The annual California Dietetic Association conference, held every April, is catered by gold sponsor McDonald’s.
Today, Mother Jones senior editor Kiera Butler published a hard-hitting account of her visit to the conference. It’s a great piece that details the rampant co-optation by Big Food of a health organization.
- “As I wandered the exhibition hall, I saw that McDonald’s wasn’t the only food company giving away freebies. Cheerful reps at the Hershey’s booth passed out miniature cartons of chocolate and strawberry milk. Butter Buds offered packets of fake butter crystals. The California Beef Council guy gave me a pamphlet on how to lose weight by eating steak. Amy’s Naturals had microwave brownies. The night before, Sizzler, California Pizza Kitchen, Boston Market, and other chain restaurants had hosted a free evening buffet for conference-goers: “Local Restaurant Samplings for Your Pleasure.”
- “After lunch, I attended “Sweeteners in Schools: Keeping Science First in a Controversial Discussion.” Sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association, whose members produce and sell high-fructose corn syrup, it included a panel composed of three of the trade group’s representatives. The panelists bemoaned some schools’ decision to remove chocolate milk from their cafeteria menus. Later, one panelist said that she’d been dismayed to learn that some schools had banned sugary treats from classroom Valentine’s Day parties, which “could be a teachable moment for kids about moderation.”
- “I asked conference spokeswoman Pat Smith whether she thought it was fair to present such a one-sided discussion. She claimed that the sponsors did not influence any of the content in the program. “We like to think that our dietitians have a thought process and that we are presenting them with what is out there,” she said. “They need to make their own decisions on what they have listened to and apply that to their client base.”
- “But it’s hard to make a decision if you’re only hearing one side of the story,” I countered. She told me that she hadn’t known beforehand that the Corn Refiners panel would be composed entirely of its own representatives. And yet, when I asked her how the panel was chosen, she explained that it was approved by a committee. She also confirmed that the Corn Refiners had paid for the panel, but she declined to say how much. (She had previously declined me press credentials for the conference, explaining that the CDA would have its own journalists covering the event.)”