Big Food Wins Dietary Guidelines Battle

posted by Ashley Schaeffer Yildiz

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released on January 7, are woefully disappointing. In a classic case of David vs. Goliath, after almost a year of savvy organizing by the My Plate, My Planet coalition of nearly 200 environmental and health organizations, the US Government caved to the powerful special interests of Big Meat and adopted Dietary Guidelines that exclude the link between food and the environment.

“Given the huge health and environmental costs of diets high in factory farmed meat, the lack of clear guidance on lowering meat consumption does a disservice to the public and our future food security. The administration has clearly put the financial interests of the meat industry over the weight of the science and the health of the American people.” – Kari Hamerschlag, January 7, 2016 Friends of the Earth news release

With such a huge reach, the stakes were high. The DGA informs the $16 billion dollar school lunch program, helps guide nutrition education programs and menu planning for government institutions nationally, and is widely promoted to the public. Food industry, government officials, health professionals, scientists and civil society have spent the last year hotly contesting the revised 2015 DGA. The battle over the 2015 Dietary Guidelines inspired a heated national conversation about the relationship between food, public health and the environment, including the problematic way in which industry controls politics in America.

Christiana Wyly notes that “despite overwhelming and unprecedented public support, where, according to HHS (Health and Human Services) Sec. Burwell, more than 97% of the 19,000 public comments on sustainability supported it, the political power of agricultural interests still overrules public interest.” Texas Republican Mike Conway’s opening statement at the October Dietary Guidelines Committee hearing says it all. Conway said, “the inclusion of these issues [sustainability] in this process could have resulted in misguided recommendations that could have ill effects on consumer habits and agricultural production.”

This 2015 Dietary Guidelines revision process was unprecedented in that for the first time in history, the scientific report upon which the guidelines are based, was excellent. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s review of scientific evidence found that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than the current U.S. diet.

Unfortunately the US Government wasted this historic opportunity to communicate that healthy diets and healthy environmental foundations of our food supply go hand in hand. The US Govt plain and simple chose to reject science. We can thank the well-greased lobby muscle of the Big Food industry for this loss, which has been in full-swing working to undermine the credibility of the scientific report of the advisory committee since the beginning.

As Americans, we should be able to rely on our government to provide accurate, science-based information that promotes both short-term health and the long-term health of our families and our environment. But instead we’ve been served a plate of politics. As doctor Dave Katz articulates in a recent Huffington Post piece, the so-called “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” are not dietary guidelines for Americans at all. They are “Guidelines to Balance Public Health and Corporate Profit.” Indeed, Big Ag spends millions of dollars a year to control US ag policy. It’s high time we take action to reclaim our food system from corporate control.

How can we create healthy food systems for a healthy planet? How food is produced has a big impact on public health and the environment. Organic, humane and agroecological food production methods that do not rely on the routine use antibiotics, hormones, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase climate resiliency, foster global food security, and protect natural resources. These practices also contribute to better public health, including healthier conditions for workers.