Doctors Announce Final Victory in Dietary Guidelines Lawsuit
USDA Forfeits Right to Appeal; Reveals New Conflict of Interest
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has forfeited its right to appeal a recent court decision that found it violated federal law for hiding conflicts of interest on an important dietary advisory committee. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was responsible for revising the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the basis for most nutritional advice in America.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) had sued the USDA in December 1999 under the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act. PCRM argued that the agency had purposefully withheld data proving that 6 of the 11 committee members had inappropriate financial ties to the meat, dairy, or egg industry. (The Guidelines have long favored those foods.) U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson handed down his ruling on 30 September; the 60-day appeal period expired on 29 November.
New Conflict of Interest Revealed
Under court order, the agency has revealed that Cutberto Garza, the committee chair, had received in excess of $10,000 for services rendered to Nestle-Switzerland. The Nestle Company produces dairy-based infant formulas and cereals, condensed milk, and ice cream, creating a conflict of interest given Garza’s role in setting what Americans should eat.
“We are delighted the USDA has decided not to contest the court’s ruling,” says Mindy Kursban, PCRM’s staff attorney. “It’s in the public’s best interest that federal nutrition policy is subject to the most careful scrutiny possible. We hope the court ruling will force USDA officials to be more vigilant about who they appoint in the future to develop federal nutrition policy.”
PCRM’s president Neal D. Barnard, M.D., added, “Government food recommendations should not be influenced by commercial interests, especially from industries that promote unhealthy diets, such as the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Given the tremendous amount of diet-related disease in this country, it’s imperative that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines be focused on improving public health.”
PCRM’s efforts to improve federal dietary guidelines have won the support of the NAACP; former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, M.D.; Martin Luther King, III; Muhammad Ali; and many others who object to the overpromotion of meat and dairy products given the prevalence of lactose intolerance and diet-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer among minority populations.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.