Animal Rights

New Dietary Guidelines — The Politics of Health

| by Animal Blawg

By David Cassuto

From the Cynicism Desk:

The USDA is preparing to unveil  its most recent revision of its much maligned dietary guidelines. 


Come December, we’ll see to what new levels of obfuscation and avoidance the good folks at USDA can aspire.  The lobbying is already ferocious.  According to the WaPo:

In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.

Of course, amid all this self-interested carrying-on it’s hard to place the blame for the ever more incoherent guidelines solely on the Agency. Indeed, George McGovern arguably lost his job (as a senator) for recommending that Americans consume less red meat. 

His comments generated a mad frenzy within in the cattle industry and he lost his seat in 1980 (he represented South Dakota). Traumatized by McGovernGate, the guidelines set what at the time was the gold standard for doublespeak by recommending that we eat “meat, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”   

Still, lest you believe that this is a strictly domestic problem, be assured it is not.  The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns that agribusiness and food industry lobbying have managed to capture the agencies that regulate them and thereby delay decisions, sometimes for many years, while “water[ing] down” proposed improvements.  This according to Dr. Samuel Jutzi, a director of the FAO. 

According to Jutzi, a telling example of the power of agribusiness is the obstacles it created two years ago to impede the creation of a voluntary code of conduct for the livestock industry.

The code would have rewarded countries that enacted better standards for health, and environmental regulations for agricultural animals, including setting a standard for how many animals an area of land can support without long-term damage. But, the industry’s ferocious opposition has meant that the voluntary code is now likely 10 years away.

Thanks mainly to the efforts of  agribusiness and Big Food, the USDA will continue to smile upon a diet filled with strawberry milk, fried nuggets and by-product burgers while the international community races to catch us at the bottom.