The USDA is choosing Politics over Science

The USDA is pushing dietary guidelines based on environmental concerns, as opposed to basing their advice on nutritional science, which is against the law.

So, there’s two things going on here. In the first place, the USDA advisory panel isn’t even using science.

And on top of that, in order to appease the Obama administration, the guidelines are set to provide dietary guidelines based on environmental concerns. Fortunately, there are some politicians pushing back.

Of course, many activist groups such as the EDA want such recommendations put into place.

As per The Heritage Foundation:

Every five years, the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issue dietary guidelines to advise the public on healthy eating. All federal nutritional policy must be consistent with these guidelines, including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

In preparation for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is developing recommendations to inform the new guidelines. Yet the committee’s work has gone beyond human dietary health to taking into account environmental issues, such as sustainability and climate change.

Policy Recommendation. The environmental focus in the Dietary Guidelines is not just deceptive, but dangerous. The Dietary Guidelines should reflect the best advice on nutritional policy for humans, undistorted by environmental objectives. The USDA presents the guidelines as the authoritative source for nutritional advice, but in fact they would be compromised by an environmental agenda.

Please don’t misunderstand what’s being said here. This author has no problem in accepting (and acting upon) the need to protect the environment.

The USDA Guidelines site says that

The Dietary Guidelines encourage Americans to focus on eating a healthful diet—one that focuses on foods and beverages that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease.

Clearly, this is not the case.

FDA testing the water in social media

The FDA has teamed up with the social site Patients Like Me to gather data on the adverse affects of medications and treatment plans. By partnering with online communities, the agency can collect valuable information to supplement data gleaned from clinical trials.

The FDA already mines the Internet for relevant data, as Mobile Health News explains:

[The] FDA already collects adverse event data in a number of ways including MedWatch, the FDA’s voluntary reporting system, and the Sentinel Initiative, which consists of partnerships with health insurers and electronic medical records to get access to their aggregated data sets.

PatientsLikeMe has collected more than 110,000 adverse event reports on 1,000 different medications.

I like where this is headed. As the situation progresses, I’ll keep you up to date.

$28 billion wasted each year on biomedical research

When performing biomedical – or any scientific research research – results are valid only when reproducible.

If a company invents a drug, for example, that has a positive effect on a specific condition, the corporate goal is to produce a product that works in the field the same way it works in the lab. Some scientist, however, are drawing conclusions from experiments that can’t be reproduced.

The problem is that scientists are drawing conclusions on experiments that can’t be reproduced.

The cost of this problem is, (best guess,) twenty eight billion dollars a year.

And for what it’s worth, the wasted money doesn’t come from the experiments themselves, but from the money that’s wasted when researchers find that the data they relied upon can’t be used.

Given the enormity of the situation, the National Institute of Health issued guidelines for medical and scientific journals to use when publishing research.

Nature has the story

The NIH introduced its guidelines last November in the wake of reports that only a fraction of landmark biomedical findings could be reproduced. The guidance includes aims such as making crucial data sets available on request, and providing thorough descriptions of cell lines, animals, antibodies and other reagents used in experiments.

The NIH guidelines are basically checklists. The scientific community is in an uproar, claiming that the checklists are very poor in terms of being a “one size fits all” solution.

Debunking the U.S. Government’s Dietary Guidelines

That’s a bold statement to make, I know, but the history of the guidelines is instructive.

The US Dietary Guidelines are based on recommendations made by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The DGAC’s membership comes from officials of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and United States Department of Agriculture. (Both HHS and the USDA are cabinet-level executive agencies.)

The job of the DGAC is to perform valid research and present their findings to both HHS and the USDA.

But the DGAC didn’t use real science to develop their report, certainly not good science, anyway.

Researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham have turned up the ugly truth.

As opposed to performing valid, repeatable research studies, the DGAC performed interviews, and the results of those interviews is the basis for their recommendations for the guidelines.

Regarding the use of interviews, as opposed to performing actual studies, UAB wrote:

First, the assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false. Second, M-BMs [ memory-based dietary assessment methods] require participants to submit to protocols that mimic procedures known to induce false recall. Third, the subjective (ie, not publicly accessible) mental phenomena (ie, memories) from which M-BM data are derived cannot be independently observed, quantified, or falsified; as such, these data are pseudoscientific and inadmissible in scientific research. Fourth, the failure to objectively measure physical activity in analyses renders inferences regarding diet-health relationships equivocal. Given the overwhelming evidence in support of our position, we conclude that M-BM data cannot be used to inform national dietary guidelines and that the continued funding of M-BMs constitutes an unscientific and major misuse of research resources.

At this point you have to ask, “why?” performed an interview with an interview with Edward Archer, a member of UAB’s research team:

Reason: If M-BMs are so unreliable, then why does the federal government craft policy based on that data?

EA: The confluence of self-interest, institutional inertia, and scientific incompetence has led us to where we are today. The federal government has massively increased spending on nutrition and obesity research over the past few decades, and now spends over $2 billion of taxpayer’s money per year. Unfortunately, the people that control that funding are the same researchers that use these anecdotal methods, train the next generation of researchers, and control the publication of scientific papers. As such, new methods and innovative research is stifled. The same researchers are getting funded to do the same research year after year after year. This inertia and self-interest are exacerbated by the exorbitant amount of grant funding established researchers receive. As with many things in life, follow the money.

Would you like to learn more? The UAB study has received significant coverage, including articles on Nature and Real Clear Science.