Dropped Census Report Creates Gap in Important USDA Nutrition Data

No Reporting on Fat and Oil Production Since July 2011


Have Americans really cut their consumption of fats and oils by more than 90 percent? Yes, according to important data published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and relied upon by nutritionists and health authorities throughout the country. But that's only because USDA relies on reports from the Commerce Department's Census Bureau about how much fat and oil companies produce. And the Census Bureau stopped collecting that data in July 2011—making an important USDA estimate on Americans' fat and calorie consumption virtually useless.

The USDA data at issue are part of the Economic Research Service's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System. ERS personnel adjust production data for spoilage and waste to estimate per capita consumption of various categories of foods. For decades, the fats and oils data had been obtained from the Census Bureau's Current Industrial Report M311K. A note on the bureau's website now indicates that the report was terminated to "secure funding for new programs and manage cyclical increases for other data collection programs."

"By killing this report, the Census Bureau is undermining one of the two important bedrocks the government has for monitoring what Americans are eating," said Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "It puts a gaping hole in our understanding of how the food supply is changing over time and comes as a serious blow to nutritionists, health experts, and policy makers. I hope that the Commerce Department resumes or that USDA starts collecting this important data."

In an email to CSPI, an official from USDA's ERS indicated that the agency was concerned about the loss of the information and may try obtaining it from other sources. Even in that event, the official wrote, the historical gap in the fats and oils data will likely be permanent.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).