Editorial roundup – January 18

Despite its critics, the new food plan is sensible

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

As people continue to put on more weight and die of preventable diseases, the debate over the role nutrition plays in the drama between science and commerce continues. The federal government has released its 2015 dietary guidelines, a generally sensible plan for maintaining good health despite some revisions that drew the scorn of critics.

In February, the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee issued a report which recommended that people favor fruits and vegetables over meals containing animal products. It said that a diet of more plant foods would also be more sustainable, reducing the impact on the environment of meat production.

By the time the final guidelines were issued, the committee’s sustainability provision had not survived bureaucratic tinkering, nor did its recommendation to cut back on eating red and processed meats. The reason was that the meat and dairy industries lobbied officials at the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services who were tasked with writing the final guidelines.

One of the most outspoken critics of the ultimate recommendations was David L. Katz, a Yale University nutritionist. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s David Templeton that the guidelines were “a national embarrassment” and “a willful sacrifice of public health on the altar of profit for well-organized special interests.”

We won’t go that far. The guidelines are still sensible and encourage Americans to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits; grains, at least half of which are whole grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese; and a mix of protein-rich foods such as seafood, lean meats, eggs and nuts. They also recommend limits on consumption of sugar, sodium and saturated fats.

Americans who want to get healthy or stay that way would do well to follow the guidelines. Those who want to go further — and adopt a diet that is meatless or more considerate of the planet — are free to go there.

Automakers reap gains in the face of challenges

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

The North American International Auto Show is underway in Detroit, and the industry has ample reason to feel festive. New-vehicle sales in the U.S. set a record in 2015 — 17.5 million — and many analysts predict an even better year in 2016.

The show features high-dollar luxury vehicles as well as new and redesigned crossovers. Preparations for the self-driving cars of the near future also are getting plenty of attention. But amid the good cheer, there is concern about other trends.

As gasoline prices have declined, consumers again are embracing sport-utility vehicles and light trucks over small and mid-sized cars. Overall fuel efficiency, which had improved since the Great Recession began, is falling again.

At the same time, automakers are moving production of unprofitable small cars from the United States to Mexico. This is troubling for the economy and the environment, as growing fuel consumption threatens to aggravate climate change.

Relying on lighter-weight materials and advanced technologies can help automakers promote fuel efficiency. Auto executives insist that they are building the products their customers want and that the dictates of the market should be allowed to prevail. They assert, correctly, that the industry’s recovery is a testament to its resilience and focus on the future.

But they didn’t do it by themselves. The taxpayers bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, enabling the companies to emerge quickly from managed bankruptcies and preventing the domestic supply chain from collapsing.

While gas prices remain low, this would be the time for Congress and President Barack Obama to raise the federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, unchanged for 23 years. Such an increase not only would discourage wasteful fuel consumption, it also would provide badly needed revenue for highway repair.

Car lovers can enjoy the new models and innovation at the nation’s premier auto show, but afterwards the industry will still have plenty of issues to address.