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Nutrition Past and Future

The Drivers of the Herd, Part 2

Catalyst Corrected 2, The History of Diet-Heart, Part 2 (George McGovern and Robert Olson)


Slide 3                   We resume now with Catalyst claim number 4. It is true that dietary guidelines were adopted despite some objections. But were those objections credible?


Slide 4         

“Heart of the Matter” played footage of hearings in the U.S. Senate about nutrition recommendations in the 1970s, which were chaired by Senator George McGovern. Catalyst showed us a researcher valiantly pleading for the new guidelines to be shelved, but to no avail.


Slide 5                   Demasi: “Eminent scientists at the time disagreed with the report.”

Olson: “That’s why I have pleaded in my report and will plead again orally here for more research on the problem before we make announcements to the American public.”

Demasi: “But their pleas fell on deaf ears.”

What a stirring image! This lone voice spoke truth to power but his pleas were ignored. Dr. Demasi didn’t mention who that man was.


Slide 6                   Olson, Robert E. "On the making of a clinical nutritionist." Annual review of nutrition 16.1 (1996): 1-32.

His name was Robert Olson and he was a very prominent biochemist in his day. He is remembered warmly by St. Louis University for his many contributions to the school at which he served as a department chair. He was indeed an eminent scientist.


Slide 7                   Kleban Mills, Barbara. "The Nutritionist Who Prepared the Pro-Cholesterol Report Defends It Against Critics ." 16 June 1980. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.

Was he against the idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease? No, he was not. Quoting Dr. Olson, “What has been shown is that a high level of serum cholesterol in the blood can lead to coronary heart disease.” Once again, Dr. Demasi has made key omissions in her telling of the diet-heart story.


Slide 8         

Olson presided over a significant expansion of his department at the university. This was an important professional accomplishment. Such an expansion requires funding.


Slide 9                   Van, Jon. "Cholesterol report makes sparks fly." Chicago Tribune[Chicago] 10 June 1980: 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

It’s far easier to get funding for your research if you believe (that) there is no such thing as junk food. He said just that. This belief allowed him to be a dependable scientific spokesman and advocate for major sectors of the food industry.


Slide 10                 (AP). "Disease Link Not Proven Conclusively." The Southeast Missourian[Cape Girardeau, MO] 16 June 1978: 8. Google Archive.

He did object to the McGovern report, as you just saw. And he was happy to complain about it to the Livestock Marketing Congress. It was reported that he told the Senate that the expectations people had for health improvements from diet were “elevated to the point where they [were] becoming fantasy.” If you believe there is no such thing as junk food, this point of view makes sense. I think an expectation that dietary improvements were needed to win the battle against obesity and heart disease was not fantasy at all. I think it’s fantasy to think real solutions could be found anywhere else.


Slide 11                 Washington Post Service. "Conflicts of Interest Found in Diet Report."The Southeast Missourian [Milwaukee, WI] 31 May 1980: 1. Google Archive.

In 1980 Olson was appointed to a panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences to update dietary recommendations yet again. It was noted at the time that his close partnerships with industry, which he found to be rather profitable, might make his scientific opinion seem just a bit less objective. He had clear conflicts of interest.


Slide 12                 Peterson, Cass. ""Dietary Guidelines" Under Study." The Washington Post [Washington, DC] 17 Feb. 1983: K52. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Olson was a paid consultant to the American Egg Board and the National Dairy Council. Do you think it’s merely coincidental that he didn’t think excessive animal fat or cholesterol consumption put lives in danger?


Slide 13                 Greenburg, Daniel S. ""Fat-won't-hurt-you" report has some greasy scientific origins." Eugene Register-Guard [Eugene, OR] 19 June 1980: 17A. Google Archive.

Curiously, it was reported that no one was placed on that National Academy of Sciences panel who believed in the diet-heart idea, even though it was accepted by most specialists at the time.


Slide 14                 Norum, Kaare R. "Some present concepts concerning diet and prevention of coronary heart disease." Nutrition Reviews 36.6 (1978): 194-198.

This informal poll in 1976 indicated that a large majority of experts in related fields thought recommendations to the public on the basis of diet-heart were justified.


Slide 15                 Greenburg, Daniel S. ""Fat-won't-hurt-you" report has some greasy scientific origins." Eugene Register-Guard [Eugene, OR] 19 June 1980: 17A. Google Archive.

This cartoonist took a particularly dim view of the influence of industry on this report. On the left you see an unpleasant-looking fellow in black meant to represent the chemical industry. He is asking researchers to “do a nice study on toxic wastes for me, like the one you did on cholesterol.” This cartoon seems a bit harsh.


Slide 16                 "Chemical Proposal Opposed." Spartanburg Herald [Spartanburg, SC] 22 June 1978: C9. Google Archive.

But you might be interested to know that Olson also testified on behalf of the chemical industry against new regulations regarding worker exposures to potential carcinogens. Dr. Demasi might have provided this context to her viewers, but of course, she didn’t.

As I said, the chair of that Senate committee to which Olson spoke was George McGovern of South Dakota. Michael Eades had some insights to share with viewers about him.


Slide 17                 Eades: “McGovern himself was from a big wheat-growing state, so it didn't hurt him politically that people moved away from foods of animal origin into breads and pastas.”

I sincerely appreciate Dr. Eades, the prominent low-carb expert that he is, making it this easy for me to show you how low a priority he puts on making sure his words are supported by facts.


Slide 18       

South Dakota was and is a major producer of animal foods. This paper by local academics in 1971 explained how their agricultural economy was an efficient self-sustaining system supporting the raising of livestock. Grains produced there were directed into their extensive feedlot system.


Slide 19       

This is still the case today, and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture will tell you so. Their local grain production provides economic advantages to their ranchers and cattlemen.


Slide 20                 McGovern, G. "Dietary goals for the United States." Report of the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs of the United States Senate (1977).

The first edition of the McGovern guidelines, called Eating in America, was quickly replaced by a second edition called Dietary Goals for the United States. The preface to this edition tells us that the previous edition provoked objections from the egg and meat industries.


Slide 21                 This was in part because it suggested that people “eat less meat.” The meat industry succeeded in having this advice removed. Senator Robert Dole of Kansas wrote a foreward to the new addition to tell us that he was pleased by this change. He had his own ideas about what constitutes a nutritious protein food. Kansas is a major producer of beef and other animal foods as well.


Slide 22                 "New Dietary Goals – Rechewing the Fat." The New York Times. 24 Jan. 1978: 22. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Senators from states that depended upon beef and pork production, including Senator McGovern, complied with the exhortations of industry, as well as the American Medical Association. They hastened to replace their original publication.


Slide 23                 Burros, Marian. "New Dietary Goals – Rechewing the Fat." The Washington Post. 9 Feb. 1978: E16. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

McGovern was easily persuaded to go along with this. He didn’t see a problem with lean beef. Did he cave to the special interests? One of his staff members thought so. He resigned in protest.


Slide 24       ,_1980

One other thing. When Eades says that the publication of the original dietary goals “didn’t hurt him politically” because his state produced a lot of wheat, he wants you to hear him say that the dietary goals somehow helped him politically. But Eades doesn’t say that directly because McGovern lost his next election and never won another. Are you getting an idea yet of how trustworthy these cholesterol deniers are?


Slide 25                 That takes care of Catalyst argument number 4. I’ll discuss number 5 next. Catalyst gave you an entirely false impression on this point as well.