Today’s statement of concern comes from Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD (Twitter handle: @cabartolotto)
“I have been disappointed with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for a long time. I was hoping the Academy would be an organization that I could be proud to be a part of, delivering cutting edge, evidence-based research, and influencing the national conversation on health in a good way. However, that has not been my experience.
I went to my first and last Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE; the Academy’s annual conference) years ago. I came away from it wondering why there were so many industry-sponsored talks. I also didn’t find the Academy’s journal to be very inspiring or useful for me. Due to these reasons, I was not a member for very long.
Fast-forward to 2012, when the State of California (of which I am a resident) had an initiative on the ballot to label foods that contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The state voters’ guide incorrectly stated that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics had concluded that “biotech foods are safe.” However, that position had expired, meaning the Academy actually did not have a position on biotech foods at the time. Although the Academy issued a press release clarifying this, it was too late. The voter guide had already mailed to over 18 million registered voters. Prop 37 did not pass.
A few months later, I had the opportunity to be on an Academy group to review the current evidence on GMOs, so I became a member again. I was happy to be a part of this group because I had seen how industry often uses position papers to defend its interests. Two members of the group disclosed their ties to industry groups, including Monsanto. I expressed my concerns about this over email to Academy staff. Yet, in the end, I was dismissed from the committee for not disclosing a business I don’t even have. Thus, a nonexistent business, not disclosed, was a bigger concern than two people’s involvement with industries that would directly benefit from an evidence review and position paper with a positive slant toward genetically modified foods.
Considering that we have no long-term evidence showing that genetically modified foods are safe for humans, the most responsible and credible position the Academy could take would be to say, “The long-term health effects of genetically modified foods are unknown.”
And herein likes my biggest concern with the Academy. I find that industry influence is too pervasive. This kind of association destroys our profession’s credibility and negatively affects the impression others (health professionals and the general public) have of RDs. I would like the Academy to cut its ties to industry, revise its conflict of interest policies, and establish policies that would address the problem of RDs with direct ties to industry holding key leadership positions within the Academy.
This quote from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004 (“Diet, Lifestyle, and Longevity – The Next Steps”) has always stuck with me:
“As a society, the United States spends billions on chronic disease treatment and interventions for risk factors. Although these are useful and important, a fraction of that investment to promote healthful lifestyles for primary prevention among individuals at all ages would yield greater benefit.”