A California federal court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allowed the American Egg Board to unduly influence the government’s nutrition advice on dietary cholesterol. Physicians Comm. for Responsible Med. v. Vilsack, No. 16-0069 (N.D. Cal., San Francisco Div., order entered October 12, 2016).
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed the lawsuit following a change to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that removed the recommended limit of 300 milligrams per day of dietary cholesterol; instead, the guidelines recommended consuming “as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.” PCRM alleged that the advisory body’s analysis and recommendations were compromised by the presence of scientists who had received funding from the American Egg Board or Egg Nutrition Center.
The court assessed whether it had subject matter jurisdiction to consider PCRM’s claim by examining the underlying statutes creating the process to formulate the Dietary Guidelines. The court could not find any “meaningful standard” from relevant law determining what may be inappropriate influence on the guidelines.
“This does not present the court with a merely ‘difficult’ question,” the court held. “The operative problem instead is that the relevant law provides no meaningful standard by which the court can approach the question—difficult or otherwise. The issue is thus ‘absolutely “committed” to the agency‘s judgment.’  If the court were to decide that question nonetheless, it would not be dutifully discharging its judicial responsibility,  it would be wrongfully substituting its own judgment for that of a coordinate branch of government. Which is why the issue is at bottom jurisdictional.”