How Big Food Has Co-opted America's Top Nutrition Group
When thousands of the nation’s nutritionists gathered in Philadelphia for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2012 annual conference, they plunked down $300 apiece to hear the latest thinking on food and health. Many were surprised to find that this thinking included a hefty portion of nutritional advice from food corporations that were major sponsors of the event. The conference featured panel sessions led by industry groups such as the National Dairy Council, and some twenty-three speakers with documented industry ties, while the conference center sported tent-sized informational booths featuring an array of America’s top food and beverage corporations, which had ponied up thousands of dollars for the chance to share their opinions on nutrition. As longtime dietitian Debra Riedesel explains, the Academy’s conferences feature “involvement in educational sessions by the very corporations responsible for creating the worst foods and beverages available on the planet. ... These multinational corporations were actually teaching the sessions to those of us responsible for educating the public.”
The Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics describes itself as “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals,” devoted to educating the public and safeguarding the dietetics profession. But a list of its top funders and sponsors reads like a who’s who of the American food and beverage industries—the same corporations that many experts blame for causing chronic, often life-shortening diseases among millions of Americans each year. The group’s growing roster of corporate backers includes the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, processed food giants ConAgra and General Mills, and Kellogg. Other major funders are Kraft Foods, NestlÃ©, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. A recent in-depth report from the group Eat Drink Politics, called “Now a Word from Our Sponsors,” found that between 2001 and 2011, the Academy’s food industry sponsors shot up from ten to thirty-eight.