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Nebraska Ag News Headlines
No Appetite for Politics on the Dinner Plate
By: Mike Johanns, U.S. Senator - 07/22/2014

Federal diet recommendations are at risk of becoming the latest battleground for the Administration's creeping environmental regulatory scheme. Every five years, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) come together to revise federal dietary recommendations, which are supposed to be based on the latest nutrition science. Rather than focusing solely on current nutrition and health advances to inform Americans of healthy food regimens, the discussions are skewing towards so-called environmentally "sustainable" practices laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has seemed to go out of its way to be at odds with conventional agriculture. In other words, nutrition science and our producer's voices may take a back seat to the Administration's political agenda.

Lost in that discussion is the focus on the scientific nutritional values of different food options. This marks a significant expansion from the historical scope, which Congress intended to "contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines," as stated in the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990.

The joint USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is responsible for the updated guidelines, has established a "Food Safety and Sustainability" subcommittee, and while it remains unclear just how far the committee will go to push an environmental agenda, I question whether their recommendations will be rooted in the latest advances in nutrition and health science. In recent meetings, DGAC has focused discussions on environmentally sustainable diets, arguing that eating less meat will be better for the planet. Committee members reportedly said that transitioning from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet should be encouraged in all food sectors. DGAC also discussed how marketing new plant-based diet recommendations as environmentally friendly may attract more people to adopt changes in their diet. This sort of costly guideline has no basis in nutrition, but it has major implications for farmers, ranchers and those who consume their products.

For years, conventional agriculture products have been deemed perfectly healthy by the federal agencies. Changing the focus based on policy ideas unrelated to nutrition science confuses the message regarding healthy diets with the Administration's environmental agenda.

Improving dietary recommendations should not be a regulatory potluck, where every aspect of the President's agenda has a seat at the table. In Nebraska, ag producers strive to produce safe and nutritious food while being good stewards of the environment. Their livelihoods depend on it. The Administration should stay within the scope of science-based nutrition advances when developing new diet recommendations, and save the political battles for other venues. Rest assured, I will continue to push for objective dietary guidelines that promote healthy eating habits from healthy sources, like Nebraska's ag producers.

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