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Dietary Guidelines: USDA Conflicts of Interest

The mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to promote agribusiness. At the same time, USDA is the agency primarily tasked with developing the nutrition guidelines.

October 25, 2011 |
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Sources Cited


Image thanks to thomas pix.


Why do the federal dietary guidelines “sometimes favor the interests of the food and drug industries over the public’s interest in accurate and impartial dietary advice.”? The first problem is who’s in charge. The mandate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to promote agribusiness, but also give dietary advice. So no problem when it comes to fruits and veggies, but what about the stuff we’re supposed to eat less of though? How can they say eat less meat-and-sugar, for example, and still fulfill their primary mission?

That may be why the eat more messaging recommendations are clear: increase vegetable and fruit intake, period. But when it comes to eat less messaging, recommendations resort to speaking in code, talking only about biochemical components, “Reduce intake of solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids).” But what does that translate into in terms of actual foods to avoid?

Let's break the code: Reduce intake of saturated fat, means reduce intake of cheese ice cream pizza and chicken.

And reduce trans fats, means reduce intake of cakes, cookies, animal products and margarine, but they can’t just come out and say that.

In their letter to the dietary guidelines advisory committee, the National Pork Board, in what almost sounds like a threat, “cautions the Committee against making any decisions which would limit the ability of Americans to choose more pork.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Peter Mellor.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the videos on industry influence and dietary guidelines. And be sure not to miss yesterday's blog post Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board accused of illegally deceptive claims. And as always, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Dietary Guideline Graphics: From the Food Pyramid to My Plate, Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, and PCRM’s Power Plate.