July 1, 1980
Toward Healthful Diets is trashed by Congress.
The press and public knew little of these widespread entanglements on all sides of the debate. They only picked up the impression that meat packers and egg farmers were corrupt, a view fostered by the press coverage. The health dangers of saturated fats had already come to be taken so much for granted by this point that pro-animal-food voices were presumed to have ulterior motives. Critics called Toward Healthful Diets “conspiratorial” and “slipshod,” and US Representative Fred Richmond of New York stated openly that lobbyists for the food industry “must have been at work here.”
The furor over the report startled academy scientists unaccustomed to this public gnashing of teeth. Philip Handler, head of the academy, told a friend that Toward Healthful Diets received more attention than had all the academy’s numerous other erudite publications in recent years. “We were naïve about the politics,” he said, and quipped, “you lose some, you lose some.”
In the summer of 1980, the House and the Senate each held hearings on the report, and the academy’s reputation was raked over the coals. “Without too much doubt, the [House] committee’s intention was to crucify Handler,” judged Science magazine. Indeed, wrote the Washington Post editorial board, the report had “soiled” the board’s and the academy’s reputations for giving “careful scientific advice.” The report had been a rigorous and fair-minded effort and contained far more expert analysis than did Mottern’s, but publicity is powerful, and the widespread disparaging view of the board’s work on the Toward Healthful Diets report has unfortunately endured until today. Because the academy is one of the few scientific groups that provides checks and balances against the work of other authoritative bodies on the subject of nutrition and disease (the others being the NIH, the USDA, and the AHA), the collapse of the academy’s skeptical report on this issue was a significant event, for it left no formal scientific group to weigh in as the opposition.