Extreme Environmental Agenda Hijacks Dietary Guidelines: Comment to the Advisory Committee

COMMENTARY Public Health

Extreme Environmental Agenda Hijacks Dietary Guidelines: Comment to the Advisory Committee

Jul 17th, 2014 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Daren Bakst

Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy

Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.

The extreme environmental agenda is popping up everywhere, including in areas that have nothing to do with the environment. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has been considering issues such as global warming and sustainability in developing their recommendations—issues that bear no relationship to the nutritional and dietary purpose of the Dietary Guidelines. The DGAC is currently working on recommendations that it will provide to the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The following is a comment that I sent today to the DGAC:

Dear Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

I appreciate this opportunity to provide comments to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) as it prepares recommendations for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

The DGAC should be focusing exclusively on dietary and nutritional factors and not issues such as climate change, sustainability, or any other non-nutrition related factors. Unfortunately, the previous DGAC meetings have focused extensively on these environmental issues, as evidenced through the creation of a subcommittee on food sustainability.

This subcommittee explained in a presentation that “The goal is to develop dietary guidance that supports human health and the health of the planet over time.” The health of the planet is certainly important, but it is not the role of the Guidelines to address this issue.

Existing law does not authorize the DGAC, USDA or HHS to develop Guidelines unrelated to nutrition and diet. The National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act that authorizes the development of the Guidelines states: “Each such report [Dietary Guidelines] shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public.”

It is misleading to develop Guidelines that are not focused solely on these nutritional objectives, and even potentially dangerous. For example, if the best nutritional advice recommends increasing meat consumption, but the DGAC deems that environmental considerations suggest reducing meat consumption, it is not clear which objective would win out. Quite simply, there are many instances when environmental factors will not align with nutritional benefits for humans.

These Guidelines do not merely inform the public but also play a role in the development of federal nutritional policies such as the school meal programs. The public, including children, should expect that if the Guidelines are applied, they are a reflection of sound nutritional advice, not application of policy reflecting an environmental agenda.

If the DGAC continues down this path, the very legitimacy of the Guidelines will be compromised. As the DGAC starts to draft its recommendations, these environmental factors should not play a role in the process, directly or indirectly.

The DGAC’s actions to date have received the attention of the House of Representatives. The report language for the House Agriculture Appropriations bill included the following language that addresses the problems regarding the current Dietary Guidelines process:

The Committee is concerned that the advisory committee for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is considering issues outside of the nutritional focus of the panel. Specifically, the advisory committee is showing an interest in incorporating sustainability, climate change, and other environmental factors and production practices into their criteria for establishing the next dietary recommendations, which is clearly outside of the scope of the panel. The Committee directs the Secretary to ensure that the advisory committee focuses only on nutrient and dietary recommendations based upon sound nutrition science and not pursue an environmental agenda. Should environmental or production factors be included in the panel’s recommendations to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, the Committee expects the Secretary to reject their inclusion in the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

I urge the DGAC to stay focused on its already challenging mission. Developing nutritional guidelines based on sound science is difficult enough. There are many other unrelated issues, including issues unrelated to the environment, which might be of interest to the DGAC members. However, those issues should be addressed outside the Guidelines process, if authorized by Congress.

The DGAC’s work is coming to a close. While past meetings have included unrelated content, the Committee should now use its remaining time to filter out these distractions and get back on track with fulfilling its mission.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal