Editorial: U.S. Dietary Guidelines: Victory in Court
The meat industry has long tried to dictate what Americans should eat. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled the first "food pyramid" in 1991, cattlemen objected to its seemingly small section allotted to meat and actually managed to have the graphic withdrawn. After being held hostage in back rooms at the USDA, the Food Guide Pyramid as we know it today slinked cautiously back into view a year later.
The dairy industry has been even bolder. Ever since the first food guides were published in 1916, milk and cheese traders have had their greasy fingers on Uncle Sam's shoulder, making sure their products were always depicted front and center. The dairy industry's "Got Milk?" and milk mustache advertising campaigns are, in fact, administered by the federal government itself, something few other industries can boast.
So when the government selected a committee to draft the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2000—the blueprint for all federal and most private nutrition programs—bureaucrats took it as a matter of course that 6 of its 11 members would have links to the meat, dairy, or egg industries. And no one would have expected such a committee to be overly concerned about evidence linking meat and dairy products to chronic disease or to pay much heed to studies showing that vegetarian diets can protect against so many serious illnesses.
On December 15, 1999, PCRM filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, citing the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which holds that such committees are to be free of undue influences. And their work is to be done in the open, with full public participation. PCRM attorney Mindy Kursban fought an uphill battle that had never before been attempted. USDA attorneys scoffed at the suit and sought to have it dismissed. After nine months in court, on September 30, 2000, the judge ruled that PCRM was right. Indeed, he wrote, the Guidelines had been devised in a manner that broke federal law, and, moreover, the backgrounds of people on such committees, or even nominated for such committees, had to be put to public scrutiny.
The meat, egg, and dairy industries are as big as ever. But, like the tobacco industry before them, their contribution to ill health is gradually being exposed to the light of day. And their grip on government policy-makers has finally loosened.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM