Registered dietitians register dissent over ‘Big Food’ presence at their event

Posted by
April 9, 2013

PepsiCo booth at the 2012 AND convention. Photo courtesy Nancy F. Huehnergarth

Back in February, I told you about the ‘traveling show’ being staged by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to spread its mantra that “the body can’t tell the difference” between high fructose corn syrup and natural sugar. Presentations scheduled this year include not only three trade shows, but the School Nutrition Conference planned for Kansas City in July.

Now, you might not think that “school nutrition” and HFCS sound like a particularly good fit. But try telling that to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Formerly known as the American Dietetic Association, it’s described as the “world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals” with over 74,000 members, mostly registered dietitians (RDs). And last year, not only did its annual Food and Nutrition conference feature a CRA booth, but several “continuing education credit” sessions for registered dietitians conducted by the CRA.

The corn refiners, of course, aren’t the only Big Food participants in “health and nutrition” seminars of this sort — in fact some of the biggest sponsors of such gatherings are also among the industry’s best-known names. And if you’re thinking that doesn’t sound quite right, you’re not alone. Those who believe that food companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Hershey’s, along with lobbying organizations like the Corn Refiners Association, should not be sponsors of such events are many of the very same RDs that processed-food companies and trade groups would like to convince of the safety and beneficial nature of their products.  And some of these dissenting dietitians have just come out with a new Facebook page, “Dietitians for Professional Integrity” that’s intended to protest the presence of such corrupt influences at professional get-togethers.

Having garnered more than 2,500 “likes” as of this writing, the page features a strongly worded statement  that “these sponsorships pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization, and harm our credential(s) and reputation.” It further notes that while the AND claims its mission is to “…improve the nation’s health and advance the profession of dietectics…” there are many RDs who believe that allowing the food industry such “insider” contact with AND members by sponsoring annual meetings, giving educational seminars, having conference exhibits and handing out marketing materials has corrupted the very essence of the organization.

A recent posting on the page by a self-described “newly minted RD” comments “Let’s not have our conference and expo floor look like a junk food trade show where we ‘learn’ about the ‘nutritious’ offerings of McDonald’s,” further pointing out the need for those in the profession to not appear “as nothing more than easily manipulated professionals who can sell their largely unhealthy products to an unsuspecting public.”

Along with sponsoring such conferences and “nutritional” expos, the food industry and associated lobbying groups have a few more tricks up their sleeve, one being industry-sponsored studies on the topic or ingredient in question.

Recently for instance, I told you about Big Corn’s ‘spokesdoc’ Dr. James Rippe and his newly published article,  “Scientists conclude no significant metabolic difference between consuming high fructose corn syrup and sugar.” Now while it’s become pretty apparent, and widely acknowledged that there are some really big differences between the two, according to Dr. Rippe’s CRA-sponsored paper, there’s really no cause for concern.

Nor is the the CRA alone in funding papers and studies that somehow always seems to come out on the side of the group spending the bucks to sponsor them. But how does that work, exactly?

Bruce Bradley, former Big Food insider, now a blogger and author who is highly critical of the very industry he once worked for offered this explanation in a recent news interview:

“When these big food corporations are participating in these studies, they are very carefully designed…they are set up for success.”

But what about industry-sponsored research that involves big-name universities? “They are working with those universities to pretty much set up the results,” Bradley explained. “They have a good understanding of the different variables…and they’ve constructed the study in such a way that most likely it will bare results that are positive.”

“The cards,” he added,  “are stacked in a certain way so that it most likely will shed a favorable light on their products.”

Gee, who would ever have guessed?

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Remember, this Thursday, April 11th is “Read Your Labels” day. Please join in this movement to promote awareness that the list of ingredients on a processed food label is the part you really need to read in order to know what it is you’re actually eating.

To learn more about the additives on those lists, check out the blogs on our top ten to avoid, and when you find any of those ingredients, take a photo of the label with your phone and share it with the world on Instagram using the hashtag #ReadYourLabels.

If you’re among those who are “fed up, and not going to eat it anymore,” be sure and share what you find out with others on 4-11.