Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bad Food Data and Science Still Make for Bad Food Policy: USDA's diet guidelines are a mess because the information it uses is suspect

By Baylen Linnekin in Rreason. Baylen J. Linnekin is a food lawyer and an adjunct professor at George Mason University Law School, where he teaches Food Law & Policy. Visit his website here. Excerpts:
"Using data from 1971-2010, the researchers found that if the USDA data were correct, then a reference person (a hypothetical American established using algorithmic analysis of the data) would have lost nearly eighty pounds between 1971-1980 and also gained more than 215 lbs. between 1988-2010.

While such weight fluctuations aren't impossible, they're a rare occurrence at most."

"the time—that the federal dietary guidelines "and the research used to support that work... is so off base as to be scientifically useless.""

""These results demonstrate that the USDA's caloric data are meaningless and should not be used to inform public policy," Archer told me this week by email."

the push to adopt laws that seem to contravene what data tells us about those laws—namely, that they are uniformly bad ideas—continues headlong.

One recent example— menu calorie labeling—illustrates this point. A new study by NYU researchers reports that menu calorie labeling is a totally ineffective tool for helping consumers make lower-calorie food choices. That's just piling on. The fact that menu labeling doesn't achieve its goals is nothing new.

The data don't support it, yet mandatory calorie labeling is coming to chain restaurants, vending machines, and movie theaters (and, likely, grocery stores and pizza parlors) in every state in the land in mere months.

Data supporting soda taxes as a tool to combat obesity is virtually nonexistent. Yet cities proceed to adopt them.

The FDA's own data on the likely impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), as I detail in my new book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, shows these bad rules clearly aren't worth their enormous cost.
[T]he FDA's own estimates predict these rules could—if implemented to absolute perfection—reduce foodborne illnesses by a maximum of 1.23 million cases. That would represent just a 2.6 percent reduction in total foodborne illness cases. Again, this is the FDA's own best-case scenario for the impact of these two key rules.
Relying on bad data to justify food and dietary laws is as absurd, indefensible, and unscientific as it sounds. If we can't trust the government to base those food laws and policies that call for science on actual, you know, science, then maybe that's evidence the government should have far less power to craft those laws and policies in the first place."

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