By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt is in the middle of a fight over the government’s dietary guidelines, which are slated to be updated this year.
House and Senate spending bills working their way through Congress have recently been altered to include language saying that a government committee’s consumption recommendations for Americans went too far afield from the science of nutrition in suggesting that plant-based foods are better for the environment than red meat.
Blunt and at least 28 Senate Republican colleagues, along with Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, have expressed concerns about the recommendations made by the committee of outside advisers, which spent months considering the changes.
Blunt, R-Mo., shepherded a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill out of committee last month with a rider saying new diet recommendations should be based “only on a preponderance of nutritional and scientific evidence.” Two House appropriations bills have similar language.
Blunt and the 29 other senators signed a letter in March challenging the “scientific integrity of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to remove ‘lean meat’ from the statement of a healthy dietary pattern.”
The letter also expressed strong concerns that the committee, comprising outside experts pulled together by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, was “going beyond its purview of nutrition and health research to include topics such as sustainability.”
Blunt said: “The proposed dietary guidelines would expand the advisory committee’s scope well beyond the statute and well beyond dietary guidelines and nutrition into unrelated issues, which is not the job of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.”
A coalition of health and nutrition groups disagrees. The group — ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Center for Science in the Public Interest — called the language in the appropriations bills “a ham-fisted attempt on the part of powerful special interests, led by the meat industry, to have politicians meddle in the government’s nutrition advice.”
Many of the signers of the March letter represent beef-producing states in the Midwest and West. They complained that the committee was ignoring “scientific evidence that shows the role of lean red meats as part of a healthy diet.”
Missouri Democrats have pointed out that Blunt’s wife, Abigail, lobbies for the Kraft Heinz Co. A subsidiary, Oscar Mayer, is a top producer of processed meat. Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Chris Hayden said it was a “wildly inappropriate conflict of interest” for Blunt to spearhead support of red meat in the new diet debates.
Sen. Blunt said his position “represents a widely held, bipartisan viewpoint, and it’s also included in two House appropriation bills.”
Recently merged Kraft Heinz reported that what was then known as Kraft Foods spent $300,000 on lobbying on the dietary guidelines and other issues the first three months of 2015, but said that Abigail Blunt did not lobby the Senate.
“Our company’s objective is to help ensure the” recommendations “are science-based and within the jurisdiction of the guidelines,” said Basil Maglaris, director of corporate affairs for Kraft Heinz.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she agreed with Blunt that a healthy diet and agricultural sustainability should not be co-mingled.
“The environmental concerns — obviously there is a place for that — but I don’t think that mixing the two makes much sense,” McCaskill said. But she said she is opposed to attaching the restricting language on appropriations bills, saying it was symptomatic of a larger trend by Republicans to retreat from “earmark” reforms and attach unrelated legislation to spending bills.
Photo: Should the government continue to support red meat — or at least support it less? stu_spivack/Flickr