Feds blow past deadline for dietary guidelines

Feds blow past deadline for dietary guidelines
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The Obama administration has blown past its deadline to issue final guidelines for what Americans should and shouldn't be eating amid unprecedented controversy surrounding the dietary recommendations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) originally said the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans would be out by the end of 2015, but that was before Congress approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill that called for a “comprehensive review” of the guidelines, the federally appointed panel of nutritionists that helps draft them, and any changes from the 2010 recommendations within 30 days.

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Lawmakers included the language in the bill after the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended Americans eat less meat for environmental reasons. The USDA and HHS relented to industry outrage and promised environmental sustainability would not be considered, but congressional leaders wanted to be sure.

In an email, an HHS spokesperson said the deadline for the guidelines was changed to coincide with the time many people are adopting resolutions for the new year — not because of the spending bill.

"We are making final preparations, and after consideration, determined that the best time to release the new dietary guidelines was January, given Americans' focus on healthy eating and exercise around the New Year.”

The spokesperson went on to say that the agency is required to release the guidelines by Jan. 31.

But the Glenn Lammi, chief counsel of the Washington Legal Foundation's (WLF) Legal Studies Division, said the agencies are unlikely to acknowledge the real reason, be it external or internal, for the delay.

In an email, he said the legislation should have caused the USDA and HHS to carefully review all of their recommendations to ensure that they were “limited in scope to nutritional and dietary information” and “based on significant scientific agreement.”

“WLF expects that the review Congress has required will at a minimum prevent future administrations from using the Dietary Guidelines as an ideological tool to advance policy making goals,” he said.

Chris Young, executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP), is hoping the review will push the agencies to again include lean meats as part of a healthy diet and temper warnings about processed meats.

“We’re anxious to see what they come down with,” he said. “From an industry stance, we thought there was a preconceived agenda. We’re not sure sound science was used all the way around, especially on the lean meat side. Leaned meats have always been part of a healthy diet.”

Meanwhile, health groups say they aren’t afraid of the review itself, but of what’s to follow.

Because Congress said in its committee report on the spending bill that it’s concerned with the quality of scientific evidence and extraneous factors the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee included in its scientific report, Kristy Anderson, the American Heart Association's government relations manager, said the issue isn’t going to be put to rest with a review.

“If the National Academy of Medicine, comes up with a report that is not what Congress likes, given what is a clear attack on nutritional science and lack of understanding of what nutritional science is, that’s where our fear comes in,” she said.

Anderson said academy fears that Congress will do away with the recommendations.

"Anything is possible,” she said. “I think the consequences would be devastating because the dietary guidelines bring all that information together in one singular place where, no pun intended, it’s easy to digest.”