Want to know the proper foods to eat? In the federal government, that requires a committee.
A group of experts convened by the Obama administration — called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — will be meeting for the third time this week to decide what is best for the American diet, and while its work is unknown to the vast majority of Americans, some fear a progressive, agenda-driven result.
“Until now the [Dietary Guidelines for Americans] have been relatively science based and a good source of information. Now however, Obama administration appointees in drafting these guidelines are using all kinds of unscientific agendas and trying to put them into the guidelines,” Jeff Stier, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research told The Daily Caller, saying the group has inappropriately pulled sustainability and climate change into the mix.
Last May, Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the formation of the 15 member panel of academics who will formally recommend the nutrition standards for the nation.
Those guidelines impact the nation’s nutrition policy as it pertains to things like calibrating food stamp benefits, food allowances for the military, and government food purchasing, and the like.
“The President and First Lady have made it a priority to ensure Americans have access to the information they need to improve their overall health and nutrition,” Vilsack said at the time. “USDA takes great pride in partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services as we strive to reverse childhood obesity and build a healthier next generation based on the solid science that undergirds the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
Every five years the government revamps the guidelines. This will be the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the committee’s recommendations will serve as the standard’s basis.
This year, however, the update has some conservatives and meat industry representatives concerned that the panel is overly focused on the ancillary concerns Stier highlighted, like the sustainability rather than straight forward nutritional concerns.
According to Erik Telford, senior vice president of the conservative Franklin Center, during the body’s last meeting in January, committee member Miriam Nelson pushed the idea of promoting foods that “are sustainably grown and have the littlest impact on the environment.”
Another expert on “sustainability,” Kate Clancy, encouraged the committee on “urban agriculture,” “climate change adaptation” and “a plant-based diet.”
The materials from the body’s first meeting also reveal an interest in sustainability, with at least one working group focused on agriculture and aquaculture sustainability.
“How/what/where foods are grown and their relationship with long-term health of humans and the planet,” a committee document explains.
The majority of the committee’s materials and minutes do deal with nutrition and related issues, but concerns still remain in some sectors.
“It is a masquerade to say this is about nutrition policy. This is really a way to advance another radical agenda, and we’re looking at a panel that is composed of primarily ideological liberals and coastal elites,” Telford said in an interview with the TheDC.
“They really have a strong bias toward plant-based diets and food policies that are more advancing an environmentalist agenda and things like sustainability, carbon emissions, long term health of the planet, rather than health of individuals, affordability of food, what’s best nutrition wise,” he added.
An HHS spokesperson confirmed to TheDC that sustainability is a consideration as the committee looks at updating the guidelines.
“The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s approach to addressing sustainability is consistent with the statements from the current 2010 Dietary Guidelines,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
And sustainability was a factor in the 2010 Guidelines.
“Develop and expand safe, effective, and sustainable agriculture and aquaculture practices to ensure availability of recommended amounts of healthy foods to all segments of the population,” the 2010 Guidelines read.
According to the conservative Independent Women’s Forum’s Julie Gunlock, incorporating environmental concerns into nutrition policies is a recipe for more costly food, which will be detrimental to lower income Americans.
“That’s a pathway to telling people that they need to eat more expensive food in order to be healthy and that is precisely the wrong message we should be sending people if we want them to eat fruits and vegetables,” Gunlock said to TheDC. “We should be working to make these things more accessible, not scaring people off an telling them that you have to buy organic food or you can only purchase locally grown food. That stuff is more expensive.”
In a statement to the committee, the American Meat Institute stressed that sustainability is outside the panel’s purview.
“The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is comprised of experts in nutrition and epidemiology,” the group wrote in a statement to the committee. “To address the variety of issues attendant to sustainability is outside the Committee’s expertise and could dilute the importance of the Committee’s recommendations. Sustainability is a complex issue that is being addressed by various experts in a number of other forums. Until those expert panels have drawn more concrete conclusions it would be premature for the Committee to incorporate such considerations into its dietary guidance recommendations.”
According to an HHS spokesperson, “sustainability” was not a specific requirement for members laid out in the committee’s charter, the assembled members do have an understanding of environmental impact.
“Although sustainability was not specifically sought as primary expertise, all of the Committee members are public health experts with several experienced in the role of environment on dietary intake,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
The committee’s next meeting is Friday.