In the previous post, we shook our heads in disappointment over the employment, by the Department of Agriculture, of lobbyist extraordinaire Kailee Tkacz. Many people believe that someone with that kind of resume should not be in a position to influence the government’s Dietary Guidelines.
Why is this a big deal? Apparently, one-quarter of Americans are fed by federal programs — be they in school, prison, or the military. Food stamp policies are also impacted.
The stakes are high. First, there is, at least in theory, the basic precept of attempting to provide the most nutritious food. Also, billions of taxpayer dollars are in play. There are integrity issues. People in the department are well-placed to sway decisions that can lavishly line the pockets of their former colleagues in the food industry. And perhaps to collect kickbacks, in the form of cash, favors, or even more prestigious jobs when they exit government through the “revolving door” and return home to Big Food.
It’s not as if this process has traditionally been pure as the driven snow. Health and science journalist Andrew Jacobs writes,
The fears that politics could overshadow science are not entirely unfounded. In 2018, Secretary Perdue sought to ease Obama-era nutrition standards for sodium and whole grains in school lunch programs, a move that infuriated nutritionist experts.
A judge put a stop to that.
The guidelines are renewed every five years, and last time around, well, let Jacobs tell it:
The panel that year had for the first time addressed the impact of American eating habits on climate change and the environment, but the section was omitted from the final report following an outcry from the livestock industry unhappy over the panel’s suggestion that a plant-based diet was both healthier and more sustainable.
In the past, objectivity among the panelists has been questioned by government watchdog groups. The recent political climate has made it even more difficult to assure that unbiased advice is given.
Pam Miller, the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service Administrator, says the decisions about the guidelines are made by some of the nation’s leading dietary experts. Last June, 20 nutrition scientists had a videoconference to hash out the questions involved in creating the latest guidelines. How did they get on the panel? Jacobs writes that panel members were nominated by the public, and…
[…] those chosen were required to submit financial disclosure forms that were reviewed by agency staff members for possible conflicts of interest…
More than half of this year’s panel has ties to the food industry, and the scientists leading newly created subcommittees on pregnant women, lactating mothers and toddlers have ties to the baby food industry.
But see, here’s the thing. None of this ultimately matters because the Agriculture Secretary has the final cut. The expert panel’s recommendations can be vetoed by the staff, and the staff’s suggestions can be vetoed by Sonny Perdue, a man who “spent much of his career in the agribusiness sector.”
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Scientific Panel on New Dietary Guidelines Draws Criticism From Health Advocates,” NYTimes.com, 06/17/20
Image by Ron Mader/CC BY-SA 2.0