USDA Sued over Deceptive Language in New Dietary Guidelines

usdaIt was meant to be “The People’s Department.” But today’s USDA routinely sides with big agribusiness over “the people,” heedless of safety and nutrition concerns or the needs of small independent farmers.

President Lincoln established an independent Department of Agriculture separate from his executive cabinet and referred to it as “The People’s Department” in his last annual message to Congress. The law that established the department outlines its duties as acquiring and diffusing agricultural information, and “to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.” How far this department has strayed from its founder’s intent!
A new lawsuit from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is aimed at both the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Their new Dietary Guidelines are clear about what to eat more of—vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, for example—but use deliberately obscure language when discussing the foods Americans should eat less of.
According to the PCRM, this deliberate omission can be traced to the USDA’s close ties to food industries, including fast food companies such as McDonald’s. The PCRM is demanding that the USDA actually name the foods they suggest consumers eat in lesser quantities. The lawsuit also raises concerns over Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members with ties to the food industries, including a member who served on an advisory council for the McDonald’s Corporation.
The USDA has a history of conflicts of interest:

  • In 1999, health organizations filed a lawsuit against USDA and HHS alleging that federal law requires an advisory committee to comprise a fair balance of different points of view and prohibits special interests. However, out of eleven committee members, six of them had financial interests in food industries. In October of 2000, the court ruled that the USDA violated federal law by withholding documents and hiding financial conflicts of interest.
  • As we reported in January, the USDA is at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that demonizes fats and cholesterol. The USDA’s “Path to Personal Health” brochure suggested that consumers “ask for…half the cheese” on their pizzas. But the same agriculture department created a Dairy Management branch that actively pushes the sale of cheese and milk—the largest source of saturated fat—even convincing Domino’s to add 40% more cheese to its pizzas! These documents are a stark example of inherent conflicts in the USDA’s historic roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.
  • To make this worse, the science about cheese and other high cholesterol food is complex. Too little cholesterol is just as bad (or worse) than too much of it. Indeed, cholesterol is a basic building block of all our hormones, and most of it is made by our bodies rather than derived from the food we eat. The USDA should neither be demonizing cholesterol rich foods nor catering to and helping big food companies sell them.

None of this can be remedied without dealing with conflicts. Then there is a matter of the disastrous appointments to important posts—foxes to guard the henhouses, as it were:

  • The Secretary of Agriculture is Tom Vilsack, a staunchly pro-biotech former governor of Iowa. With his appointment, Monsanto and the other pesticide and genetic engineering companies were assured of having plenty of friends and supporters in Washington. In quick secession the USDA approved three different genetically engineered crops, as we reported to you last month.
  • Roger Beachy was named the head of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture—a critical post that awards hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants. Mr. Beachy used to be head of the Danforth Plant Science Center, which was founded by Monsanto and is essentially its NGO research and PR arm.
  • Michael Taylor, Senior Adviser to the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner on Food Safety in the 1980s, was a private lawyer at the DC law firm King & Spalding, where he represented Monsanto. When Taylor returned to government as Deputy Commissioner for Policy for the FDA from 1991 to 1994, the agency approved the use of Monsanto’s GM growth hormone for dairy cows (now found in most US milk) without labeling. His role in these decisions led to a federal investigation, though eventually he was exonerated of all conflict-of-interest charges.
  • And Ramona Romero, corporate counsel to DuPont (one of the world’s largest chemical companies), has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the US Department of Agriculture.


    1. I agree. His earliest appointments were very disappointing, none worse, than Sec. of Agriculture, a real Monsanto pusher. Organics for the First Lady and kids, the rest of us can eat unclean, poisonous, adulterated, mislabeled, non labeled, high profit, careless, low quality “food”. If we are what we eat, then goodness help us, we are all guinea pigs for Corporate “Food” Growers and Purveyors. How can food for profit work? It can’t. Profit is #1, nutrition and safety don’t factor into the equation.

      1. When will you people learn? Nobody, absolutely NOBODY, supported for Office by either Republicans or Democrats care about you, the voter, past the minute you stupidly put yet another one of them in Office. They are sold out prostitutes who care nothing for the 95% of US population they do not now, nor will ever support. STOP PUTTING REPUBLICRATS IN OFFICE. Then you will see “change”.

        1. Don’t put honest working girls down by associating them with these destroyers of the earth and oppressors of its peoples, please. “Prostitute” is way too mild and kind of a word for what they are doing.

    1. We/they need INTEGRITY at every/all departments/things! Nothing else will suffice, especially the government and its agencies!

  1. Congress needs to establish a new agency for food protection, guidelines, etc. and take all such responsibilities away from USDA and FDA, which are both captive agencies to big industries. It is time for the government to work for the benefit of ordinary people, rather than serve as agents to aid the exploitation of people by greedy corporations.

    1. Like it or not Obama has made himself the enemy. We had a problem in my city with the first Democrat elected mayor in decades. The honeymoon was over soon when he turned out to repeatedly disregard the will of the people. One of his bright ideas was to put fluoride into our water without allowing us to vote on it. He said it was illegal to allow us to vote on it. This problem he created took legal action to deal with. Legal action was taken. Now a law is on the books that our city water can’t be fluoridated unless it is approved by a vote of the citizens. That mayor also got voted out when he ran for reelection. The same things could happen to Obama.

    2. What can we do to keep any such new agency from also being promptly co-opted by big agribusiness, bigpharma, etc?

  2. SHAME on Tom Vilsack and USDA and above all trying to make us eat gmo food. SHAME ON YOU

  3. It is time for a Peoples Revolution. Egypt did it, others are in the process of doing it, we can do it too.

    1. But Egypt was homogenous: nearly all protesters were male, young & of the same religion – not so in this country (which might make a big difference) –

      1. Yes, it might make a difference if we allow the “divide and conquer” strategies of the vested interests to sway us. However, if we start looking for common ground, we might be amazed at how much there is. That was a main point of the “One Nation Working Together” rally in Washigton, D.C., last October, and I must admit to not following up with that group afterward. You have just given me incentive to get reconnected—thank you. I encourage everyone to do the same.

  4. This corporate/government alliance is called “fascism”. Voting for the two corporate-funded political parties supports it.
    The way to fight it is NOT to play the duopoly’s rigged game. Vote Green Party or Socialist; neither of these parties accept corporate money.
    A few percentage points of the vote for non-corporate parties will send a strong message that we’ve had ENOUGH and we’re not going to take it anymore!

    1. Hey, Alan8…what a fool you are. Trying to sell the socialist dream. Everyone must turn to government for all that is good. Crap! The government will NEVER do you any good. Having everyone pay into the government so that we can all be equal is an afront to our personal liberty and individualism. If you think you deserve more, work for it. If you think everyone else deserves more, let them work for it. Socialism has NEVER worked wherever it has been instituted, and that means Germany during the Nazis. Surprise…surprise…they were socialists…YESSS…Alan8…socialists. The National Socialist Party. Gawd…don’t you know how horrid they were? Socialism…which means I have to pay you to sit on your ass while I work my butt off is a joke. Trust me…I live it every day in Canada. You need to rethink your politics. You’re totally out of the loop.

  5. They push us to eat these unhealthy foods some without our noledge, why they don’t eat this kind of foods and feed it to there children. Everybody can not afford the healthy foods. So we are just doomed.

  6. Our gov’t agencies are bought and paid for by corporations. We are living with a fascist government in the full sense of the word.
    fascism |ˈfa sh ˌizəm| (also Fascism)
    1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
    The corporations are above the people’s needs or rights. We’re there.

  7. I will not buy from any of the companies that are concocting “genetic soups” to inject into our bodies through our mouths or through vaccinations. We are advancing in the use of chemicals and not in science. There are no protections from GMO’s offered by our government so we are left to fend from ourselves in this most important area of food (something we must eat 3 times a day). Now think about it—this is an invasion of our body and our rights as human beings and is very much an ethical concern.

  8. Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, PRAYers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.1Timothy2.”And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.Luke11&18

  9. The USDA has multiple mandates, one of which is to assist and promote agriculture and food production industries.
    Those industries make their own decisions regarding technologies such as genetic manipulation, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides, breeding and feeding of animals, etc.
    The USDA was never authorized to dictate technologies except when a technology threatens human harm as was true regarding pesticide, antibiotic or hormone residues in food or including rendered cattle products in cattle feed which fosters spread of bovine spongiform encephalitis (Mad Cow Disease).
    The USDA now has the additional responsibility to support “organic” agriculture when that is not a clear technical term but rather a marketing label used to justify higher prices.
    Both this article and several of the comments suggest that the USDA be managed to force all agriculture to subscribe to the “organic” model, whatever that really means.
    The organic producers would be fools to demand that because corporate farms could do “organic” at far lower expense than the current niche producers and utterly destroy them.
    Rather, the organic producers really want the USDA to let corporations continue to produce food by whatever techniques they choose but to actively discourage consumers from purchasing non-organics in favor of organics.
    How would it benefit our citizens to disparage the most cost-effective producers while providing free marketing for those less cost effective in the absense of either scientific or economic data to support the choice?
    This article and many of the commenters while accusing the USDA of being a shill for corporate agriculture would be overjoyed if it became a shill for organic agriculture.

  10. The USDA and FDA should be either be abolished or reformed entirely. They lack strict regulations against some categories of food, which contains products and chemicals that NEVER should be allowed: pesticides, GMO (sugar, soy), added growth hormones, artificial flavors, dyes, antibiotics, high fructose corn syrup, etc.
    It is NONSENSE that we can’t start a revolution! We have enough people to do it in this country!

  11. I would suggest that the PCRM extend its lawsuit to address the fact that our USDA/HHS does not adequately regulate/protect consumers from the use of toxic chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) on the very foods that people NEED to be eating more of. Studies show that the current exposure level is unacceptable, and children’s brains and nervous systems are especially vulnerable. It’s a nightmare. Our food system in the U.S. has become a terrible trap with no easy way out, and the government agencies and mega- corporations that created it and continue to work it for their own profit should be charged, seriously.

  12. The diabolical world wide forces aligned to reduce world population is showing no mercy. What is really sick is we are paying for it and they are reaping incredible profits.

  13. I know!! since all of the SCIENCE shows definitively, that we should be eating a primarily Plant Based, Whole Foods diet, lets make that what people can buy on Food Stamps. That way if they want to have Chicken Fish or Meat, they can pay for it with cash, just like they have to for Alcohol, Cigarettes, Dog Food, Soap, and Toilet Paper.
    I worked for almost 15 years as a checker for Safeway, and it just killed me to see people who obviously did had the means, pay for their three Filet Mignons, and two Lobster Tails with their Food Stamps or EBT card, and then follow it with their $25-50 bottle of Wine or Vodka.
    I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve always felt lucky and privileged to be able to have and use an EBT card. My wife and I were always responsible and stretched the money as far as we could. Anytime we had it we knew it was only temporary. If we were on the Plant Based Diet we are on now, we would probably have some excess left over.
    Responsibility starts at the top. All of the doctors and scientists on the board of the USDA should have ZERO ties to food companies, past or present. Similarly the board should not contain anyone who has ties, past or present, to food companies. Imagine, if you will, if the chairman or lead investigator for the NTSB also was on the board, or owned a substantial piece of stock in Boeing. You can be guaranteed that no Boeing Plane that ever crashed would have “Mechanical Failure” as its cause of incident in its final report…
    We the people rely on those in government to be thinking and acting for us, and in our best interests. Obviously there are many food companies, out there that are thinking only for themselves. Companies like Monsanto, for instance, is as close to what we would call a modern Monopoly. They have come in and changed the face of farming, and before we the people can even think of trying to have this Plant Based, Whole Foods Diet, Many of the family farms that have been kicked out, shut down, driven out through lawsuits, etc., we will need those people to come back to farming. We will need millions of acres of farmland dedicated to growing organic crops, and on a rotating growing basis.

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