The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Process Fails Consumers

Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services and Agriculture are required by law to update the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for American, which are the basis for the federal government’s My Plate dietary advice for consumers.  They also serve as the basis for the billion of dollars the government spends on feeding and nutrition programs and policies.

While the process typically plays out far from the media spotlight, it has become an ambitious tug-of-war between activist groups and the food and agricultural sectors in recent decades.

Activists and non-governmental groups use the dietary guidelines process as a platform for social engineering.  Simply stated, they politicize the process in an attempt to codify recommendations, policies and advice that altars the behavior of food companies and consumers alike.  Farmers, ranchers, food manufacturers and retailers counter with data, science and facts.

Typically, the two sides disagree on words or phrases that can potentially have significant meaning, with each side racking up victories along the way.

This time, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is expected to launch a broadside attack on the food industry and go farther than ever before in telling Americans what and how to eat.  Several of the bold – some say audacious – proposals will likely include recommendations to forgo animal protein (that’s chicken, pork and beef to you and me) in place of a plant-based (vegetarian) diet.

In a never-ending attempt to stigmatize carbohydrates, the DGAC will likely recommend the labeling of “added” sugars on food packaged despite the fact that sugar content is currently required on all food labels.

Separately, the DGAC is likely to weigh-in on food marketing restrictions, even though Congress and the Federal Trade Commission say they cannot prove the benefits of such policies.

They will also likely advise consumers to consider the social and environmental impact of their food purchasing decisions.

These proposals have little to do with nutrition advice – the foundational charter of the committee.  As such, DGAC has now fully morphed into a philosophical and political entity, rather than an honest broker of nutrition knowledge.

Who pays the price? Yes, DGAC decisions will impact food companies, farmers and ranchers. However, in the end, American consumers are the big losers.  At a time when shoppers in large numbers are beginning to expand their nutrition knowledge and seek out more information in their quest to achieve a healthy diet, the new Dietary Guidelines will do little more than confuse and frustrate consumers.

In the 2005 movie, “Kicking and Screaming,” a family comedy favorite about a suburban Chicago soccer family, Will Ferrell’s character owns a vitamin store and encourages his fictional father, Robert Duvall, to take supplements for good health.  Duvall replies, “I take a vitamin every day, it’s called a steak.”

Look for a contentious debate over the first draft of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, as a philosophical battle plays out before the recommendations become final sometime before the end of the Obama Administration next year.  And another thing is certain – Congress is sure to make its position clear to USDA and HHS on this matter in the coming months.

Sean McBride, Founder of DSM Strategic Communications, LLC, is former Executive Vice President of Communications & Membership Services for the Grocery Manufacturers Association and former Director of Communications for the American Beverage Association