Coming out of the highly successful 2010 ABA Convention, the ABA leadership and professional staff have a renewed sense of purpose, priority and even optimism for the future. Of course, bakers by nature are glass-half-full people, so that should not be surprising.
But there is a sense of foreboding related to the ongoing policy fights in Washington. It could be explained away by the fact that Congress was in the final throes of passing ideologically pure but policy-deficient health care reform — over the objections of many Americans of all political stripes. Still, I can't help but think there is more to it than the heat of that moment. Throughout the convention, I talked with attendees who were following developments in Washington with the same intensity as their NCAA brackets. The common thread was the lack of open and honest discussion of the important issues facing our country. There is a growing sense of concern about the very integrity of the policy process itself.
A prime example of this concern, for bakers anyway, is the ongoing review of the national dietary guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture. This congressionally mandated review is designed for the latest scientific and medical data to be reviewed and incorporated into the guidelines every five years. The dietary guidelines then become the scientific foundation for the Food Guide Pyramid, and key food and nutrition programs such as food stamps, school lunches and the Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) feeding program.
Historically, the dietary guidelines review has been a very open process, allowing for an exchange of information and differing points of view on key nutrition issues. This review, however, has been far different. To date, the scientific topics under consideration have not been revealed, making it difficult to know how to respond when filing comments or submitting data for review. Additionally, the vast majority of sessions have been one-way dialogues rather than a thorough and interactive discussion of the relevant issues. Finally, it appears that later this spring, a final report will be issued with little opportunity to review and offer suggestions before being adopted.
One could reasonably argue that there shouldn't be cause for concern because it means that few changes to the dietary guidelines will be forthcoming. However, that nagging sense of foreboding keeps creeping to the surface. With all the discussion surrounding sodium, added sugar and childhood obesity, the new guidelines could make significant new recommendations without the benefit of an open and honest debate. For bakers, who take very seriously their pre-eminent position at the base of the Food Guide Pyramid, there is added reason to pay attention to that nagging feeling.