Industry Influence Weakens USDA Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which includes seven members with strong industry connections, recently released its recommendations for an update of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Not surprisingly, the committee's recommendations for controlling intake of carbohydrates, sugars and fats were vague and weak, prompting 25 nutritionists to send a letter to HHS calling for stronger, clearer language. The 13-member committee, appointed by USDA and HHS in August 2003 has strong ties to food, drug, dietary supplement and other related industries. According to a Center for Science in the Public Interest article, the members of the advisory committee include:
  • Fergus M. Clydesdale has held stock in and consulted for several food-related companies. His pilot food plant at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst receives corporate support. He has worked closely with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), an industry-supported group that downplays practically every food-related health concern, including trans fat. He is chairman of the board of directors of the industry-funded International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and been a director of the industry-funded International Food Information Council (IFIC).
  • Vay Liang W. Go is an associate director of a University of California at Los Angeles nutrition center that has received funding from numerous drug companies.
  • Penny M. Kris-Etherton has consulted for Campbell Soup and Procter & Gamble, served on an American Egg Board advisory committee, and received research funding from the American Cocoa Research Institute, the Peanut Institute, Abbott Laboratories, and the Campbell Soup Company.
  • Theresa A. Nicklas has conducted research funded by the Sugar Association (the trade association for the cane and beet sugar industry) and the Kellogg Company. She has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not to list refined sugars on food labels.
  • Russell Pate has received at least $200,000 from ILSI and is an advisor to an IFIC project.
  • Xavier Pi-Sunyer, of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has been a paid consultant or advisor to numerous drug companies and received research support from Campbell Soup and Warner-Lambert.
  • Connie M. Weaver has conducted research for the National Dairy Council, National Dairy Board, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Mead-Johnson Company, and Procter & Gamble. She was a "Kraft Research Fellow" in 1998. Weaver has also served on the ILSI board of directors.
In response to the committee recommendations, 25 nutrition experts sent a letter to HHS calling for stronger, clearer language. While praising the underlying science used by the advisory board, the letter criticized the weakness of the committee's conclusions. "The scientific fine print in the advisory committee's report makes it clear that Americans should be eating much less saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugars," the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Margo G. Wootan said in a press release As reported in an earlier Watcher article, the dietary guidelines have also been the subject of a Data Quality challenge filed by the industry-funded think tank Center for Regulatory Effectiveness. In an attempt to free health guidelines from the influence of industry, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) offered a bill last year that would assign the responsibility of writing dietary guidelines to the Institute of Medicine. "Putting the USDA in charge of dietary advice is in some respects is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," Fitzgerald told CongressDaily. However, many charge that Congress itself is too easily bullied by the powerful food industry. When Fitzgerald held a hearing last year on the issue, he was forced to hold the meeting in "the Commerce Committee instead of the Agriculture Committee subcommittee, which he also chairs, because the Agriculture Department and food companies had pressured Agriculture Committee not to hold the hearing," according to the Congress Daily. With Fitzgerald set to retire next year, the issue will likely get swept under the rug.
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