A physicians' group says it plans to file a federal lawsuit seeking changes in the federal government's food pyramid because they say it is racially biased.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in a news conference today in Washington, will argue that federal dietary guidelines are "ignoring the needs of minority Americans" because most minorities have difficulty digesting dairy products yet are advised to eat them as part of a healthy diet.
"We're not suggesting that the government should not supply cow's milk or meat. We're just asking that they recognize the different options ethnic groups choose in their diet," said Mindy Kursban, staff counsel for the PCRM, which promotes vegetarianism.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services will be named as defendants in the suit.
HHS officials declined to comment because they had not yet seen the lawsuit. USDA officials could not be reached.
About 90 percent of Asians, 70 percent of Africans, 50 percent of Latinos and 15 percent of whites have difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar in dairy products. Symptoms can include gas, bloating and severe stomach pain.
The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommend that people eat dairy, meat, fruits, vegetables and grains. The guide is the basis of free school lunch programs for more than 27 million students and is a factor is scores of other government diet programs.
The Physicians Committee (PCRM) said eight other plaintiffs -- including William Owen, a former Massachusetts state senator -- are filing the suit. One plaintiff is Aimee Artigliere, a Takoma Park woman whose daughter is lactose-intolerant but who has been unable to get a government-funded school lunch that does not include milk. "She was told to use the soda machine," Kursban said.
A federal committee has been meeting since September 1998 to consider changes to the food pyramid, which is reviewed every five years. The panel is expected to release its preliminary findings by next month, with final recommendations planned by next summer.
PCRM believes its recommendations have been ignored, and Kursban said it is seeking to halt the committee's recommendation.
Further, PCRM officials said, most of the 11 members of the federal review committee have ties with the meat, egg and dairy industries.