USDA Dietary Guidelines

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USDA Dietary Guidelines contains information on USDA Dietary Guidelines related lawsuits, secrecy and conflicts of interests. For more general information on the USDA, see also main SourceWatch article U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Court rules against USDA secrecy & conflicts of interest

On December 15, 1999, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and several other individual and group plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee 2000 Chair Cutberto Garza, under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA requires an advisory committee to comprise a fair balance of points of view and functions and prohibits special interests. It also requires the committee to disclose all documents to the public and hold public meetings. USDA Dietary Guidelines are revised by the committee every 5 years.

The Dietary Guidelines are the principal federal policy document on diet. Their purpose is to educate consumers on dietary choices which promote health and avoid or postpone diet-related chronic diseases. They form the basis for all federal food assistance and nutrition programs, including the School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Food Stamp Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). However, it appeared that this committee's underlying purpose was to promote certain agricultural interests. The members were to have been appointed based on their scientific knowledge of nutrition. However, out of 11 members, 6 members currently or recently had financial interests in the meat, dairy or egg industries. Even the Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture, who participated in meetings, had a business relationship with Dannon dairy products. [1], [2]

In October of 2000, the court ruled that the USDA violated federal law by withholding documents and hiding financial conflicts of interest. PCRM's suit also charged that the government undercut the public’s ability to participate in and understand the committee’s activities. While the USDA provided information showing financial conflicts of interest for six committee members, Judge Robertson faulted the USDA for refusing to provide information involving a payment of over $10,000 to one member. According to PCRM President, Dr. Neal Barnard:

“Having advisors tied to the meat or dairy industries is as inappropriate as letting tobacco companies decide our standards for air quality.

Earlier in the year, PCRM’s efforts to change federal diet guidelines won support from the NAACP, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, Martin Luther King, III, Muhammad Ali, and many others who objected to over promotion of meat and dairy products. Lactose intolerance and diet-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension, have a higher incidence among racial minorities. PCRM gained a partial victory in February, when the committee accepted non-dairy foods, such as soy milk, as acceptable alternatives to dairy products. [3]

USDA sued over food pyramid

In January of 2011, PCRM sued two federal agencies for ignoring a vegetarian alternative to the traditional food pyramid; in spite of skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates. PCRM asserted that the USDA and the HHS violated federal law by failing to respond to a PCRM petition offering a simple, plant-based alternative, (the Power Plate) as an alternative to the USDA's food pyramid (MyPyramid). According to PCRM's nutrition education director, registered dietitian Susan Levin:

"We are asking the government to protect the average American, not special agribusiness interests. MyPyramid is confusing, and it recommends meat and dairy products despite overwhelming evidence that these foods are unnecessary and unhealthy. Research shows the Power Plate is a better choice, and it's simple enough that a child could follow it."

Since the first USDA food pyramid was introduced nearly 20 years ago, obesity and diabetes have become commonplace. About 27%t of young adults are now too overweight to qualify for military service. An estimated one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes. The lawsuit charges that the federal government address the worsening epidemics of obesity and diet-related diseases by adopting the Power Plate food diagram and dietary guidelines. The Power Plate graphic is based on current nutrition research showing that plant-based foods are the most nutrient-dense and help prevent chronic diseases. The graphic depicts a plate divided into four new food groups: fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables. There are no portion sizes and food hierarchies to follow. The Power Plate simply recommends eating a variety of all four of its food groups each day. [4], [5]

See also animal products & health issues.

'Healthy Plate' replaces 'Food Pyramid'

On June 2, 2011, the USDA announced that the 'Healthy Plate' would replace the 'Food Pyramid'. First lady Michelle Obama, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled the USDA's new icon, called MyPlate, which contains four colored sections representing fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Next to the plate is a smaller circle representing dairy products and/or soy products and other non dairy substitutes. According to Vilsack:

"MyPlate is a truly simple, powerful visual cue to help people adopt healthy eating habits at meal times."

On MyPlate's website, the USDA emphasizes several important nutrition messages. These include smaller portions, making at least one half of the food plate fruits and vegetables and avoiding sugary drinks. According to Monica Reinagel, author of "Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet":

"It answers the simple question, 'What should my plate look like at any given meal?'"

The original 1992 pyramid included the four food groups in the shape of a pyramid, along with recommended daily servings for each group. Breads, cereals and grains comprised the bottom or widest part of the pyramid (the most servings) and fats occupied the top. In 2005, the USDA revised the pyramid to expand to six food groups and include a figure climbing the pyramid steps to symbolize exercise. In contrast, the new guidelines are simply a reminder for healthy eating. Nutritionists claim that previous guidelines were too complicated and gave the wrong information. According to Martin Binks, clinical director of Binks Behavioral Health in Durham, NC:

"The food pyramid has been described by many as difficult to understand and as the obesity rates would suggest, has gone largely unheeded by many. [6], [7]

A colorful four part plate, with a side dish of dairy and/or dairy substitutes replaced the 19 year old pyramid. Red for fruits, green for vegetables, orange for grains and purple for protein with a separate blue section for dairy and/or dairy substitutes such as soy milk. At the news conference unveiling, the first lady praised My Plate as "a wonderful, kid-friendly tool" that's practical for busy families:

"What's more simple than a plate? I'm confident that families will find this useful. They can start using this today. Trust me: We are implementing this in our household."

The icon is part of a drastic change to alter American eating behavior, as opposed to simply providing information. According to Robert C. Post, PhD, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion:

"The centerpiece of the program is this next-generation food icon. The icon is the visual cue to get to online resources, to online media, and to unified nutrition messages from public- and private-sector efforts." [8], [9]

See also [10]

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