Drawings by Heidi Krieg Styer as published on Farmshine cover, June 12, 2020 edition
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 12, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As we have reported for several years now, there is this thing called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that most people think is simply government guidance of how Americans should eat to be healthy, and that we can take – or leave – that advice based on our own choices and understanding of the science.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans increasingly control our choices in ways subtle and obvious, especially where our children are concerned and especially where the poorest among us are concerned.
They began in the 1980s and are updated every five years by a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Since 2000, these Guidelines have become more restrictive, and in 2010 — under the Obama administration with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack implementing measures to ban whole milk in schools and then lobbying for the bill, Congress took the step that linked the guidelines more closely than ever to our schoolchildren through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The bill is anything but what its name implies.
At the same time, Americans have continued to grow fatter, sicker and sadder as the limits on saturated fat have grown stricter and the federal control more pervasive.
Most of the ‘experts’ on the DGA Committee are free to choose their own meal pattern. Our schoolchildren, our poor, our chronically ill, our elderly, our military, our economically and nutritionally at-risk persons — their dietary choices are controlled by the DGA. According to the CDC, these are the demographic populations dealing with the most pervasive rise in obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses many scientists believe are rooted in the DGAs.
For 40 years, the advice coming from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee every five years, and then virtually rubber-stamped by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, has led Americans down an unhealthy road. The Committee pushes vegetarian eating patterns, high carb / low fat dogma, and increasingly strict saturated fat restrictions despite sound science to the contrary.
The process needs reform, according to the Academies of Sciences.
The 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines draft will be released next Wednesday, June 17 by the current Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), and as the Nutrition Coalition and others have been warning, this draft is bad for Americans, bad for our children, and bad for our dairy and livestock producers.
What’s more, this draft is based on the deliberations of a committee that excluded rigorous studies showing the saturated fat in milk and dairy products is actually GOOD for us, especially for our children, and that it has little if any negative effect on cardiovascular health and all-cause mortality, with positive effect on Type II diabetes, obesity, cognition, brain function and mood.
Quite literally, the DGAC, Secretaries of Ag and HHS (even Congress and past and present administrations) — in their infinite wisdom and refusal to turn this Titanic away from the iceberg – are happy to watch American health sink, and the survival of our farmers and ranchers to sink right along with it.
If ever there was a time for action (and believe me, this chorus I’ve sung quite a few times since the year 2000), it is now!
Contact your Senators and Representatives in Washington and ask them to urge Secretaries Perdue and Azar to delay this DGAC report until all of the science is considered.
It is unconscionable that USDA – through its strange screening process that includes “conformance to current federal policy” implemented by department interns – was the first layer prohibiting rigorous science from the DGAC work over the past year.
It is even more deleterious that the DGAC further refined the science included in the saturated fat questions to illogical parameters that no other DGAC subcommittee used for its screening process.
Americans are smart. They are choosing whole milk and full-fat dairy products because they are learning about the science that was buried and suppressed over the past 40 years as well as the new studies surfacing.
But that’s only good for the wealthy adults among us. Children are ruled by DGAC decisions, thanks to Congress. Those suffering poor health are ruled by DGAC decisions because medical professionals tend to regurgitate them.
Families in need are perhaps MOST controlled by DGAC decisions because they rely on government feeding programs that must meet these fat-restricting Dietary Guidelines, but are issued SNAP cards that allow them to buy soda and cheap snacks full of carbohydrates that do nothing nutritionally for them.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, how many times have we heard that the obesity and diabetes in our population, especially the poor, increases how harmful this virus is to certain populations, demographically? With these guidelines governing USDA feeding programs, it’s no wonder.
Not to mention, a year ago, military generals crafted a letter to Congress over their concerns about recruits being too obese or unhealthy to serve. Yes, the military is another sector of government-feeding that is tied to the flawed Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
So, big deal, my family can still choose. Right? For many families, those choices are made for them when dining out as restaurants increasingly document calories, saturated fat and other information on menus. This is required by the federal government for chain restaurants of a certain size. More of these restaurants admit to using “stealth health” to make adjustments to meals to show that they are meeting – you guessed it – the Dietary Guidelines.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began its multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy, whereby it is seeking to “modernize” standards of identity to “achieve nutritional goals.” FDA also is designing a “good for you” symbol that foods will only get if they meet the criteria being developed. The agency in its meetings over the past year, cited reduced consumption of fat and salt as primary nutritional goals, and have made statements such as “American consume too much protein.” The FDA’s “modernization” of food labeling and standards of identity will certainly move forward under the good ‘ole Dietary Guidelines.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the simple “choice” of whole milk or even 2% in schools and daycares for children over two years of age, these wholesome products are outright banned because of the Dietary Guidelines. In fact, not only does the government require non-fat and 1% milk to be served, cheese and yogurt are also limited to low- and non-fat.
When fat is removed from the diet, carbs and sugars replace it, and foods are not consumed that bring tons of nutrients and vitamins to the table.
Here we are at a crossroads in our nation’s health. Obesity and diabetes are reaching epidemic proportions in our children. Iron, iodine, calcium, and certain vitamins, especially fat-soluble vitamins found in whole fat dairy and meats are nutrients of concern. Doctors are finding Americans, especially children and teens, are deficient in these nutrients when low-fat Dietary Guidelines rule the plate.
The only thing that can possibly turn the Titanic as it is already crashing on the iceberg is a groundswell of letters, phone calls, emails and faxes to members of Congress, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, even the President of the United States.
Sheer numbers are needed. To-date, medical and health professionals, scientists, teachers, parents, citizens have commented on the DGAC docket. Many have written letters and opinions, forwarded research that has been excluded, pointed out the flaws in research that was included.
Now Congress needs to hear from their constituents. There’s a war to win for our health and our farmers.
Concerned citizens have met with members of Congress over the past year on issues such as whole milk in schools, and yet the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, House bill 832, and Milk in Lunches for Kids Act, Senate Bill 1810, have stalled at 41 and 3 cosponsors, respectively, which is where they were in October when I went to Washington with the first 10,000 of the 30,000 names on the Whole Milk Choice in Schools petition.
There are heavy hitters on the other side of this fat discussion. Never mind the animal and climate activists with their facts all jumbled up, there are huge investments in the future of food by powerful people who want to see the Dietary Guidelines continue the current path.
Part of the screening process used by USDA for science that will be included or excluded from Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee consideration is this curious item shown above: “Framed around relevancy to U.S. Federal Policy”. Committee members in October asked for more information on this research screening criteria. USDA explained it to them and those watching that this refers to including only the research that “aligns with current federal policy.”
While I was in Washington in October, my eyes were opened. I sat in on the DGAC meeting and wrote about it in Farmshine. There, I learned that one of the screening criteria by USDA for determining what science was “in” or “out” of the DGAC process is this strange point: “relevancy to U.S. federal policy.” When a question was asked by a member of the committee about that point, it was explained as “research inclusion that conforms or aligns with current federal policy”.
That, my friends, is the unelected bureaucracy feeding itself and pretending to have the scientific basis to use diet to achieve other goals.
I visited Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) that day and asked his staffer why Sen. Casey would not support Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) Milk in Lunches for Schools bill.
The response? “We (Congress) are not a scientific body. We have a process for that, the Dietary Guidelines.”
Yep. There it is again.
When pressed further, asking how citizens – constituents — can redress their concerns with ELECTED officials if that committee stands in the way, I was surprised to hear the staffer note that National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) did not support Sen. Toomey’s bill. I had identified myself as a member of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee but also as a mother, grandmother and former school board director, but the answer I was given honed-in on my “dairy” reference.
I was told by the Casey staffer that NMPF did not support Toomey’s Senate bill on whole milk because it included language that would not just allow the choice of whole milk, but would also exempt school milk choices from the “10% calories from saturated fat limit.”
Later, I contacted NMPF and spoke with one of their lobbyists who confirmed that NMPF did not support the Toomey bill language. They did not want that exemption for milk because they said they believed “we can win the fat argument.”
Meanwhile, on the day of my trip to Washington in October, as I posted a photo on facebook of USDA Food and Nutrition Services undersecretary Brandon Lipps in front of the Dietary Guidelines sign at the DGAC meeting in the USDA building, I recalled his words to me, that the department loves milk, but that the “science” needs to come together, and that the industry needs to be on the same page. (I had just handed him his copy of the first 10,000 signatures on the whole milk in schools petition)
Mr. Undersecretary, how can “the science” come together when your USDA interns and DGAC members left a lot of the good science on the cutting room floor and effectively screened it out of the “coming together” process these 5-year DGAC cycles are intended to address?
As I walked out of the USDA building to meet with legislators on that day in October 2019, I noticed a post on my facebook newsfeed from Hoard’s Dairyman quoting DMI CEO Tom Gallagher as follows: “Now, we’re not sure if it will be in this go-around with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans . . . but I believe by the next Dietary Guidelines we will get the fat story reversed,” said Gallagher. “That opens up the door to whole milk products and other dairy products in schools, which would be a big plus.”
Already in October, when the DGAC process was near its beginning, the top national dairy checkoff leader was publicly admitting defeat. Or, was he actually telegraphing the wishes of DMI “partners” to USDA, another partner, that they’d prefer to keep stalling it.
In this quote, Gallagher makes it look like DMI supports whole milk in schools, while at the same time stalling a change in policy and conceding to a defeat in 2020 before the game got off the ground — while diverting everyone’s attention to 2025.
Back in 2014-15, I was involved in that DGAC cycle, writing several columns for a metropolitan newspaper. Same story, different year. You’ll find lots of background here.
At the time, I asked checkoff leaders at a dairy meeting why they weren’t involved in turning this around on saturated fat and why were they not more vocal in the guidelines process. I was told in 2015, that they were working on it for 2020.
Stall, delay, stall.
Our kids and our farmers don’t have 5 more years to get 40 years of wrong and 10 years of really-really-wrong, right.
This week, I was pleased to see Bob Gray who has represented the Northeast Council of Dairy Cooperatives sent out a memo to industry colleagues citing what Nina Teicholz and the Nutrition Coalition have been sounding the alarm about. He urged people to contact members of Congress and ask them to get a delay in the release of the DGAC 2020-25 report, to keep it from being released next Wednesday, and to keep it off the table until the science that was excluded is considered.
Unfortunately, at other levels of industry involvement, the response is a shrug.
For example, two weeks ago, I heard from a dairy farmer who contacted her regional dairy checkoff organization and asked for help distributing whole milk gallons to families in need at her local school during lunch pickup.
“You can’t do that,” she was told. “It’s not allowed.”
Unfazed, she contacted the school and the processor anyway, on her own, and both were enthusiastic about making her idea happen. She and her husband purchased the whole milk with their own money – 200 gallons of it – and they stood beside the school foodservice folks and gave it to families driving through picking up school lunches.
Additionally, ADA Northeast is a regional checkoff organization that has indicated to dairy farmers that their taste tests in cities show children don’t really notice the difference between whole milk and 1% low-fat milk, and that consumption of milk did not increase when whole milk was offered, but that consumption did increase when 1% chocolate milk was offered instead of just non-fat chocolate milk.
For the industry – it’s all about the 1% milk in schools. In fact, if the DGAC report is released next Wednesday and gets on its way to USDA / HHS approval, 1% milk will be kissed goodbye in schools as well because the DGAC is doubling-down on saturated fat levels, not loosening them.
Meanwhile, a high school / middle school trial in western Pennsylvania would put these checkoff findings to shame. Teenagers given the choice of whole milk this school year favored whole milk three to one over 1% low-fat milk. The milk choices were put in front of them with no information, and within a short time, they figured it out on their own. Within five months of students having this choice of whole milk, teenagers were consuming 65% more milk and the amount of milk being discarded fell by 95%.
On every level – nutrition, satiety, sustainability, environment – you name it, that’s a win. A win that schools and children will not get to realize if the DGAC issues its 2020-25 report doubling-down on saturated fat.
This Dietary Guidelines scandal has many players and parties involved – and it’s obvious by now this has nothing whatsoever to do with “the science.”
Contact your Senators and Representatives as soon as possible before Wed., June 17 and ask them to urge Sec. Perdue and Sec. Azar to delay the DGAC report and to send the committee back to the drawing board to include the science they left out.
If you don’t know who represents you in Washington, use this link to plug in your home address at this link to find out:
Also, register your comment with Secretaries Perdue and Azar here
Let’s get this Titanic turned around. We don’t have 5 more years to waste. Who’s with me?