In the first few days after my report on the conflicted corporate sponsorship of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Academy’s response was to make vague accusations about “factual inaccuracies” contained in my report. After I complained about AND’s failure to be specific, they posted this list entitled, “Addressing Inaccuracies of the ‘And Now a Word from Our Sponsors’ Report.” It sure looks impressive, with 14 items I supposedly got wrong. However, upon closer inspection, it’s just more of the same public relations spin from a desperate organization.
The only numbers they dispute are how I counted the sponsors. In my report I explained that I counted food companies that also donated to the AND Foundation. So really the disagreement is over semantics: sponsors v. donors. The Academy also takes issue with my saying: “Kellogg and the National Dairy Council have been AND sponsors for 9 of the last 12 years.” Their response: “Kellogg has been a Premier sponsor since 2007. NDC has been an Academy Partner since 2007. NDC supported the Academy prior to the sponsorship restructure.” I double-checked and Kellogg is listed as a donor to the AND Foundation in 2001 and 2002 and as an AND sponsor in 2003. So 3 years plus 2007-2012 equals 9 years. (Similar story for the National Dairy Council.) Again semantics, not inaccuracies.
The rest of the list consist of disagreements over my interpretation and analysis and not factual disputes. For example, AND disagrees with my assessment that they have “not supported controversial nutrition policies that might upset corporate sponsors.” To try and prove me wrong, they list numerous position papers on issues such as sweeteners and vegetarian diets. OK, but publishing a scientific position paper isn’t the same thing as lobbying on a proposed policy. As I said in the report, AND’s lobbying has mostly been limited to self-serving and non-controversial issues. I have heard over and over again how the Academy takes only “science-based” positions by way of explaining its silence of critical current policy debates. This is fine, but as I point out in the report, AND hasn’t just been silent on controversies such as limiting soda serving sizes. Rather, they spoke out against the policy prior to conducting any analysis. So it appears the Academy’s “science-based” approach depends on the issue at hand, raising questions of conflict of interest.
Most of the other “inaccuracies” listed are just more attempts at spin control. For example, the Academy attempts to defend a field trip to the Hershey chocolate factory in which participants earned four hours of continuing education units by explaining:
The four credit hours were based on the portion of the day that was dedicated to scientific presentations on new epidemiological research on cocoa and chocolate; clinical nutrition research studies on topics like cardiovascular health related to cocoa; and the manufacturing and processing of cocoa in various geographical regions.
For four hours? And are registered dietitians really recommending their clients eat Hershey’s chocolate to keep their heart healthy? Then I guess I stand corrected.
Finally, a word about funding. My work is funded by a various people and as I explain on my website, for various reasons some funders prefer not to be named. For AND to point to this is just another distraction. The issues I raise in the report have existed and been written about by many others for at least a decade, including medical doctors, academic scholars, public health experts, journalists, food bloggers, as well as AND’s own members. So this isn’t about my report, this is about AND’s unwillingness to address its integrity problem head-on.
I am still waiting for the Academy to stop engaging in these industry-style shoot the messenger tactics and instead start listening to its own members’ deep concerns about how AND’s corporate sponsorship program undermines both professional credibility and the nation’s public health.