How USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee tries to influence what you eat

By Mike Martin, Chief Communications Officer, Protect The Harvest


As anyone who follows Protect The Harvest knows, we cover a myriad of topics related to farming and ranching in particular and agriculture in general, property rights, Constitutionally granted freedoms and liberties, animal welfare and ownership, hunting and fishing, and the ongoing threats against them. At times, promoting and defending these aspects of Americanism is daunting, with well-financed non-governmental organizations (NGOs), radical and agenda-driven unelected government bureaucrats, animal rights and environmental extremists, wealthy global elitists, and even the White House assaulting hard-won American rights, freedoms and liberties.

We will always advocate for A Free and Fed America™, and encourage our friends and followers to remain vigilant as more restrictions are sought by those who seek greater unnecessary control of “we the people.”

So, if you’re not familiar with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, we thought you should be aware of what they do, why it’s important, and how it affects your life. In 2025, the committee comprised of 20 college professors (academics) will issue its every-five-year guidance about what Americans should eat. Diet and nutritional needs for humans should not be controversial. However, in recent years USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has created controversy and we’ll explain how later in this piece.

A Brief History of USDA Dietary Guidelines

In 1977, during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued dietary goals for the United States. They were simple and easy to understand, mostly based on common sense:

• Avoid being overweight – decrease energy intake and increase energy expenditure;
• Increase complex carbohydrate consumption and naturally occurring sugars;
• Reduce refined/processed sugar consumption;
• Reduce fat consumption and saturated fat intake;
• Reduce cholesterol intake;
• Limit sodium (salt) intake.

Three years later, USDA joined forces with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue the first collaborative guidelines, appropriately titled: Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Once again, the guidelines seemed to be honed from common sense, focusing on “ideas for incorporating a variety of foods in the diet to provide essential nutrients while maintaining recommended body weight.” By its own admission, the collaboration was an offering of ideas, not directives regarding what thou shall eat!

For some, “offering ideas” in a guidance document was unsatisfactory and grumbling led to controversy, which resulted in the creation of an “independent” advisory committee to provide input for the 1985 guidance effort. Interestingly, the 1985 guidance reaffirmed the 1980 version, with few changes to the new guidance. USDA and HHS created a second advisory committee in 1989, which, in its 1990 guidance, echoed the 1985 guidance by simply promoting “enjoyable and healthful eating through variety and moderation, rather than dietary restriction.”

Enter the “Food Police”

This must have been the final straw for some activists and bureaucrats, as it was the last time the guidelines were “voluntarily” issued. Henceforth, the “food police” would influence more prescriptive guidance. It was in 1990 that congress passed an act mandating updated guidelines at five-year intervals. The focus changed from the science looking at the relationship between food intake and health outcomes to dietary patterns affecting health outcomes. Herein was born the “good food” versus “bad food” mindset in which the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee began categorizing food “winners” and “losers.”

By the time the 2005 guidelines were being prepared, the committee was relying heavily on research literature, mainly produced by academic, healthcare and corporate peers of those on the committee. For the first time, the 2005 guidelines identified the types and amounts of food Americans should eat for a “nutritionally adequate diet.” USDA’s Dietary Guidelines officially transitioned from voluntary guidance to a prescriptive approach that, while informative, did not take into consideration food accessibility, affordability or desirability. Operating in their vacuum of six-figure salaries, the committee largely ignored the real-world challenges of eating the way they wanted Americans to eat.

More recently, dietary guidelines committees have evolved their approach by continuing to survey research literature and create databases such as the Nutrition Evidence Systematic Review containing food and nutrition-related science. This taxpayer-funded database was created to:

• Minimize bias;
• Increase transparency;
• Ensure relevant, timely and high-quality systematic reviews to inform Federal nutrition-related policies, programs and recommendations.

In addition to this talking point-filled babble, USDA and HHS began using “Food Pattern Modeling” in 2005, focused on the types and amounts of food both actually consumed and recommended for consumption. This effort was expanded for the 2010 and 2015 guidelines because, as we all know, the more data the better. And, the more data, the higher the price tag for taxpayers. This data mining effort is focused on ensuring the dietary guidelines are “practical, relevant and achievable.”

Sustainability, Vegan and Anti-Meat/Dairy Bias Rear Their Ugly Heads

While all of the above sounds wonderful, when members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee were appointed by the Obama administration, with Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack heading USDA, the committee included extremists focused on food sustainability. Collectively, the committee had a strong bias against meat, citing the environmental impact of beef, pork, poultry, egg and dairy product production. A vegan agenda came into play that resulted in a policy “food fight” of warlike proportions. Clearly, the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had strayed far from its “health and nutrition” mandate.

Public exposure of the committee’s biased, unscientific, social engineering efforts resulted in significant pushback by the agriculture community, food processors, nutritionists and dieticians, school food program managers, retailers and others concerned about government overreach. A tense period ensued, with public comments pouring in that eventually resulted in both Vilsack and his counterpart at HHS stepping in to clarify the committee’s role.

The 2020 dietary guidelines focused on diet and nutrition from birth through older adulthood while examining those at risk of chronic diseases and how diet and nutrition could reduce such risk.

The 2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

So, here we are in early 2024, and the 2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been in place since January 19, 2023. Interestingly, Tom Vilsack heads USDA in the Biden administration, so he experienced what happened in 2015. Again, the committee is populated by 20 college professors – academics with a list of alphabet soup achievements following their names. They work at colleges including Purdue, Stanford, Cornell, Rutgers, New York University, Harvard (3), Oklahoma State, University of Texas, University of Tennessee, Ohio State, and others. Fourteen have PhDs, three are MDs, and there are a few dieticians.

Reviewing committee members’ credentials and their academic focus, terms such as “food justice,” “health equity,” “underserved populations,” “food security for low resource populations” and “longevity equity” were noted.

There are no farmers or ranchers on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, food producers or processors, K-12 cafeteria food managers, retailers, consumers per se, food bank leaders, or others who could provide a reality check to the committee. That is left to impersonal comment periods and a handful of public meetings, some of which have already taken place.

Of interest are the sources that gave members of the current committee grants, royalties, consulting fees, payments, patents, and other professional support. Those sources are listed on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee website.

The disclosure list is long. Here are several:

• Pfizer (pharmaceuticals)
• Eli Lilly and Company (pharmaceuticals)
• World Health Organization (WHO) global NGO
• Bloomberg Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University
• Bob Woodward Foundation (Washington Post editor/reporter)
• Rockefeller Foundation
• Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
• Beyond Meat – Creator of plant-based meat alternative proteins
• National Cattleman’s Beef Association
• Feeding America – A nationwide network of affiliated food banks
• National Dairy Council
• American Heart Association
• National Institutes of Health (Federal Government)
• American Egg Board
• Abbott Nutrition International (pharmaceuticals)
• The Obesity Society
• Council for Responsible Nutrition (dietary supplements and functional foods)
• American Diabetes Association

The 2025 committee is charged with:

  • Review current body of nutrition science;
  • Develop a scientific report that includes its independent science-based advice for USDA/HHS to consider;
  • The committee’s review and public comments help inform HHS and USDA as they develop the dietary guidelines for Americans 2025-2030.

The Food Pyramid is Replaced With MyPlate

One result of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s work was the USDA food pyramid, which was revised/updated using the committee’s report as a starting point. A few years ago, the food pyramid became “MyPlate.” It’s an easier-to-comprehend graphic depiction of recommended foods (fruits, grains, vegetables, protein and dairy) and portions for Americans.

Browsing the MyPlate piece, the influence of the scholarly committee members is evident when one sees hummus, soy and lentils listed in the protein section, or soy substitutes for milk from cows. “Kale” as a MyPlate vegetable and “couscous” as a MyPlate grain are two examples of the committee’s fingerprints.

The good news is chicken, pork, beef, seafood, eggs, peanut butter, dairy milk, bread, tortillas, sweet potatoes, apples, bananas and grapes are still cited by name on MyPlate. We’ll see if they remain.

Looking Ahead

Because the work of the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee affects every American who eats, we feel it’s worth monitoring its work to ensure it does not drift off into Wokeland. At a time when 60 percent of American households are living paycheck-to-paycheck, food inflation continues to challenge budgets, 35 million Americans are food insecure and personal credit card debt has reached a record level, Protect The Harvest will remain vigilant regarding any government activities that fuel hunger. A Free and Fed America™ can only exist if its citizens are truly free and fed.

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