Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee needs to be “free of food industry commercial interest," advocates argue
While this isn’t the first time DGAC’s conflict of interest disclosure sparked analysis, including a lawsuit in 2016, the committee and USDA Health and Human Services (USDA-HHS) remain adamant they are following a disclosure protocol established by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
The disclosure reveals the committee’s combined conflicts, such as grants from the American Diabetes Association and the Egg Nutrition Center, royalties or licenses from McGraw Hill Publishers and Goodheart-Wilcox Publishers, payments from National Institutes of Health and Harvard University, among many others.
A recent press release from the Nutrition Coalition expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the committee’s combined conflicts without detailing attributions to particular committee members:
“The disclosures are highly unusual in that they do not list conflicts by individual committee member. Instead, the conflicts are combined together, without attribution to any particular person.”
DGAC’s recommendations will be a “reflection of one entity…not an individual”
HHS vetted committee members' backgrounds to “determine if any of the candidates had financial, ethical, legal or criminal conflict of interest," DGAC chair Sarah Booth said during last week's committee meeting.
Booth explained, “Now what is very unique about this committee, because we really value transparency, that in addition to the compliance with federal ethics laws and regulations that govern conflicts of interest, we were going to voluntarily disclose any relationships, activities or interests that may be potentially related to this scientific review.”
These collective disclosures, Booth stated, were “collated in accordance with the highest standard of journals [International Committee of Medical Journal Editors].”
She added, “There is not a single decision that is related to an individual. This is a team. This is a committee, we work together, we debate, we discuss, we engage…and that final scientific report is a reflection of one entity—this committee—not an individual.”
Advocates maintain that disclosures need to be individualized
In an email interview, Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, Emerita, New York University, explained roughly 15% of nutrition research is industry funded, and it is possible to find unbiased advisors to serve on the committee.
“The agencies claim they can’t find nutrition professionals to serve on the DGAC who do not have financial ties to food companies. I’m not convinced. If the advice is to be credible, it needs to be free of food industry commercial interest. Otherwise, the advice is compromised," she told FoodNavigator-USA.
While disclosures are a necessary first step, for the committee to develop science-based recommendations, disclosures need to be individualized, Nestle continued.
“In my view, all researchers have personal biases and dietary preferences and there is no need to disclose those. At issue is financial ties to food companies with vested interests in what the guidelines say. Jumbling all that together makes no sense and obfuscates the real issues here.”