The food pyramid has become a familiar icon to most Americans, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin. It's the government's recommendation of what's healthiest to eat. Every five years those dietary guidelines are revised, but this year, for the first time ever, the US. Department of Agriculture is being sued over the process.
"It's still a prescription that for many people is going to spell heart attack, hypertension, diabetes and a continuing epidemic of overweight," claims Dr. Neal Barnard.
Barnard's group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has filed court papers to block the new guidelines, which remain basically unchanged. The pyramid calls for a diet based on grains, pastas, fruits and vegetables -- with smaller portions of meats, dairy products and fats.
They say given the nation's epidemics of obesity and heart disease, meat and dairy products are unhealthy choices the government should steer clear of.
Unfinished drafts of the new guidelines suggest they will be mostly familiar. There is an emphasis on eating grains, vegetables, and fruits -- followed by smaller portions of dairy products, meats and fats. It's a diet The American Dietetic Association stands by.
"For most healthy Americans the food guide pyramid, because it's based on sound science and a total body of scientific information to date, still represents the best general recommendations and general guidelines for the public," says Keith Ayoob of the American Dietetic Association.
"If a person wants to have meat, that's up to them, but the government shouldn't be pushing it," Barnard says.
The group alleges that six of the 11-members on the panel drafting the new guidelines have ties to the meat, egg and dairy industries -- creating conflict of interest problems and violating laws governing federal advisory committees.
For example, the committee's chairman, Cutberto Garza -- who declined a request for an interview -- is on a scientific advisory panel for Dannon Yogurt. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, whose department oversees the process, is prominently featured in a milk advertising campaign.
The USDA issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying all advisory panel members are chosen based on their scientific experience. The federal agency says it's now prepared to defend its dietary guidelines in court, as well as to the American public.
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