USDA: Judge Rules in Favor of PCRM on Dietary Guidelines
A federal judge ruled Saturday that the USDA violated parts of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act by withholding information on members of a dietary committee that was charged with issuing "food pyramid" guidelines, the Washington Post reports. Filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in December, the lawsuit claimed that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a USDA panel that establishes "what Americans should eat" by "dictating" school lunch programs and "food programs for low income Americans" contained "committee members [with] industry ties that could affect their judgment." PCRM, which promotes "preventive medicine, good nutrition and a vegetarian lifestyle," has been critical of the dietary guidelines, saying they are "racially biased" for advocating dairy products "that can't be tolerated by a majority of African-Americans." Through the lawsuit, PCRM wanted to gain background information on the committee members -- as well as nominees who were passed over -- to show "that more qualified people" should have been selected to work on the committee. In his ruling, Federal District Court Judge James Robertson ordered the USDA to disclose the curricula vitae of the 140 committee nominations. PCRM Executive Director Neal Barnard said, "It's a major victory for us and [a] huge embarrassment for the USDA."
Government lawyers said providing information on nominees not selected "would be a violation of privacy." Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Eileen Kennedy said, "I'm disappointed with the ruling. We have not traditionally released CVs from people who were not chosen to be on the committee. Suddenly their particulars are available. There is a privacy issue here." The latest version of the guidelines, which are updated every five years, was released in May after 18 months of review. The committee held four public meetings and posted transcripts on the Internet. Sue Bora, president-elect of the American Dietetic Association, said, "I felt the process was quite open." She added that although the process "probably" could be improved, "everybody had an opportunity to sit and give input" at the meetings (Squires, Washington Post, 10/4).