The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has extended the public comment period for its new nutritional guidelines, after Congress expressed concern with the committee’s report.
The committee’s 571-page report of recommendations, which calls for Americans to move toward "plant-based" diets, has come under scrutiny from the meat industry and Congress who say DGAC placed too much emphasis on environmentalism in building their recommendations.
The recommendations, which will be used to form the 2015 dietary guidelines for Americans and policy decisions for government food programs, were open for a 45-day public comment period that was set to expire on April 8. The committee has extended the deadline for an additional 30 days, until May 8.
"This extension gives the public additional time to provide comments on the Advisory Report, while allowing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 process to remain on schedule for completion by the end of 2015," a Department of Agriculture (USDA) spokesman said. "HHS and USDA will review the Advisory Report along with input from federal agencies and public comments to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015."
Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) praised the extension, but said there are still issues with the current recommendations.
"I am encouraged that USDA approved the extension of the dietary guidelines comment period, which I requested along with 30 of my Senate colleagues in a letter earlier this month," he said in a statement. "Millions of Americans as well as nutritionists and doctors recognize lean red meat as a key element and source of protein in a balanced nutritious diet."
"It appears this advisory committee based its recommendations on talking points and misguided agendas of certain environmental groups rather than making their recommendations according to sound nutritional science," Thune added. "The draft dietary guidelines report as it stands must have its inconsistent and flawed recommendations adequately addressed by stakeholders."
The House Agriculture Committee also praised the extension for allowing Americans more time to comment on the report, which also recommends taxing dessert, electronic monitoring of how long Americans sit in front of the television, and trained obesity "interventionists" at worksites.
"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," said Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R., Texas). "Our constituents will use this additional time to ensure that all pertinent studies are submitted for review by the Secretaries."
USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) are currently reviewing the DGAC report. The agencies will release the final report later this year.
"While I appreciate some recognition of the complexity of the issues presented by extending the comment period, I must once again call on the secretaries to commit to a process wherein those comments will be fully reviewed and considered," Conaway said.
Conaway had written to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell earlier this month, asking for a comment period extension, and expressing concerns that the committee had "greatly exceeded their scope in developing recommendations."
"The secretaries share responsibility for these flawed recommendations because they failed to keep the Committee focused on nutritional recommendations and away from areas such as sustainability and tax policy, which are outside of the Committee’s purview," he said.
A group of 30 senators, led by Sen. Thune also wrote to Vilsack and Burwell last week, with similar concerns. The senators criticized the committee for "going beyond its purview" by focusing on sustainability and requested an extension of the public comment period.
The USDA and HHS will hold a public meeting to receive comments on March 24 in Bethesda, Md.
The report has received 4,449 anonymous comments so far.