Saturday, May 08, 2010

Big Food Goes North to Buy Out Dietitians of Canada Too

Some things in Canada just seem so much more sane than here in the states. Better (any) health care of course is the most touted reason to move north of the border.

If you're like me and many others fed up with the American Dietetic Association's ongoing affiliation with the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and McDonald's, (see previous post and comments) you might wonder if this insane hypocrisy is something unique to America. You might think that dietitians in a country humane enough to provide its citizens with decent health care would steer clear of Big Food influence over its nutrition professionals. I am sorry to report that this is not the case.

As recently described in painful detail by a Canadian dietitian blogger (Nutrition Nibbles) Sybil Hebert, the ADA equivalent trade group, Dietitians of Canada (DC) "partners with industry, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Monsanto, and Nestle." As a new member, Ms. Hebert was not happy to learn this troubling information, and inspired by Marion Nestle's call to ADA members on the same topic, decided to make her distaste known with a letter of her own.

Her impressive missive details numerous examples of industry partnerships such as raking in over $200,000 dollars from corporate sponsorships, including the pharmaceutical industry. She concludes with this reasonable request to the organization's leadership:
Board of Directors, as long as DC continues to align itself with food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, and rely on these corporations for funding, it will never be respected, and neither will I. As a member of the purported “nation-wide voice of dietitians,” I hope my voice, and my concerns, are heard, and that DC will carefully review its advertising and sponsorship policies to recognize the many conflicts of interest that exist, and their consequences, and take steps to minimize them in order to restore DC’s credibility.
Well said. I've heard from many dietitians in the U.S. who are no longer members of the ADA for this very reason, that the organization cannot be respected as long as it is compromised.

Unfortunately, the DC leadership has not taken too kindly to Ms. Hebert's request, and in particular to the fact that she has posted her letter on her blog. Despite (or maybe because of) the many comments in support, Ms. Hebert has received more than one email asking her to take down the post. 

What is the leadership of Dietitians of Canada so afraid of? It's certainly no secret that the organization partners with industry. It only took me a minute to find the program for DC's upcoming annual conference in Montreal, which lists among its sponsors: General Mills, Danone, Unilever, PepsiCo, and a plethora of drug companies. In just one day you can attend the Kellogg Breakfast, followed by the Kellogg Nutrition Symposium, and then take a Kellogg break. Maybe the Dietitians of Canada should consider changing its name to Dietitians of Kellogg. Then again, maybe that would make all those other corporate sponsors too upset.

This isn't the first time the trade group has been called out for its conflict of interest. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is a family doctor in Ottawa who has wondered (among other conflicts) what the heck the Dietitians of Canada was doing putting out a joint press release last year with the Dairy Farmers of Canada making nutrition recommendations that essentially served as a "milk advertisement" (his words).

Professional associations such as the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada must renounce their corporate affiliations and stop taking money from the very companies that are undermining their own members' ability to do help people eat right. Until they do so, these groups risk becoming little more than a tool of corporate interests, which is exactly what Big Food wants.

We need more dietitians like Sybil Hebert taking a public stand. Please post comments both here and on her blog in support and if you're a member of either the American Dietetic Association or Dietitians of Canada voice your concerns directly to the leadership. If you're no longer a member, tell them why you left. Together, our voices can make a difference.


Andrea Leigh said...

I have an ADA accredited degree in dietetics. Since graduating, I feel like I have un-learned 80% of what I was taught in the program. It makes me ill, and rightly so.

The ADA doesn't really make a stance on ANYTHING. When everything is "okay" in the food world, what on earth do you need RDs for?

If the ADA is so awesome, why is America so unhealthy?

The best class I took in my undergrad career was my last class, which introduced me to Marion Nestle. I asked my professor, head of the dept., why everything I was learning in the Senior Seminar class contradicted everything I had been taught for the last 4 years. She didn't have a clear answer, but I knew that she knew "the whole truth" vs. the "accredited truth" and thought she'd show us a tiny bit of the light.

superkev said...

Stamps of approval from organizations that are supposed to be looking out for our good health should be a shortcut to helping people make good decisions about their food and lifestyle. It's disturbing but not altogether surprising to learn that they are so easily bought.

Unknown said...

This doesn't surprise me. I'm a family doctor in the US, trying to get my national organization away from Coca Cola:

Unknown said...

I also have an ADA accredited degree and decided not to complete my RD internship or continue in the field as an RD. It is often the case that many public food programs in the US are virtually required to use processed food by the County RD... this is a long hard slog...

Andrea Leigh said...

jfiesta - curious... what do you do now?

Kelly said...

I also have an accredited degree in dietetics and am in the final stages of my dietetic internship before becoming an RD. I was also maddened about everything I had been taught in undergrad upon reading The Omnivore's Dilemma the summer after my graduation. But I've decided to stay in the field and pursue my MPH as well - the world really needs RD's right now, and if we stand together and improve groups like ADA, such as through the ADA's Hunger & Environmental Nutrition (HEN) Dietetic Practice Group Corporate Relations Sponsors Review Task Force, we can make the world a better place for all.

Anonymous said...

I have been a dietitian for 30+ years and one critical piece that I don't see Sybil Hebert mention in her blog is the Dietitians of Canada's Sponsorship Policy. DC members had ample opportunity to provide input into this policy and approved it at an annual meeting.

I was on the CFDR Board of Directors, referred to in Hebert's bolg, and I can assure you that the corporate representatives enriched out discussions, a refreshing change from some of the narrow minded members of our profession, and at no time was there misuse of their role on the Board.

I believe our profession can have a healthy partnership with industry - it takes strong leadership who can't be bought by industry and we do have that in Canada. It is easy to criticize when one doesn't have all of the facts.

Jenelle Kitto said...

As a Holistic Nutritionist and Yoga Instructor in Calgary AB, I'm very happy to hear that some of this information is being brought to light by people within these organizations. Many people have heard of these issues, but so many others don't believe it. It's important to remember that there are "good" and "bad" representatives in every industry. I thank, honor and respect anyone who is willing to ruffle some feathers to bring the truth forward. As a collective consciousness, we can work together and bridge these gaps in the nutrition and wellness industry, educating the masses, thus facilitating positive change.

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