By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 14, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The highlight of this week’s webcast oral public comment hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was the last-minute pitch for whole milk by the National Dairy Council, National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association.
All three pointed to the benefits of dairy – regardless of fat percentage – and cited positive research about milkfat. However, they stopped short of asking for a relaxation on saturated fat limits, seeking instead for USDA to “fit” one serving of whole fat dairy into daily guidelines for healthy eating patterns, saying dairy fat is “complex” and “unique.”
Meanwhile, other organizations as well as private citizens asked for a review of the evidence on saturated fats, seeking relaxation of those limits to include more animal foods in the government’s recommended healthy eating patterns.
Interestingly, ADA Northeast was the very first of nearly 80 commenters accepted onto the public hearing style agenda but made no mention of whole milk or full-fat dairy. In fact, ADA Northeast’s oral comment did not mention anything about the Guidelines. Instead, their comment set the stage for future dairy products by focusing exclusively on food insecurity and how fresh milk and dairy products present nutrition-access issues due to refrigeration and transportation.
At the outset of the five-hour webcast, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps, said the DGA Committee’s Scientific Report is the first step in developing the official Guidelines. His department “co-develops” the Guidelines with the Committee and with Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention.
Lipps described their work as being focused on ending both hunger and obesity through guidelines administered via programs like WIC, SNAP and school lunches.
He thanked the DGA Committee for their “16 months of robust, rigorous and thorough review of the science,” and he noted the public comments numbered over 62,000 throughout those 16 months — a 6000% increase compared with the 970 comments received in the 2015-20 DGA cycle.
When the DGA Scientific Report was published July 15 online, there were 10,000 downloads of the document within the first four hours. The final public comment period underway until August 13 already has thousands of comments in this final phase, according to Lipps, who said public participation was “a key part of the process,” with “increased transparency and new steps for public involvement from the beginning.”
“The Dietary Guidelines are the cornerstone of all federal nutrition policy, including WIC, school lunch and breakfast, SNAP and our food distribution programs,” said Lipps. “We take our work on these Guidelines very seriously.”
A new communications page will be developed for this next and final phase of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process as USDA and HHS pick up the reins.
Also offering eye-opening comments from USDA was Dr. Scott Hutchinson, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Research, Education and Economics. This mission area of USDA is comprised of the Ag Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Ag Statistics Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
He mentioned the current pandemic exposing the urgency of improving the nutrition of Americans because obesity and diabetes are co-morbidities with Coronavirus.
Hutchinson referenced a recent USDA “core component food and nutrition report” that focuses on reducing obesity and diabetes.
He said USDA research is moving toward a “personalized approach to nutrition from a genetic perspective.”
This comment confirms the direction of the federal government through USDA, FDA and HHS in the ‘designer’ or ‘digital’ food frontier, and he said the most important work will be how to “translate” Dietary Guidelines to the public.
“We as humans have the unique ability to choose our dietary path based on our values,” said Hutchinson. “These Guidelines are important so we can make sure all Americans have the opportunity to choose a dietary path with knowledge.”
During the comments presented by 78 members of the public, most representing organizations, the battle lines were clearly drawn between those wanting to reduce consumption of protein, fat and animal foods and those wanting to see healthy eating patterns that include more of the science on dietary animal fat and protein.
Several presenters noted simply that the Guidelines process is not up to par as the number of Americans with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, has grown to a substantial majority since the 1980s when the DGA process began.
Representing checkoff-funded National Dairy Council was scientific Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research. He thanked the Committee for continuing to recommend the consumption of dairy foods at all life stages, for the nutrients of concern they deliver. But he also observed that the Report mentions how limits on fat could depend on the fatty acid profile of the food.
“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid,” he said. “A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children.”
Specifically, Torres-Gonzalez, representing National Dairy Council, asked for Guidelines that allow one daily serving of whole fat dairy (as part of the 3-a-day dairy), stating that this can still fit within the DGA Committee’s calories and saturated fat limits.
As a scientist, he said, “emerging evidence indicates that consuming whole dairy fat in a healthy eating pattern is not negatively linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes or weight gain.”
In fact, the research shows beneficial associations for dairy fat in managing or preventing chronic health conditions, he said.
Torres-Gonzalez explained that dairy fat is the most complex fat occurring in a food, and that this complexity might help explain the neutral to beneficial findings regarding milk fat. He confirmed that NDC’s written comment showcases the body of research on this topic.
“Allowing the option to offer both whole and reduced-fat dairy foods in healthy eating patterns would give Americans more chance to meet the nutrient recommendations, which most Americans are not going to meet. The health effect can rely on absorption,” he said. “Dairy foods – regardless of fat levels – are an important source of nutrients in the American diet, and whole fat (3.25%) and reduced-fat (2%) milk can fit within the calorie package of a healthy eating pattern.”
For its part, dairy checkoff-funded American Dairy Association Northeast focused their comments completely on food insecurity and accessibility.
LaChell Miller, nutrition specialist for ADA Northeast, kicked things off by highlighting the dairy checkoff’s 2012 partnership with Feeding America, and the refrigeration, distribution and transportation challenges fresh dairy foods pose for hunger relief organizations.
While offering no comments on the nutritional role of dairy, or the benefits of whole milk in a healthy eating pattern, Miller’s entire statement on behalf of ADA Northeast was about the concern that Dietary Guidelines are often not achievable for all Americans because fresh milk and dairy are hard to distribute.
“Keep food access in mind as you develop these guidelines for 2020-25,” she said.
Representing the nation’s milk cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) applauded the DGA Committee for maintaining low-fat and non-fat dairy in meal patterns and maintaining dairy as an essential food group. NMPF’s comment also noted that, “The Committee fell short in recognizing the newer science on the matrix of fat in dairy foods. NMPF urged the USDA to review the scientific literature, and just last week, pushed out an online method for using their talking points to comment on the Dietary Guidelines docket.
National Milk joined ADA Northeast in highlighting the concern about food insecurity and access to healthy, affordable food, stating that “dairy foods are the most nutrient-rich and budget-friendly source of essential nutrition.”
While not making it onto the restricted number of “oral commenters” permitted on the Aug. 11 USDA / HHS hearing agenda, the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC have gathered comments from hundreds of people along with the 25,000+ Whole Milk in Schools Petition signatures. They posted an 1,125-page packet to the Federal Register Docket by the August 13, 2020 deadline. These two Whole Milk 97% Fat Free education and advocacy efforts have been commenting and pushing forward the petition at every interval over the past 16 months of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee process, including sending letters to members of Congress in leadership positions as well as the Secretaries of USDA and HHS, and issuing calls to action on social media for others to do the same.
To be continued