The federal government's official dietary guidelines represent too little too late {news story, Nov. 6}.

According to the U.S. Public Health Service, 1.5 million Americans are crippled and killed prematurely each year by heart failure, stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases. Since 1977, no fewer than a dozen panels of experts on diet and health, appointed by the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Research Council and other authorities, found a definite association between consumption of animal fat and meat and the high incidence of these "killer" diseases among Americans.

If a foreign power, a natural disaster or an infectious disease had wrought such havoc on our nation's health, the public would be up in arms, marching in the streets, demanding immediate remedial measures and swift punishment for those responsible. Yet, our government continues to counsel "moderation" and to actually encourage consumption of animal fat and meat by promoting the "basic four food groups." This suggests that one-half of our dietary calories should come from meat and dairy products. In the struggle for public consciousness between the meat and dairy industries and the public interest advocates, our government clearly has made a politically prudent, but morally reprehensible choice.

We are most fortunate to be afforded both the knowledge and the means to improve dramatically our well-being and life expectancy through judicious choices of diet and life style. The outrageous state of the nation's health bears witness to the immense power of the food industry in general and the meat and dairy industries in particular to manipulate these choices and to the abject failure of our government to protect the public interest. How many more studies, how many more expert panels and how many more deaths will it take?

ALEX HERSHAFT Washington