Opening Statement: Chairman Conaway: Development of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
I want to welcome our distinguished witnesses to today’s hearing and thank them for taking the time to be with us. We are joined by both the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to discuss the development of an important document: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
It is not this Committee’s intention to legislate specific recommendations or guidelines; however we will demand that the guidelines be developed in a transparent and objective manner.
The DGA is not only a recommendation to the American people on how to make healthy food purchasing decisions in order to live a healthy lifestyle, but it also forms the basis of Federal nutrition policy, education, and outreach efforts used by consumers, industry, nutrition educators, and health professionals. It is essential that the guidance that comes out of this process can be trusted by the American people. To achieve this, it must be based on sound, consistent, and irrefutable science.
The DGA is congressionally mandated under the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990. According to the Act, the DGA shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public; shall be “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge current at the time the report is prepared”; and “shall be promoted by each Federal agency in carrying out any Federal food, nutrition, or health program.”
Ensuring a sound development process is important because it is extremely difficult to reverse or change public policy, once implemented, without causing consumer confusion. At a time when consumers are already subjected to conflicting and often contradictory nutrition and health information, staying within scope of the intent of the law by providing the public with science-based, realistic and achievable information is more likely to contribute to improved public health outcomes.
The process for the 2015 DGA began in 2012, when Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell’s predecessor, Secretary Sebelius, created and then appointed fifteen members to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). Though the DGAC is not specifically authorized, all advisory committees must be charted under the Federal Advisory Committee Act which requires that the advice rendered by the committee be "objective and accessible to the public" by formalizing the process for "establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating" the committees. This makes the DGAC solely accountable to USDA and HHS, who are then responsible for continually reviewing the DGAC’s performance and process compliance, which included activities as detailed as approving all DGAC meeting agendas. It was therefore the responsibility of USDA and HHS to maintain control over the scope and methods used by DGAC.
I have personally weighed in with you both, as have many of my colleagues, about my concerns with the process of developing the Dietary Guidelines. I raised concerns about the DGAC report shortly after its release and called on you to extend the public comment period, which you did.
As we are all aware of by now, USDA and HHS received over 29,000 public comments to the DGAC report, many of which were developed by nutritionists and other experts in the study of human health. Included in their submitted comments, available for public viewing on the DGA’s website, were scientific studies and other evidence that observers assert had been ignored by the DGAC. As a result, I repeatedly requested that each and every comment be considered by USDA and HHS before the final dietary guidelines are published.
In May, the Ranking Member and I sought, in writing, details on your plan to review the more than 29,000 public comments because public comments do matter. Your response to us on that plan was less than sufficient so I look forward to hearing more from you today.
Uncertainty in the process leads to concern about whether the DGAC recommendations will maintain the scientific integrity necessary to be actionable by Americans. It is my hope that as USDA and HHS review the 2015 DGAC recommendations, they are mindful of the process failures that lie squarely behind each of DGAC’s recommendations. It is imperative to hear assurances from USDA and HHS that Americans will ultimately be presented with the best and most reliable information for making healthy food and beverage choices.
Again, thank you Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell for being here today, I look forward to our conversation.