People (read: fat Americans) are always on the lookout for new sets of food rules to follow. No carbs, only grapefruit and boiled eggs, raw food, no eating after 7 p.m. Pick your diet.

The federal government has been cheerfully stepping up to offer its own set of (ever-changing) rules for decades, of course, with the newest iteration out this week

A article on the reaction to the new guidelines in Politico offers a handy potted history outlining the politicization of the process for creating guidelines that will later be treated as if they are written in stone:

The politics of the guidelines go back to the first Dietary Goals for the United States, a document conceived by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), and the precursor to the guidelines. When the goals were released in January 1977, they contained the advice to “eat less meat.”

As one contemporary observer noted, the cattle industry went “ballistic” because “Congress was telling people that animal products were bad for health!” 

By December of that year, there was a second edition of the goals, and “Eat less meat” had become “Eat lean meat,” the same wording in use today.

In fact, two little letters in the dietary guidelines cost Big Beef a pretty penny every time the standards are revised:

A former Agriculture Department official and close observer of the food industry, who requested anonymity, said the industry works differently today, in part because people are more aware of the high level of obesity in the United States. For example, the person said, the beef industry today goes to an influential congressman on the Agriculture Committee to whom it has given campaign contributions and asks that person to make sure “lean” doesn’t get changed back to “less.”

More Reason on federal food recommendations here.