WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a formal request submitted today, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit of more than 17,000 doctor members, urgently called for an immediate investigation into the flawed process of developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2025-2030. In a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm and U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis Fong, the Physicians Committee maintains the agencies have consistently failed to prioritize human health and address racial disparities when developing the Dietary Guidelines.
“As the development of the Dietary Guidelines 2025-2030 continues to move forward, the American public needs the assurance that the next guidelines are being crafted with equity and integrity,” says Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC, president of the Physicians Committee and adjunct professor at the George Washington School of Medicine. “The current Dietary Guidelines include nutrition recommendations that favor the economic interests of unhealthful food industry associations over the health interests of the general public, especially communities of color.”
In May, the Physicians Committee filed a petition for investigation, in response to a set of proposed scientific questions HHS and USDA jointly published on April 14, 2022, which are intended to guide the development of the Dietary Guidelines 2025-2030. The agencies will use the questions to influence the selection of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) members, the DGAC’s agenda, and the content of the next Dietary Guidelines. The DGAC is a group of nominated individuals, which reviews nutrition research and drafts a scientific report that the USDA and HHS use to develop the final guidelines. The agencies are currently considering nominees for the DGAC and finalizing the proposed scientific questions, making the need for an Inspector General investigation more urgent.
The proposed questions specifically avoid issues that are key to African American health—notably foods associated with massive disparities in deaths from colorectal, prostate, and breast cancers—meaning that these issues will be excluded from the upcoming revision process. The proposed questions are also skewed in favor of industry, sidestepping the health problems caused by meat and dairy products.
The Physicians Committee’s legal action requests that the Dietary Guidelines focus on public health, its original intent, rather than bolstering the meat and dairy industries. The document says that “the agencies have inappropriately designed these questions to skew the revision of the Dietary Guidelines (1) away from a discussion of the health risks posed by meat and dairy products, (2) away from the health problems these products pose for persons of color, and (3) away from the benefits of plant-based diets, all to the detriment of public health.”
The May petition asks that the HHS and USDA Offices of Inspector General investigate and ensure that the agencies:
- Reissue the proposed scientific questions intended to guide the development of the Dietary Guidelines 2025-2030 in a way that does not obscure health risks to people of color, does not use technical terms to avoid discussing the detrimental effects of meat and dairy, and includes specific consideration of vegan and vegetarian diets.
- Disallow nominations submitted by USDA’s checkoff programs, which are prohibited by law from influencing governmental policy or action.
- Prohibit the DGAC from considering promotional research overseen by USDA, an appointing authority, as their research uses specific design flaws to minimize the health effects of certain commodities.
- Require that the DGAC consider all relevant scientific and medical knowledge, regardless of publication date, and to prioritize independent and unbiased research over industry-funded research.
“By intentionally and repeatedly using artful language in critical aspects of the Dietary Guidelines process, HHS and USDA have deceived and harmed Americans for decades, compromising public health interests in favor of promoting specific food products,” Dr. Barnard says. “Because the Dietary Guidelines are ‘promoted by each Federal agency in carrying out any Federal food, nutrition, or health program,’ it is imperative that they be issued in accordance with the law.”