ON THE OPPOSITE page today, Sens. George McGovern (D-S.D.) and Robert Dole (R-Kan.) take fervent exception to our view that their Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs should be folded into an enlarged standing Senate committee on agriculture, nutrition and forestry. As they sum up the issue, "either The Post and proponents of reorganization still see hunger and malnutrition (which can alos include too much food, or the wrong food) as problems worthy of national attention and congressional focus, or they don't."
Now that is a grand, not to say cosmic, way of viewing the issue. We, however, see it differently - as two quite separate issues. To the fundamental question of whether nutrition is necessary, the obvious answer is Yes. The second question is whether the McGovern-Dole committee is necessary, and here our answer is No. The panel was set up in 1968 in a flurry of national concern about the skimpy food programs then on the books. The committee was supposed to studey the problem, make reports and then go out of business in 1969. That was too short a lifespan, so it got extended again and again - and the McGovern panel became the chief promoter of food stamps, school lunches, school breakfasts and the like. It is worth noting, though, that the Nutrition Committee itself did not write any of these laws. The food stamp program, the main federal program in the field, has become a $5-billion operation under the formal management of the Agriculture Committee - the same Agriculture Committee that Sens. McGovern and Dole now dismiss as too insensitive to take on the chores they have been handling.
The point is not that the Nutrition Committee's work has been worthless, but that its proper work is largely done. Its champions seem to sense this, because they have been reaching farther and farther for new issues. They now assert, for instance, that malnutrition "can also include too much food, or the wrong food," which, though true, makes you wonder how they see their mandate. Will they - as they already give signs of doing - start prescribing national menus and telling people how many leafy greens to eat for lunch? Do they really believe that the function of explaining nutritional values to people must be and can only be fulfilled by the federal government? Such overreaching could - to use the senators' language - "jeopardize the gains of the last eight years" faster than anything else. The senators and their eager staff have yet to recognize that "political reality." So goes Washington's traditional, bureaucratic struggle to survive.
Of course, there is still a food problem - an enormous one. Some people in this country and many around the world are hungry, and some federal programs have gotten so rich as to be indigestible. Those, to us, are the real issues "worth of national attention and congressional focus" - and that is why we support this part of the reorganization plan.