Trump Administration Limiting Scientific Input in Formulation of the USDA’s 2020 Dietary Guidelines

On August 30, 2019 the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration is limiting scientific input into the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2020 dietary recommendations. The USDA, together with the Department of Health and Human Services, oversees the committee giving recommendations for the guidelines; for the first time ever, they have predetermined the topics that will be addressed and narrowed the research able to be used to only studies vetted by agency officials. This could mean the findings of other key studies are excluded.

The article stated that the questions the committee has to answer do not cover several pressing issues, such as the consumption of red and processed meat and the increase in consumption of ultraprocessed foods. Experts have claimed that these are the most critical questions that need to be addressed in the guidelines given the rising rates of lifestyle related diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They also represent the issues that large food companies find most objectionable. The dietary guidelines are revised every 5 years and are used to formulate how the government administers school lunches as well as food assistance programs. Additionally. food manufacturers formulate many products to fit the guidelines so that they can fit within such programs.

There are also fears that the decision by the USDA to limit the research used for the guidelines to only research analyzed by the agency’s own scientists will additionally negatively impact the findings of the committee. This move represents a sharp departure from the previous guidelines, published in 2015, which relied on outside science to answer nearly half of its questions. The USDA claims this has been done to ensure the highest quality of science since outside science may not use the same rigorous standards as those used by the agency. While experts agree there is some justification for vetting research (for example to make sure all research is unbiased), they also expressed concern as to the real motive given other anti-science actions taken by the Trump administration and the fact that the USDA has recently taken other pro-industry moves, such as relaxing restrictions on processed food and sodium levels in the school lunch program.