Academy's conflict of interest is all too apparent

In a recent post, I dropped in on the latest flaring of comment over the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ insistence on accepting financial support — about 10 percent of its budget — from Big Food.

First, my bias: I have no doubt that this financial arrangement is indefensible under any circumstances. It is impossible to take large sums from organizations affected by your positions and maintain that they receive nothing for their money. To try to say otherwise is not only laughable but insulting.

I put that up front because I don’t think it disqualifies me from commenting, which was the implication by the academy’s president when he framed Michele Simon’s criticisms as coming from someone “who has previously shown her predisposition to find fault with the Academy.” So what?

I return to the topic today to follow up on the question of conflict of interest. When she discussed the topic last week, Marion Nestle said, “At the very least, sponsorship gives the appearance of conflict of interest,” which is the measured way to express that. And, I agree that the AND (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has completely left itself open to this.

But let’s go one step further. Big Food maintains that there are no bad foods, which it would have to do since it manufacturers so many bad foods, woefully short or completely devoid of nutritional value. (Anyone want to argue that point?)

But how to explain AND’s having the same stance? Never mind the close calls: Apple or deep-dish apple pie — which one is more nutritional? But no, the standard RD line is that there are no bad foods. (Witness this group, a joint initiative of AND and Hershey’s, the good-for-you chocolate folks. This is not a joke. Well, it is not a spoof, anyway.)

It is inexplicable that an organization with “nutrition” in its freakin’ name wouldn’t be willing to defend nutrition against commerce. The only fathomable reason is that it’s been paid to say so.

OK, so now that I’m almost 400 words in, I concede that I’ve done nothing to go beyond “appearance” of conflict, which is what I started out with. I have no smoking gun.

But I still have this: If chocolate-as-an-appropriate-part-of-a-balanced-diet *is* a legitimate position, it would be easier to believe if AND weren’t on Big Food’s payroll.

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