SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal court punted on a fight over the federal government’s dietary guidelines regarding eggs, which health advocates said was driven by a desire to promote egg consumption and not public health.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said courts have no applicable standard by which to judge the claim brought by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The court holds that there is no meaningful standard for deciding whether certain scientists exercised, or whether the USDA and HHS sufficiently guarded against, inappropriate influence in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans),” Beeler wrote in her order, issued Wednesday.
Beeler essentially said there are no developed laws that prohibit special influences in the creation of dietary guidelines, meaning the court had no guidance in how to adjudicate the case.
“The court has seen no definition of special interest,” she wrote. “Perhaps more problematic, or in any case more pivotal here, the court has seen no law describing when a participant may be held to have inappropriately influenced an advisory committee.”
The Federal Advisory Committee Act, which the health advocates claimed the USDA violated, contains no measure that addresses inappropriate influence, according to Beeler.
She ran down a few other laws cited by the health advocates, demonstrating one by one that none of them have regulations that address the claims.
“The court grants the defendants’ motion, holds that the plaintiff’s lone claim is non-justiciable, and dismisses the complaint with prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,” Beeler wrote in her decision.
The disputed guidelines were released in January by the USDA and Health and Human Services.
In a joint statement, the cabinet secretaries hailed the new guidelines as “the nation’s trusted resource for evidence-based nutrition recommendations” and said it will give health professionals and the public information they need to make healthy, informed choices.
“Protecting the health of the American public includes empowering them with the tools they need to make healthy choices in their daily lives,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in the statement.
“By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable. The dietary guidelines provide science-based recommendations on food and nutrition so people can make decisions that may help keep their weight under control, and prevent chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.”
The recommendations fall into five categories: establishing healthy eating patterns; choosing a variety of nutrient-dense foods; limiting calories from added sugars and saturated fats; reducing sodium intake; and shifting to healthier food and drinks.
Among other things, they suggest Americans should eat more dark green vegetables, beans, whole fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins such as eggs, seafood and poultry, and healthy fats from plant-based oils such as olives and soybeans and from nuts and avocados.
“The ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ is one of many important tools that help to support a healthier next generation of Americans,” Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack said in the statement.
But the health advocates dispute the findings of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that “cholesterol is no longer ‘a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This contradicts the positions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, previous dietary guidelines and “decades of unbiased scientific research,” according to the group.
“In a poorly considered ‘analysis’ consisting of only three sentences, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that defendants drop from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans defendants’ longstanding advice that Americans consume no more than 300 milligrams per day of dietary cholesterol, with stricter limits for individuals at heightened risk of cardiovascular disease,” the initial complaint said.
Studies used to support the new guidelines were funded by the egg industry rather than conducted by independent researchers, and several committee members once worked for institutions that received funding from the USDA’s egg promotion program, the group said.
“The committee’s recommendations are part of a 20-year attempt at a cholesterol image makeover based on research funded by USDA’s egg promotion program and designed specifically to increase egg consumption regardless of the health risks that may result from unlimited cholesterol ingestion,” according to the complaint. “The committee’s recommendations are disastrous as a matter of public health policy and stem from a serious violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act by defendants,” whom the doctors claim failed in their duty to ensure that recommendations were not influenced by special interests or the government itself, according to the complaint.
Created by the USDA, the American Egg Board conducts research on eggs and egg products and establishes programs and projects to promote increased consumer consumption of eggs.
Its research center, the Egg Nutrition Center, is funded by researchers at universities “and supports studies designed to portray eggs in a favorable light,” not necessarily to disseminate scientific material on eggs, according to the complaint.
The egg industry is increasingly involved in financing studies on dietary cholesterol. It funded 29 percent of such studies in 1992, 41 percent of the studies in 2001, and 92 percent in 2013, the complaint said.
As the primary financier of these studies, the American Egg Board deliberately minimizes health risks associated with eggs by, among other things, comparing them to other high-cholesterol foods such as meat; using small sample sizes; ignoring studies that indicate a rise in cholesterol if the results are not statistically significant; and omitting older studies from research reviews in favor of more recent, industry-funded studies, according to the complaint.
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