(Aug. 25) At first glance, it would appear the U.S. Department of Agriculture made some well-educated appointments to its new committee to revise its dietary guidelines.

Well-educated, indeed. They should be. Of the 13 appointees, all but one come from academia.

Considering that the guidelines form the basis for the all-important Food Guide Pyramid, a selection of unbiased university types would seem to be prudent — at least on paper.

A past complaint has been that the dietary guidelines were skewed by the fact that advisers had financial ties to industries, such as meat, dairy or eggs. Of the 11 advisers on the previous committee, six had such ties, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a vegetarian advocacy group.

The USDA hoped to sidestep any such claims this go-around, but the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest says that seven from the new batch of advisers should be dismissed. The group says their ties to the food, drug and dietary supplement industries could sway them.

The way university research programs are funded these days, it wouldn’t be surprising. The likes of Kellogg’s, Phillip Morris and Monsanto help pay for much research, and often the results reflect that.

Looking at committee members’ ties, here are a few directions the next series of guidelines could take:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption can be good for health. So state many recent studies, including ones by a Harvard professor on the committee.

  • Sugar may not be so bad for you, especially if it’s on breakfast cereal, judging by the research conducted by one committee member and paid for by Kellogg’s and the Sugar Association.

  • Dairy will continue to be well-represented. One appointee has conducted research for the National Dairy Council, the National Dairy Board and the Wisconsin Milk Market Board.


Despite the clamor by consumer advocacy groups, the USDA says it’s sticking with its appointees, that there’s no need for change.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Fruits and vegetables are expected to play a large role in the sixth edition of the guidelines, which are due in 2005.

The produce industry missed its best chance of representation when committee nominee Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation, was not selected.

Still, the industry must continue to push its agenda of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. In the land where dairy and grain subsidies seem to set nutrition policy, that’s no easy task, but it begins with trying to influence this committee.