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September 16, 2003

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USDA Hosting Biased Egg Industry Event

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is playing host to an unprecedented one-sided public relations event for the egg industry, which the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said is just another example of how cozy the agency is with agribusiness. CSPI urged the agency to dissociate itself from the conference, which is scheduled to take place in USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium on September 23.

The conference is paid for by the American Egg Board and is billed as the “First International Scientific Symposium on Eggs and Human Health.” Many of the speakers have received funding from the egg industry. According to CSPI, not one of the speakers at the event is highlighting concerns about dietary cholesterol. Peter Murano, deputy administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will be speaking as well.

“It’s completely unseemly for USDA to lend its facilities, officials, and good name to an industry public relations event—especially one masquerading as a scientific conference,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “This event has less to do with science than downplaying health concerns about a major source of dietary cholesterol. I fear that USDA has a little you-know-what on its face.”

In a letter today to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, 11 researchers and nutritionists wrote that the conference “appears to be designed to help build industry’s case for revising or eliminating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ advice about cholesterol.” Current guidelines tell consumers that foods high in cholesterol—like egg yolks—tend to raise blood cholesterol and thereby increase the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute also advise the public to limit high-cholesterol foods.

Other signatories of the letter to Secretary Veneman include William Connor from the Oregon Health Sciences University, Caldwell Esselstyn, from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Philip Greenland from Northwestern University, Stephen Havas from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman, and Marion Nestle from New York University.