Food and Politics … sickening!
I don’t usually write about politics, but this sickening article needs to be shared …
Leave the science alone on Dietary Guidelines of 2015
By Laura MacCleery
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. One-third suffer from
diet-related illness. We invest massively in treating cardiovascular
disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and other preventable illnesses,
while funds trickle into prevention and wellness programs. A full one-third
of our national diet even today is burgers, sandwiches, pizza, dessert,
sweet snacks and sugary beverages, according to government estimates based
on a national dietary survey. Only half of Americans exercise regularly, yet
we find time to watch an average of 5 hours of television per day.
We chart these critical state-of-the-nation data and their policy
implications every five years, through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
issued by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The departments commission a team of scientific experts to review current
science for almost two years, take ongoing public comments and hold public
hearings, and draft a report with up-to-date diet and wellness advice, which
is then also put out for public comment. The resulting science-based roadmap for preventing chronic disease is perhaps the most far-reaching, useful public health information the U.S. government produces.
And yet, since the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported its
findings in February, Republican senators and representatives have been busy running interference for the food industry.
In March, 71 GOP representatives and 30 Republican senators signed letters
critical of the Advisory Committee Report, specifically attacking the
recommendations against eating less red meat and lowering sodium on behalf of the cattle and restaurant industries, among others. Those same
politicians received more than $3 million in donations from food-related
donors from 2013 to 2014 alone. Senators who signed the letter received
almost half a million dollars just from the beef and cattle industries,
according to campaign contribution records from OpenSecrets.com.
Their latest volley is even more underhanded and anti-science. House
appropriators snuck riders into the bills funding Agriculture and Health and
Human Services. Updates to the 2010 guidelines would be subjected to an
unprecedentedly high standard of scientific evidence and limited to “matters
of diet and nutrient intake,” thus sweeping away 20 months of carefully
studied advice on physical activity or policies to create a healthier
environment. If the House has its way, the 2015 guidelines might be stripped
of such common-sense advice as recommending workplace wellness programs or asking parents to model healthy eating at family meals. (In addition, House report language would delay the effective date of a ban by the Food and Drug Administration on artificial trans fat and prevent development of new voluntary guidance to lower sodium levels in foods.)
As the entire membership of the Dietary Guidelines Committee made clear in
an unprecedented letter to Congress, this eleventh-hour play for an
industry-friendly Dietary Guidelines would put health advice to Americans in
the hands not of physicians and scientists but politicians. So we looked at
the money taken in by those involved.
Our analysis last week showed that the 30 Republican senators who
signed the March 12, 2015, letter critical of the advice in the report of
the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee received more than a million dollars from the food industry in 2013 and 2014, with more than half of that total coming from the red meat industry.
The seventy-one House signers of a similar letter received more than $2 million. According to a press release by the letter’s lead sponsor in the
House, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), supporters of the letter included many
of the major food trade associations, and particularly those with an
interest in meat consumption, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producer’s Council, National Restaurant Association, Livestock Marketing Association, North American Meat Institute and others.
In addition, the contributions on a party basis are remarkably lopsided. For
the whole House Appropriations Committee, 84 percent of food and agriculture sector contributions went to Republicans and 16 percent to Democrats. On the full Senate Appropriations Committee, 98 percent of food and agriculture money went to Republicans compared to 2 percent to Democrats. Across both chambers and parties, total money from food interests to members of the Appropriations committees was at least $1,464,437.
These sums are large but easily expended by the food industry, with a net
worth that numbers in the trillions. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is
not that our democracy can be bought, but that its meager price tag is such
an incredible bargain for the food industry. A small army of politicians
willing to oppose publication of the most-up-to-date scientific health
advice that could save Americans’ lives? That costs a mere $3 million. An
appropriations bill riddled with riders to protect the continued profits of
the food industry? Now that’s priceless.