U.S. Dietary Guidelines: Battles Won and Lost
PCRM president Neal D. Barnard, M.S.,
and staff counsel Mindy Kursban, Esq.
With much fanfare, including a public announcement by President Clinton, and against the backdrop of the May 30 National Nutrition Summit, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala released the 2000 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new Guidelines came after a long, bitter struggle.
Because the Guidelines steer all federal nutrition programs, PCRM fought hard to rid them of the meat and dairy biases of prior editions. On March 8, 1999, PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., and PCRM physician member Milton Mills, M.D., presented detailed recommendations to the Advisory Committee drafting the new Guidelines, along with letters of support from the Congressional Black Caucus; the NAACP; Martin Luther King, III; Jesse Jackson, Jr.; and other leaders who shared PCRM's concern about the toll of dairy products and meaty diets on populations with a high prevalence of lactose intolerance, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and prostate cancer. Dr. Barnard called for dairy products to be strictly optional and for more vigorous promotion of vegetarian diets.
In December, the conflict went to court. After learning that 6 of the 11 members of the Advisory Committee had financial links to the dairy, meat, or egg industries, PCRM attorney Mindy Kursban filed suit under the Federal Advisory Committee Act which forbids such industry influences. Major press stories were covered by The New York Times, Boston Globe, ABC News, CNN, and CBS Radio. The battle lines were drawn.
To hear the meat industry tell it, we won hands down. An editorial in a meat-industry publication lamented, "[T]hroughout the text of the Guidelines, many subtle changes in language have been inserted, all of which help drive the not-so-subtle agenda…get meat out of the mainstream, in both feeding programs and the public consciousness. How else should industry interpret such phrases as, 'eat a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol,' 'choose a plant-based diet,' and 'reduce consumption of animal products?'"
True enough, the new Guidelines call for "using plant foods as the foundation for healthy meals and building an eating pattern on a variety of plant foods, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables."
Soymilk was included as an acceptable substitute for cow's milk. And while the Advisory Committee had sought to purge the text included in the preceding edition describing the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, PCRM's insistence on restoring this text was rewarded, albeit with a heavily trimmed version.
Even so, the Guidelines fall far short of what they should be. They rely heavily on the Food Guide Pyramid, which pushes two to three servings of meat and dairy products daily. The text on vegetarian diets remains far too weak, leading Ms. Kursban to petition the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to fully restore the previous vegetarian-friendly text.
What You Can Do
- Give PCRM's Vegetarian Starter Kit to your friends and family.
- Distribute PCRM's Vegetarian Starter Kit for Restaurants to your favorite eateries and encourage them to add more vegetarian and vegan selections to their menu.
- Share information about PCRM's Gold Plan—a unique nutrition education program designed for school cafeterias, nursing homes, hospitals, or other large institutions.
- Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers about the benefits of vegetarianism.
- For holiday or birthday gifts, give vegetarian-friendly books.
- Ask your local television stations and newspapers to include more stories about vegetarian diets, with suggestions on restaurants they may feature or organizations they may contact.
PCRM's literature and public outreach departments are available to assist you in these efforts.