USDA’s ‘Dietary Guidelines Process Is Rife With Conflicts of Interest’ and Routinely Violates Law by Favoring Checkoff Programs Promoting Meat, Eggs, Dairy
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Ahead of the next Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) meeting on Jan. 19, the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint on Jan. 16 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, arguing that the “Dietary Guidelines process is rife with conflicts of interest” and routinely violates federal law by favoring interests of USDA checkoff programs that promote agricultural subsidies including unhealthful meat, eggs, and dairy products. The complaint asks the USDA Office of Inspector General to intervene and ensure that the Dietary Guidelines process is not influenced by checkoff programs.
“Because their sole goal is to increase economic demand—with no regard to human health—USDA’s checkoff programs minimize and disregard any negative reported health effects of their commodities in promotions, advertising, and research,” says the complaint.
“The USDA can’t be trusted to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as long as the agency’s checkoff programs for meat, dairy, and eggs are influencing the Guidelines to recommend the very foods that are making Americans sick,” says Mark Kennedy, Esq., senior vice president of legal affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Checkoff interference in the Dietary Guidelines is against the law and must end immediately.”
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated and published every five years by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, which together establish a new DGAC with members who recommend content for each edition. The 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines are expected to be complete in 2025.
Federal law prohibits the USDA’s checkoff programs from influencing policy unrelated to checkoff programs, such as the Dietary Guidelines. But the checkoff programs nominate individuals to the DGAC, the USDA appoints individuals associated with the checkoff programs to the advisory committee, and the checkoff programs present oral testimony to the DGAC.
The current DGAC includes a member with ties to the fluid milk checkoff, a member with ties to the dairy checkoff and egg checkoff, and a member with ties to the beef checkoff.
At the September DGAC meeting, which was open for public comments, representatives from several checkoff programs gave testimony, including the National Pork Board, the dairy checkoff via its National Dairy Council marketing arm, and the American Egg Board via its Egg Nutrition Center.
“The quinquennial Dietary Guidelines process is rife with conflicts of interest that favor the economic interests of USDA’s checkoff programs over the health interests of the general public,” argues the complaint. “Prompt action by the USDA Office of Inspector General is necessary to address USDA’s dereliction of its duties and prevent harm to the American people.”
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.