These are the claims made in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The [food] pyramid scheme
Round 1 has been won by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the research and advocacy group that is suing the two federal agencies. Last week, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the named agencies violated federal laws when they selected individuals with known financial ties to various food industries to serve on the advisory committee that drew up the nutritional guidelines that comprise the latest version of the USDA’s Food Pyramid.6 out of 11 committee members, including its chairperson, have either received payments or served on corporate and industry boards for the likes of the National Dairy Council, The National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the American Egg Board, and Dannon.
The suit alleges that the committee’s pro-agribusiness bias influenced its recommendations to the federal agencies. The new food pyramid promotes the daily consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products, despite evidence that this practice contributes to the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases. The USDA and DHHS ignored vegetarian alternatives, failing to respond to a PCRM petition offering plant-based recommendations.
The lawsuit also charges the USDA and DHHS with an insidious and destructive racial bias.
The promotion of dairy products is inappropriate for most non-white populations. According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, lactose intolerance affects approximately 90% of Asian-Americans, 70% of African-Americans, 70% of Native Americans, and 53% of Hispanics. For this reason, PCRM’s lawsuit is supported by many prominent groups and individuals, especially within the African-American community, including the NAACP, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, Martin Luther King, III, and Muhammad Ali.
There’s a lot at stake for the food industry.
The Food Pyramid is tweaked every five years, a process that is closely watched by special interests. More than just a pretty picture, the pyramid forms the basis for consumer- and school-based health and nutrition education; of even greater interest to the food lobby is the way it guides the flow of billions of dollars to federally funded food programs like food stamps, WIC, the National School Lunch Program, and purchases by federal prisons.
There’s a lot at stake for us.
Obesity and diabetes continue to rise unabated. Millions of Americans live in households with inadequate food resources.
We need leadership free of inappropriate financial motivations, and nutrition advice that is sound and unbiased.
Read the original complaint filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.