(Dec. 31) The U.S. Department of Agriculture may tip its hand on possible changes to the food guide pyramid in late January.

USDA officials were expected to provide comments on input they have received on changes to the pyramid at the second meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, set for Jan. 28-29 in Washington, D.C.

The committee was appointed by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, and federal law mandates that dietary guidelines must be updated at least every five years.

The 13-member dietary guidelines committee, led by Janet King, researcher with Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, Calif., is expected to issue a final report on its recommendations to the departments by summer. Revisions to the guidelines are anticipated in 2005.

Meanwhile, the USDA also is considering changes to the food guide pyramid, which is solely a USDA effort.

The USDA accepted comments about the content of the pyramid in September and October, and another comment period on the graphic image of the pyramid is anticipated this year. The new version of the pyramid is expected by early 2005, federal officials have indicated.

Tracy Fox, nutrition consultant representing the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation, said the committee also will take public comments on the government’s dietary guidelines from a variety of food industry sources when it meets in late January.

Fox said one of those giving input will likely be Elizabeth Pivonka, president of PBH.

Meanwhile, the Senate won’t reconvene until Jan. 20, which has put on hold the omnibus appropriations bill. The measure includes several items of interest for the produce industry.

One of those projects is additional funding for the fruit and vegetable pilot project — tabbed at $1 million to continue the project in Iowa and $1 million to start the pilot program in Mississippi.

However, Fox said funding for the pilot program was not gleaned from the USDA budget, but was found in the Centers for Disease Control budget and funneled through the Department of Education.

Because the USDA could not find money to plug into the program, authority over it will apparently pass to the Department of Education, she said.

“It is unfortunate for USDA that they lost an opportunity to control the program,” Fox said.