USDA extends dietary recommendations comment period

by Erica Shaffer and Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a 30-day extension of the comment period on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's (DGAC) scientific report released in February.

Kevin Concannon, under-secretary of agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services, announced the extension during a March 17 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee. The original comment period was 45 days with the deadline set for April 8. The extension pushed the comment period deadline to May 8.

The extension comes after stakeholders in the meat industry and US lawmakers argued that the 45-day period did not allow enough time for industry to review and respond to the 571-page report in addition to the work completed by the Nutrition Evidence Library.

Stakeholders in the meat industry said dietary guidance for Americans still overlooks the importance of lean meat as part of a balanced and healthy diet. The industry also took issue with the DGAC's recommendation that consumers consider environmental impacts when choosing the foods they eat.

In its report, the committee said: “The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current US diet.”

Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), said guidance on sustainability issues should come from subject-matter experts.

“The Committee’s foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise. It’s akin to having a dermatologist provide recommendations about cardiac care.”

Four US Senators also asked for an extension of the comment period to 120 days.

“The advisory committee report included recommendations that are notably different from previous guidelines, which will require additional time to develop thoughtful feedback,” the senators said in a March 16 letter addressed to Tom Vilsack, secretary for the US Department of Agriculture, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “To ensure both agencies have the benefit of hearing from the full range of stakeholders, we request a 30-day extension of the comment period, from 45 days to 75 days. The additional time would allow constituents to review the report more carefully before submitting questions and comments, as well as to provide well-crafted, constructive and thorough comments.”

Senators signing the letter were Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Patty Murray of Washington, ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, said, “The 571-page report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee not only went way out of scope in dealing with non-nutritional science issues, the advisory committee potentially excluded influential scientific studies when crafting their recommendations. Our constituents will use this additional time to ensure that all pertinent studies are submitted for review by the secretaries.”

The DGAC's Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of the Federal Register. The USDA and HHS are scheduled to release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 later this year.

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