Dietary Guidelines — The Politics of Health

David Cassuto

From the Cynicism Desk:

The USDA is preparing to unveil  its most recent revision of its much maligned dietary guidelines.  Come December, we’ll see to what new levels of obfuscation and avoidance the good folks at USDA can aspire.  The lobbying is already ferocious.  According to the WaPo:

In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.

Of course, amid all this self-interested carrying-on it’s hard to place the blame for the ever more incoherent guidelines solely on the Agency.  Elected officials are terrified of demanding anything that might be considered anti-meat or processed food.  Indeed, George McGovern arguably lost his job (as a senator) for recommending that Americans consume less red meat.  His comments generated a mad frenzy within in the cattle industry and he lost his seat in 1980 (he represented South Dakota). Traumatized by McGovernGate, the guidelines set what at the time was the gold standard for doublespeak by recommending that we eat “meat, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”   Continue reading

Food Fight at McDonald’s

David Cassuto

So a woman throws a tantrum and destroys some property when her McDonald’s meal is prepared wrong (apparently, she was “unhappy with her cheeseburger”).  Some foundational questions: how does one prepare such a thing “right?”  And how would one know?

FDA Reversal on Off Label Antibiotic Use: A Big Picture View

Here’s a newsflash:  Neither Laura Bush nor Condoleeza Rice think the Bush Presidency has been the worst in history.  Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to rethink…

In other less newsworthy matters, the FDA has reversed itself and decided to permit “off label” prophylactic use of cephalosporin antibiotics for industrial, confined “food” animals.  Off label use refers to administering a drug for purposes other than those for which it was tested and approved.  The FDA approved cephalosporin for treating respiratory illness in cattle and pigs as well as for a variety of human illnesses.  However, the animal industry had been making widespread use of it in other animals and for other uses.

Faced with the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, the FDA had determined in July that using one of a dwindling number of effective antibiotics prophylactically and for other non-approved purposes in animals did not make sense.  It announced a ban on such behavior beginning on November 30th but withdrew the ban four days before it was to go into effect.  Apparently, Big Food and its allies were concerned that eliminating off label use would cause animals to suffer needlessly.  Read about their compassion here.  Of course, empathy does have limits.  For example, the possibility of not confining the animals in such close proximity apparently did not merit discussion.

Cynics among us might view the campaign to quash the rule as part of a coordinated campaign by Big Food and Big Pharma to maintain the profitability and preeminence of industrial agriculture despite ever-increasing human health risks and ongoing, routinized animal torture.  Those cynics might also view the FDA’s capitulation as a glaring example of agency capture.

But then, that’s the same kind of cynicism that causes people to misrepresent the Bush Presidency as a catastrophic failure.  As Secretary Rice observes, “historians who are now making judgments about the Bush administration and its Middle East policies aren’t very good historians.”

That must be it.

Hat tip to the Marler Blog for its disturbing and informative post on the cephalosporin issue.

David Cassuto