The majority of disease, disability and premature death seen by medical professionals today originates from a nutrient and fiber-deficient diet, which has led to an epidemic of poor health and astronomical health care costs. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 80% of all deaths are caused mostly by poor diet and lifestyle habits. How did we manage to become such an overweight and sick nation? How can we reverse this health care crisis? Would changing our USDA Food Guidelines be part of the solution?
The association between disease and the consumption of animal products is very clear. Review of the best scientific literature establishes beyond reproach that consuming animal products contributes to the top 15 causes of death and disability. Conclusive scientific evidence supports plant-based nutrition in the prevention, cessation, and even reversal of many of our leading causes of death and disability. “Clinical studies have shown that the progression of cancer can be slowed. If 90 percent of heart disease deaths and 75 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented, then 11.83 million lives could potentially have been saved in 2002, about 21 percent of all deaths that year.”
Despite all the evidence backing the healthfulness of a plant-based diet, why do the U.S. Food Guidelines continue to recommend animal products that are unnecessary and linked to serious health problems? If you haven’t had a chance to read our previous articles on how the American Dietary Guidelines are formed, you may be surprised to see who sits on the Dietary Guidelines Committee. At one time, out of 17 members present, 14 of them had worked for the food industry. “The USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee has been made up of individuals funded by McDonald’s, Coca Cola, the Sugar Association, the American Meat Institute, candy bar companies, and the egg and dairy boards.” It’s imperative for us to know that the members that design our food guidelines are the very same ones associated with the sale of these lucrative products.
“The Dietary Guidelines are developed with the recommendations of a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, sponsored and appointed jointly by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The judgments of these advisers weigh heavily on the choice of the scientific research that will be considered important for forming the Guidelines. Guidelines for Americans is a transparently biased review of the scientific literature in favor of the livestock industries, and especially the dairy industry. The collective lack of objectivity of the thirteen advisory members has resulted in conclusions that support the consumption of far too much milk, cheese, red meat, poultry, eggs, and fish. Many members of this committee have declared conflicts of interests by their associations with food and pharmaceutical companies. The advisers’ personal eating habits have also affected their decisions about what is good food.”
My article Everyone Else is Doing It! explains how the “USDA has the responsibility for overseeing food safety. But, it also has an opposing responsibility to promote agricultural businesses.” Nearly 150 years after its creation, the USDA serves the interests of giant food production and distribution corporations. Our article also explains the revolving door policy where “people who work for [the agricultural] industry move to roles as legislators and regulators in the government (and vice versa).” Please take a moment to view who are creating our dietary policies: Members of the USDA have had known associations with the National Cattlemen’s Association, the Meat Packer’s Association, the National Pork Board, the National Livestock and Meat Board, the American Egg Board, ConAgra Foods, the National Dairy Council, and Dairy Management Inc.”
“Relationships with the food and drug industries are commonplace on the Advisory Committee: 3 out of 11 members on the 1995 Committee had past or present industry ties; 7 out of 11 members on the 2000 Committee; 11 out of 13 members on the 2005 Committee; and 9 out of 13 members on the 2010 Committee. On the 2000 Committee, members had past or present ties to: two meat associations; four dairy associations and five dairy companies; one egg association; one sugar association; one-grain association; five other food companies; six other industry-sponsored associations; two pharmaceutical associations; and 28 pharmaceutical companies.”
Would you agree that there’s a serious conflict of interest? As scientists and the government began to realize that the foods they were promoting contributed to an increase in chronic disease, they “began to encourage people to eat less animal fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. The agricultural industries strongly protested any advice to consume less of their products.” For this reason, instead of providing accurate and impartial dietary advice using the latest scientific research, the Guidelines many times ignores the scientific evidence and instead favors interests from powerful food and drug industries. Politics, power, and economics affect the lives of every American, “contributing substantially to our current costly epidemics of obesity and sickness.” According to the Food and Drug Law Journal, “Current laws do not protect dietary advice from these conflicts, and thus, Congress should consider making two changes. First, the USDA should not have any role in dietary advice, as its duty to promote and support the agricultural industry is fundamentally inconsistent with promoting health and preventing chronic diseases. Second, Congress should make it more difficult for those with ties to the food and drug industries from serving on the Advisory Committee, as current laws are inadequate to do so. Studies show that the United States is not providing the public the best information available on diet and health.” Dr. Michael Greger adds, “Dietary guidelines based on science rather than corporate influence could save millions of lives.”
The USDA Food Guidelines “have a major impact on Americans’ diets because federal food policies including standards for schools, and many federal food-assistance programs must comply with them.” They are also heavily “relied upon by nutrition educators, food planners, dietitians, and physicians.” Additionally, the Guidelines must also “be promoted by every federal agency when carrying out a food, nutrition or health program. The Guidelines direct how billions of dollars are spent in programs like the School Lunch Program, The School Breakfast Program, the Food Stamp Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.”
The USDA Food Guidelines are revised every five years to reflect the latest scientific data. Doctors and dietitians from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) have presented to the National Institutes of Health their recommendations for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
PCRM’s article, Plants Over Pills states that they “made a solid case for the inclusion of plant-based diets in the guidelines,” and their recommendations were well received. PCRM adds: “During the advisory committee’s recent meeting, subcommittee members emphasized the importance of reducing meat consumption and switching to plant-based diets for both health and environmental sustainability.”
“More doctors around the country are recognizing the importance of plants over pills” PCRM states. “…Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans, sent out a nutritional update to physicians, urging health care providers to recommend a plant-based diet to their patients. Kim Williams, M.D., Fellow and former president of the American College of Cardiology (2015-16) and served as its president 2015–2016, penned a blog for MedPage Today explaining why he went vegan and how recommending a vegan diet has helped his patients.
If the dietary guidelines committee resists the influence of meat and dairy lobbyists and follows the recommendations of health care professionals, then more people may see success like Dr. Williams’ patients. In the meantime, let’s all keep publicizing the science, sharing vegan recipes, and boosting this public shift toward support for vegan diets. We look forward to the day that the government, doctors, and celebrities all find one thing they can agree on: Plant-based is best.”
The USDA Guidelines are designed to optimize our health and prevent chronic disease using the latest scientific research. However, due to ties to powerful agricultural/processed food industries, the latest scientific research continues to be ignored while rates of chronic disease, obesity, disability, and premature death continue to escalate. “The United States needs to protect its dietary advice by ensuring that those who create it have only the public’s best interests in mind. This means eliminating or managing conflicts of interest. The USDA should be removed from its role in dietary advice. The only realistic way to protect the Guidelines from the USDA’s conflict is to bar the USDA from having any role in creating U.S. dietary advice and to give the responsibility to a specific health agency whose duties are most consistent with promoting health and preventing chronic disease. Just as many other nations do, the U.S. could put an appropriate health agency in charge of dietary advice.” For example, for over 60 years, the Centers for Disease Control “has the knowledge, expertise, and resources to develop dietary advice without the conflict of promoting agricultural interests.
Isn’t it disturbing to see how governmental food guidelines, subsidies, and agendas promote the very foods that have created an epidemic of chronic disease, obesity, disability, astronomical health care costs, and premature death? Don’t rely on governmental officials or the medical community to tell you what’s best. Let’s not spend the remainder of our lives suffering from chronic, debilitating (and preventable) illness. Growing old doesn’t have to include suffering from heart disease, diabetes, many types of cancer such as breast and prostate, impotence, dementia, brittle bones, depression, arthritis, and obesity. You can change your health simply by changing the food you eat. Spend your time wisely…invest in your health now so that you won’t be spending all of your time, money and energy tending to what ails you later!