef when this government agency has no financial ties to these more ethical producers of beef?

In closing I would ask anyone writing articles or posts on health or nutrition in the coming years, to pledge to keep the idea of getting the USDA out of the diet business on the front burner of their writing stove.  Whenever you mention dietary guidelines, try to work in a sentence or two pushing to make these U.S. government guidelines less beholden to the corporate food business.  The next time the U.S. government updates these guidelines and mainstream reporters do their Google searching for background information on the guidelines, let them find millions, instead of hundreds of posts from our little corners of the web.  Let them see us calling for a less biased method of developing these guidelines.

Finally, whenever I have put polls out in the past, I have been surprised at their popularity.  I don’t know why I don’t use them more often, but here is a simple one on this topic.  Please add your opinion by answering the poll question and then if you agree, or especially disagree with my view on this subject, let me know in a comment.  Thanks!

Should the USDA get out of the dietary guideline business?

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Will Sig

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