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Posted at 2:05 PM ET, 02/15/2011

PCRM sues federal agencies over dietary guidelines

By Tim Carman
dietary guidelines presser_opt.jpg Cabinet secretaries Tom Vilsack and Kathleen Sebelius face the heat over the new dietary guidelines. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Washington-based non-profit dedicated to preventive medicine and a vegan diet, sued the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services today, claiming the agencies have too many conflicts of interest to issue clear and science-based dietary guidelines.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were unveiled on Jan. 31 to much fanfare and some criticism.

"The Dietary Guidelines are meant to be read by the 'general public' and not by scientists, biochemists, Nobel Laureates, or others with particular expertise," PCRM's attorney wrote in today's filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which names the departments' secretaries, Tom Vilsack and Kathleen Sebelius, as defendants.

"Yet Defendants intentionally use inconsistent language, ambiguous phrases, and biochemical terminology to avoid providing clear dietary information and guidance for the general public regarding the health benefits of reducing consumption of meat and dairy products. This is due to Defendants’ conflicts of interest."

PCRM President Neal Barnard, also an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, says the USDA in particular has conflicting missions that make issuing clear guidelines almost impossible.

It's not just special interest groups like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Dairy Council, which lobby the agency for dietary guidelines that benefit their products. But it's also the USDA's conflicting mission. The Ag Department, notes Barnard, gives nutritional advice to Americans and promotes American agricultural products.

"One job unfortunately has completely confused the other," Barnard says during a phone interview. The PCRM president says flat-out the USDA needs to abandon its mission to promote agricultural products; after all, he notes, the Federal Communications Commission doesn't encourage Americans to watch more TV.

Such conflicts, the lawsuit alleges, lead to ambiguous language that doesn't help the average American piece together a healthful diet.

"For example, the Dietary Guidelines specify foods to eat more frequently (e.g., fruits and vegetables), but avoid identifying foods that people need to eat less often (e.g., meat and cheese)," the lawsuit claims. "Instead, the Dietary Guidelines use biochemical terms unfamiliar to the general public, calling for limiting 'cholesterol,' 'saturated fats,' and 'solid fats' without clearly explaining that: meat, dairy products, and eggs are the only sources of cholesterol in the diet, dairy products are the number-one source of saturated fat, and meat and dairy products deliver the majority of solid fats in the American diet."

AWCE is trying to get a response to the suit from the USDA. But it's worth noting that the guidelines actually do include numerous mentions to reduce meat consumption as well as references to the so-called Mediterranean diet, which promotes healthful living through low-fat foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. To quote just one instance, the guidelines report:

In addition to being a major contributor of solid fats, moderate evidence suggests an association between the increased intake of processed meats (e.g., franks, sausage, and bacon) and increased risk of colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease. To reduce the intake of solid fats, most Americans should limit their intake of those sources that are high in solid fats and/ or replace them with alternatives that are low in solid fats (e.g., fat-free milk).

Both Barnard and Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for PCRM, agree the new guidelines are unprecedented in promoting the health benefits of plant-based diets, but they also agree the guidelines remain confusing.

"None of this tackles the real issue here, and the point of our lawsuit," writes Levin in an e-mail. "The Guidelines continue to be evasive about what not to eat (processed meat is but a tiny fraction of the issue). The USDA has the impossible task of trying to fulfill two mandates: prop up Big Ag and provide nutrition information."

As for relief, PCRM is asking the court to order the agencies to "withdraw those portions of the Dietary Guidelines that use vague or ambiguous language to hide the ill effects of consuming meat and dairy products and reissue such portions with healthful recommendations based on the preponderance of current scientific and medical knowledge."

In another section of the lawsuit, the non-profit is also asking for the court to rule that the agencies had violated the Administrative Procedure Act for not responding to its March 2010 petition seeking the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to "withdraw the current MyPyramid food diagram and associated dietary guidelines and adopt the food diagram and dietary guidelines proposed by PCRM."

Asked if the PCRM's lawsuit were less a device to correct any problems with the dietary guidelines and more a tool to promote the group's vegan diet, Barnard said the question itself was focused on the wrong issue. He said the evidence is overwhelming that plant-based diets are more healthful and not reporting such information, in clear and unambiguous terms, in the dietary guidelines is misguided. The government, he notes, should not be telling people to just reduce meat consumption. He compares it to the 1960s when doctors were telling smokers to cut back on cigarettes.

"Nobody says that anymore," Barnard says. "It's the idea that, 'A little bit is OK.' "

By Tim Carman  | February 15, 2011; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics  | Tags:  Tim Carman  
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I heard Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard talking about this on the Diane Rehm Show the other day. It's just so obvious that the dietary guidelines committee was purposely extremely vague about reducing meat intake.

Posted by: allisonjc | February 15, 2011 2:45 PM | Report abuse

There is absolutely no evidence at all that meat is bad for you. Not one single study. It's all based on myths and lies. The only reason why the USDA pushes grains is because they have to support agriculture.

These vegans are free to eat what they want, but they don't need the government as a mouthpiece. Indeed, the government has no right to tell any of us what to eat. I for one don't want a nanny state telling me to eat tofu.

Read 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' by Gary Taubes and you'll see how we have all be lied to.

Posted by: tracker1312 | February 15, 2011 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Yes! Glad to see medical professionals using federal law to take the USDA to task for offering vague and confusing advice. When the Dietary Guidelines came out a few weeks ago, high-profile journalists like Marian Burros focused on exactly this point: Why not simply tell Americans that reducing meat intake would improve their health? But Sec. Vilsack just shrugged such questions off. Glad to see this lawsuit may force the USDA's hand.

Posted by: benrboardman | February 15, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

tracker1312, your comment is misguided at best. The #1 use for grain grown in this country is food for livestock. So if the USDA were really interested in selling grain (and they are), they would promote meat. Which they are.

Posted by: DRevis | February 15, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I back this lawsuit 100%. There are just so many conflicts of interest in the USDA. It's ridiculous that the agency that promotes ag profits is also tasked with giving nutrition advice. Americans deserve understandable and complete nutrition advice based on scientific evidence about diet and health, and the 2010 Guidelines are far from that.

Posted by: khibbits | February 15, 2011 3:18 PM | Report abuse

There’s actually plenty of scientific evidence that meat—and dairy products—are bad for you. Based on 58 scientific studies, the American Institute for Cancer Research found that processed meats cause colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute published a study of half a million people showing that eating meat increases your risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other causes. And many medical journals have published studies linking dairy products to type 1 diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease, among other diseases. The USDA should revise its guidelines based on these findings and always clearly name foods and the health consequences of consuming them.

Posted by: Wally7 | February 15, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Search online for "123 Get Samples" if you are looking for famous brands samples. It is the best and I always have success.

Posted by: bonnywilliams123 | February 16, 2011 4:43 AM | Report abuse

Vegan attempts to control what we eat anger me.

Posted by: fran12567 | February 16, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Most relevant Washinngton Post comments on Valentine's Day PCRP lawsuit are VERY GOOD.

BUT tracker1312 invoking GARY TAUBES could mislead many people who read little, understand less, and care not at all.

In Taub's articles and books (replete with mere conclusions) he uses a "straw man" approach to "comparing" what he falsely calls "low fat" diets to "normal" diets. BUT, Taube's definition of "low fat" is ANYTHING BUT LOW-FAT. 30% of calories from fat is NOT low fat. Genuine honest low-fat diets have about 10% or so of calories from fat. DUH. This is easily obtained from a 100% plant-based diet. This is only one error or misleading MERE conclusion confusing those who read his writings.

Contrary to what tracker1312 suggests, it is NOT a matter of "having the government tell us what to eat" but more a matter of having the government TELL THE TRUTH about our SAD (Standard American Diet) - Which is damned near impossible given the inherent conflicts of interest and "revolving door" between the USDA and the Factory Farm Big Food industry. This has nothing to do with a "nanny state" - more irrelevant nonsense.

For explanation use search phrase:

"The Doughy Gary Taubes' Big Fat Lies"

Posted by: WWWGJSNET | February 16, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

If so many otherwise intelligent people weren't being fooled by this stuff, it would be funny. The sad truth is that the phony "Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine" is one of the PETA family of Animal Rights industries, (as opposed to Animal WELFARE, and Yes, Virginia, there IS a difference), and their pronouncements are intended to coerce the unknowing into their brand of compulsory veganism. There are (maybe) eight or nine actual physicians in the group. The rest are Animal Rights crusaders, who don't believe in the natural food chain. That of course is their prerogative, but it is NOT their right to tell the rest of us what we may or may not eat.
For the truth, enter the following in your browser: , and choose Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
The Good Lord didn't give us twelve pointy teeth for eating leaves and grains.
Follow a balanced diet, and disregard the propaganda from these groups whose agenda is NOT human health, but rather control of the minutiae of others' lives.

Posted by: tokira | February 17, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

PCRM has been at this for a long time. In April 1991, PCRM asked the USDA to abandon its scientifically derived four food group model and substitute instead its own plant food based four food group plan. The PCRM four food group plan was below the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances in protein, calcium, iron, zinc, preformed vitamin A, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. PCRM's four food group plan was discredited by the American Dietetic Association and the American Medical Association which refers to PCRM as a "pseudo-physicians group" because less than 0.5% of physicians are members. In reference to PCRM's four food group plan, the AMA said:

The AMA finds the recommendations of PCRM irresponsible and potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of Americans. The AMA charges that PCRM is "blatantly misleading Americans on a health matter and concealing its true purpose as an animal 'rights' organization.

Victor Herbert, MD, JD, who has done landmark research in human nutrition, served on the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, and presented papers at international conferences on vegetarianism, points out that, although developed by the USDA, the Basic Four Food Group system is actually based on traditions rooted in the Old Testament. Kosher dietary law scholars Regenstein and Regenstein of Cornell note that the Biblical (and Moslem) four food groups are:

MEAT. (Yiddish: fleishig); Without meat in the diet iron deficiency becomes widespread (animal iron is 5 times as absorbable as plant iron).

DAIRY. (Yiddish: milchig); Eliminating dairy foods increases risk of osteoporosis. Even non-physician Colin Campbell confirmed this from his work in China 3 weeks after his service as a spokesman for PCRM at their "let's eat only plant foods" news conference.

NEUTRAL (mainly plant). (Hebrew: parve or pareve.) In 1956 the USDA divided the plant group into two: grains and fruits-vegetables. PCRM goes extreme by dividing the Biblical plant group into four, and telling people to forget about the meat and dairy groups. Their 4-food group model not only increases the risk of anemia and osteoporosis, it guarantees severe blood and nervous system damage because nothing that grows out of the ground contains vitamin B12.

UNACCEPTABLE. (Yiddish: traif); included pork, shellfish, blood, etc.

Posted by: GingerHC | February 17, 2011 10:01 PM | Report abuse

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