USDA Should Stop Dietary Advice


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
1 John

Had to vote “I’m not sure.” Obviously, there are glaring flaws in the USDA, FDA, and HHS thanks to blatant conflicts of interest, but who else is gonna do it?

Another issue is this. As much as I agree the food pyramid is useless, my “beef” isn’t necessarily with the milk and meat. A few years ago, I found out I was deathly intolerant of wheat protein, and since eliminating all breads and pasta I started to get really healthy, real quick. On the other hand, I can drink a gallon of milk in a day without so much as a burp or stomach twitch.

Here’s the thing: I never had any kind of cravings for other grains like rice and corn. Ok, maybe I do enjoy a handful of gluten-free oats from time to time, or a cup of rice once a week, but look at how grains are listed as the foundation of a “healthy” diet! In fact, the more I’ve studied of wheat and corn, the more it seems like the primary advantage of these foods is economic: cheap, sugary calories that can be stored for long periods of time and processed in to just about any product. Any place there’s grain on your plate, you’d probably be better off replacing it with some green & orange veggies.

But I don’t know if there even is such a thing as an ideal diet for everyone. Early agriculture seems to have put a lot of evolutionary pressure on local populations, so there’s a great diversity in the human race in regards to how we treat different foods. I guess that means my ancestors came from some place with lots of cows and few grains, but it also means that I could get pretty sick on a high-grain Mediterranean diet that is incredibly healthy for the people who live near where it evolved.
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2 Will

Thanks for that John. Good points all but the most accurate one is “I don’t know if there even is such a thing as an ideal diet for everyone”. The best nutritionists seem to know this and make food work well for the individual.

I don’t know if grains are for everyone, but I do know if you eat them, they need to be whole grains. Highly refined ones like white flour, rice, pasta, etc. are not healthy. I never eat white rice or bread.


3 JR

I think Health and Human Services should do it alone. Certainly not the USDA or FDA.


4 John Hunter

I think the key to downplaying the role of the USDA would be to popularize 1, or a few, other sources. I think a problem now is people (for their own health, their kids health, the blog post they are writing…) want a trusted source. The USDA has been used for so long (even with well know issues with their recommendations) that they are seen as an acceptable source. I think the biggest problem is really other than the USDA people are not sure where to turn. If we could get agreement that the Mayo Clinic and The World Health Organization and Princeton University (or whatever – I am just making up a couple of possible trusted sources) I think that would be the key.

I agree the USDA is far to corrupted by politics to provide good science. The trouble is getting a couple recognized sources that could agree on a few the trusted sources for people and that could be the focus of debate and scientific discovery, progress…
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5 Anna

Yes for me, and I think Will you said it all – I don’t like that USDA is linked to large corporations. Anna 🙂
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