Two high-ranking appointees in the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration startled some of their audience at a recent food conference by their outspokeness.
Dr. Mark Hegsted, administrator of USDA's Human Nutrition Center in Beltsville, told food writers at their annual conference in Philadelphia that he is frustrated, embarrassed and discouraged by what is happening in his agency. Dr. Sanford Miller, FDA's director of the Bureau of Foods, surprised some people when he echoed the sentiments of food manufacturers, saying that fodos created in the laboratory will be just as nutritious as foods put together in nature.
Said Miller: "Disabuse yourself of the metaphysical quality of the way God put things together. Ultimately we will be able to put these things together."
Later Miller elaborated on his belief in the ability of scientists to fabricate foods so that they will be exactly like natural food: "The nutritional quality can be matched. I have enormous faith in the capacity of chemistry."
Asked to set a date for this, Miller said: "In 100 years."
The Bureau of Foods Director also said that even if saccharin had been banned when the 18 month moratorium had ended, "it would take 10 years before there would be a final regulation" because of the administrative process, court challenges and judicial review."
Miller also took a swipe at the food industry: "There has been an increase in the number of claims being made by companies because FDA's economic program (which checks monetary deception) has been cut back on funds."
Hegsted directed his frustrations at his own agency as well as HEW. He said he was "rather discouraged by the efforts of the joint HEW-USDA committee" to produce dietary guidelines. He blamed "the inertia of the system in trying to get the agencies to move. Everytime somebody does something, somebody else objects. It's just like pulling teeth."
He added that the American Medical Association is "unsympathetic to what their nutrition responsibilities are. Doctors do not get paid for using preventive medicine."
There had been some expectation that the guidelines would be ready this spring, but they haven't even reached the draft stage. Said Hegsted, who is a professor of nutrition at Havard and one of the authors of the Senate Nutrition Committee's Dietary Goals for the United States: "Two or three weeks ago, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition tried to asess the correct evidence on salt, fat, etc. What came out of that implicates excess. Moderation is the way to go."
But Hegsted said there are individuals in the agencies who "are not convinced we are ready, researchers who never have enough information to make a decision. I find it most peculiar."
Hegsted said he was also aware that some of the nutrition information put out by USDA is faulty: "We're not unaware of the problem about outdated and incorrect information. It's cort of embarrassing for the department to keep putting out data that is outdated." Hegsted said he now has the authority to control that. A departmental memo signed by two assistant secretaries, Carol Foreman and Rupert Cutler, states that all nutrition information must be cleared with the Human Nutrition Center for technical accuracy.
"The only question is," Hegsted said, "how the hell am I going to do it. It's a very sensitive issue. A lot of people are not keen on having a czar and I don't have a staff to do it."