Lawsuit Targets USDA Double-Speak, Says Agency Protecting Agribusiness and Fast-Food Companies
WASHINGTON—A nonprofit physicians organization is suing the federal government over the newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, accusing officials of using deliberately obscure language regarding foods consumers should avoid. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) cites the government’s conflicts of interest and arbitrary and capricious behavior in developing nutrition advice that was supposed to help Americans fight record obesity levels.
In a lawsuit filed this week against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, PCRM says the Dietary Guidelines are clear about what to eat more of—vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, for example—but deliberately hide the foods Americans should eat less of. The Guidelines use biochemical terms, such as “saturated fat” and “cholesterol” instead of specific food terms “meat” and “cheese.” This deliberate omission can be traced to the USDA’s close ties to the meat and dairy industries, including fast-food companies such as McDonald’s.
“While the Guidelines do acknowledge the healthfulness of plant-based diets, they also employ confusing euphemisms like ‘solid fats’ to avoid being clear about the health risks posed by meat and dairy products,” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “Americans need straightforward health advice, not bureaucratic mumbo jumbo designed to protect agribusiness.”
PCRM is demanding a rewrite of portions of the Guidelines that use technical terms to avoid mentioning the risks of meat and dairy products. The lawsuit also raises concerns over Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members with ties to the meat and dairy food industries, including a member who served on an advisory council for the McDonald’s Corporation and another who worked for the Dannon Institute.
While dairy products account for more than 30 percent of the saturated (“bad”) fat in the American diet, the Guidelines disguise this fact by splitting dairy products into many categories, including cheese (8.5 percent), butter (2.9 percent), whole milk (3.4 percent), reduced-fat milk (3.9 percent), dairy desserts (5.6 percent), and pizza (5.9 percent), so their contribution to ill health is harder to see.
The Dietary Guidelines—issued by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services every five years—are the blueprint for all federal nutrition programs, including school meals.
For more information or to speak with Ms. Levin, contact Vaishali Honawar at 202-527-7339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.