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Write to Congress: Do not Derail or Diminish Breadth and Depth of Proposed Dietary Guidelines for Americans
On June 30th, New Hampshire hosted a panel discussion focused on the role of Women in Agriculture with Representative Kuster, Deputy Secretary of the USDA Krysta Harden, our state Commissioner of Agriculture, women farmers, and Cooperative Extension staff.
Sitting in that barn in the midst of the fields of a working farm, panelists shared their values and perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of those actively engaged in farm and farm viability. There was a shared collective consensus that farms and farmer viability are central to promoting the health of families, communities, and future generations.
And it is indeed a political issue that motivates this blog post. There wasn’t time during the panel to raise this issue. Like the participants, I consider myself as a woman in agriculture, but my field is primarily academic. I share a deep commitment to advancing long-term farm viability and to promoting healthy eating and dietary practices as do the panelists and elected officials. The proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Report (which is the extensive document that informs the more concise Dietary Guidelines for Americans-DGA) explicitly calls for a food and farming system that will be poised to endure into the future and that promotes health. It has been hailed by many as a progressive document that builds on previous committees’ work, and calls us to consider dietary patterns that promote health and their potential impact on the future of all farming. Many have welcomed this much needed, food systems approach used in the report’s design and deliberation. Detractors, including many food industry groups, have voiced strong opposition to the report, particularly its suggestions to reduce consumption of animal protein. Other vocal opponents appear concerned by the call to consider sustainability and food safety as part of the fabric of Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Those seeking to delay release of the DGA 2015 final report, are using the Appropriations Bills in HHS and USDA as vehicles to limit the ultimate DGA content and thwart its timely release. Language in both bills (section 232 of HHS and section 734 of Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies) suggest that development of the DGA 2015 be limited to those research results awarded Level 1 “Strong” from the “Evidence Analysis Library” of the United States Department of Agriculture. This is an unrealistic expectation, given the nature of the complexity of dietary studies and the value of trend analysis. It will stifle public comment, and limit input by elected officials, practitioners, the private sector, and those with a variety of hands on expertise. There are numerous studies available, and individual and collective experiences and observations that add to the depth and breadth of our knowledge; these should inform our food and nutrition efforts but are not designed to fit into an evidence analysis rating system. Limiting information to Level 1 will have a ripple effect of delaying release of the Dietary Guidelines 2015 since a new review period would need to be established based on the development of a revised (and diminished) committee report. The public, private, and scientific community has had nearly two years to weigh in, and has had access to the formal comment period. The process for review that has already transpired needs to be honored.
Ultimately, the appropriations language appears short-sighted, this delay potentially compromises and artificially limits the expertise that should inform national food and nutrition guidance. We need to move forward with the release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and not limit their richness or capacity to help inform our food and nutrition efforts. Yes, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines are more extensive that previous documents, but their breadth is indicative of a systems approach that respects the value of farms and farmers to grow food now and into the future, and of also dietary patterns that support people, planet and population health.
Please contact your Congressional representative and request:
a . The Dietary Guidelines for Americans final report move forward, based on the extensive research and vetting that has already occurred through the review of the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and public comment period that ended in May 2015.
b. In order for the DGA to move forward it is necessary that there be a deletion of Section 232 of the Health and Human Services of the Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies FY2016 Appropriation Bill.
c. Likewise, there needs to be a deletions of Sections 734 of the Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies FY2016 Appropriation Bill.
Joanne Burke is the UNH Thomas Haas Professor in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire and a member of the Racial Equity and Food Justice Working Group of the Food Solutions New England network.