USDA deploys a zealot

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected “green” food activist Angie Tagtow as executive director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP). Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), says Tagtow will “do great things” but Americans have reason to wonder.

As CNPP boss Tagtow will oversee the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), but unlike all others in that position she has not earned a PhD. She has a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from the University of Northern Iowa and a master’s in Family and Consumer Sciences Education from Iowa State. Though soft on qualifications, Tagtow is fully on board with USDA mission creep.

The mission of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is to make sound nutritional recommendations based on the best scientific research. In recent years, nutrition has taken a back seat to “save the planet” zealotry. On that theme, Tagtow appears to be all in.

She previously served with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. She is also the founder of Environmental Nutrition Solutions a consulting firm that promotes “sustainable, ecologically sound, socially acceptable” food systems.

Tagtow is on record that “dietetic education and practice must encompass the ecological, political, social and economical implications of a healthy diet.” She further believes that “policy dictates everything” and has called for “food system reform” to accompany the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Schools and offices should be “fast-food free zones,” where workers “share information on recyclable disposables in place of foam and plastic,” and her “good food” checklist calls for locally grown vegetables and “less meat to conserve natural resources.” Foods should not be sprayed with pesticides. The new CNPP boss touts “organic methods,” reusable cloth bags, food cooperatives, cloth napkins, and so forth.

Tagtow wants those in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to buy vegetable seeds and purchase “seasonal produce.” So she will likely attempt to reconfigure welfare benefits in line with her agenda. This represents an escalation of already expansionist policy.

The USDA and HHS are conscripting federal nutrition policy to elevate the “long-term health of the planet” over the health of Americans. As head of CNPP Angie Tagtow now spearheads that effort. By all indications she will incorporate her non-nutritional activism in the final implementation of the guidelines.

Legislators should ensure that the guidelines are based on the best available scientific and medical knowledge, not on questionable studies and biased information. In the spirit of transparency, all subcommittee meetings should be open to the public and available online. All research cited by the committee should be made public.

For their part, Americans are well aware that federal government agencies hold no monopoly on nutritional information, which abounds from multiple sources. Americans can easily verify that a high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar diet will do them no good. And they might remain skeptical about the need for the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, especially one headed by Angie Tagtow.

Americans should also be realistic. An administration that creates vast new entitlements and launches new federal agencies is not going to trim the bureaucratic fat. But elections are in the works and Americans have every right to pose hard questions to their candidates.

Should Washington dictate what Americans eat? How much of Americans’ private lives is the federal government going to colonize? What will candidates do to trim bloated, wasteful government?

Voters in Iowa might ask Rep. Latham if he shares Angie Tagtow’s belief that government policy “dictates everything.” For many Americans, it’s sure starting to look that way.

Billingsley is policy fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., publisher of Plowshares and Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture.

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