Wire service confirms collusion we disclosed between industry and dietitians

Posted by
March 19, 2015

peopleBy BILL BONVIE

When you’re looking for expert advice on what and what not to eat and drink, who ya gonna ask?

Why a registered dietitian, of course! After all, who can you trust for an authoritative and impartial answer about whether or not something is good for you if not a trained, credentialed and certified professional in that very field?

Or so goes the conventional wisdom, in any case. The reality, however, is often not quite so simple and legit, as this blog has revealed on a number of occasions.

But you don’t just have to take our word for it. The inside story of what really goes on in the murky world of food industry “consulting” has now been disclosed by the Associated Press, complete with ‘confessions’ of sorts from individuals on both sides of such transactions.

“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” admitted Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Sheidler, who added, “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.”

And one such dietitian, Robyn Flipse, who wrote a “sponsored article” suggesting that a mini-can of Coke might make a great snack, which appeared on the sites of major news outlets, said she came up with the idea at the behest of a public relations agency for the company that asked her to do a piece on heart health.

Flipse also acknowledged having worked with the American Beverage Association for years, with one of her jobs being to disseminate social media rebuttals to the idea that so-called “sugary drinks” (which actually contain high fructose corn syrup rather than sugar) cause obesity and offering her “expert” opinions to news outlets. She further noted that she would ask the PR agency if she should say something to refute negative information in a story about artificial sweeteners as well.

Well, that certainly explains a lot.

It explains, for example, the column I found posted online by the Gannett newspaper Florida Today that I talked about in a Food Identity Theft blog last May – one written by Susie Bond, identified as a registered/licensed dietitian and nutritionist for Health First’s ProHealth & Fitness Centers, and  appearing under the headline “More from Susie: sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.”

Surprise, surprise!

Here’s what I wrote back then:

“When we first read Bond’s attempts to debunk the ‘myths’ regarding HFCS, we couldn’t help thinking that we’d seen this all somewhere before. And as it turned out, we had – at none other than the ‘Sweet Surprise’ website maintained by the Corn Refiners Association, the trade group that has spent huge amounts of money trying to convince the public that this cheap synthetic sweetener is nothing more than a “natural” form of ‘sugar made from corn’.

“That wasn’t the only thing we discovered on revisiting the ‘Sweet Surprise’ site, however.  Because there, in a section labeled ‘in the News’ was – yes, you guessed it – a link to the very same article.

“But since the column consisted of only a slightly rewritten restatement of the claims already made at the site, it looks like the only purpose served by that link is to lend more seeming legitimacy to the CRA’s long-held position that HFCS is really no different from natural sugar.   The similarity was so pronounced, in fact, that Bond’s last two ‘myths’ are virtually identical to those listed on the website about HFCS supposedly being ‘banned in Europe’ and ‘subsidized by the U.S. government’.  Coincidence?”

Apparently not.

But what might have looked to the uninformed like blatant plagiarism was actually just business as usual for the partnership that has formed between the food industry and a group of so-called “professionals” who are supposed to be giving us the benefit of sound, scientific advice on health and nutrition.

As I observed in that blog, “far too many registered dietitians and nutritionists are unduly influenced by industry groups and large food corporations that maintain a huge presence at their conferences with booths and seminars. (A recent one in California even had lunch catered by McDonald’s!) The situation has become so embarrassing to some of the more conscientious members of this group that they’ve rebelled and formed their own group, Dietitians for Professional Integrity, as we reported here more than a year ago.”

So what the AP has now reported should really come as no big surprise, but more like a confirmation of the collusion that’s become so commonplace in the American marketplace that they don’t even have to try to hide it anymore.