In her latest op-ed for The Hill, Friend to Dietitians For Professional Integrity Nancy Huehnergarth focuses on the alarming ties between the School Nutrition Association and Big Food.
- “The annual School Nutrition Industry Conference (SNIC), which this year ran from January 11- 13, is “where school nutrition directors and industry representatives [came] together to build successful partnerships to better serve the nation’s children,” according to the SNA’s website. But a review of the conference agenda, speakers, educational sessions and sponsors paint a far different picture – one of an overwhelmingly industry-driven event heavy on the promotion of food and beverage offerings from major processed food corporations.”
- “That’s bound to happen when the SNA taps the food and beverage industry to financially sponsor a conference. Food behemoths Domino’s Pizza and Jennie-O Turkey Store were listed as $5000+ sponsors of SNIC. Other Big Food corporations donating between $500 and $4,999 included ConAgra, Five Star, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Sara Lee, Barilla, Kikkoman, Land O’Lakes, PepsiCo, Rich Products and Schwan’s.”
- “The food industry’s influence over conference sessions was alarming. Two of the four keynote speakers were from major food corporations (the president of Cinnabon and former president of Coca-Cola, North America Foodservice); three of the nine education sessions featured speakers from large food corporations (Cinnabon, Rich Products and Coca-Cola). Exactly what these Big Food speakers (who represent companies producing highly-processed treats, sweets and other low-nutrition items) could impart to advance the quality of school meals is a mystery.”
- “While there’s certainly nothing wrong with food industry participation and input – after all, this is billed as a School Nutrition Industry Conference – the overwhelming feel of this event seemed less about building partnerships to better serve the nation’s children and more about how SNA could help its sponsors increase their profits.
- “The SNA’s sorry love affair with Big Food and Beverage, and their deep pockets, is one of the sadder spectacles we’ve seen recently. Even sadder is that it continues, full steam ahead, at the expense of our children’s health.”
More and more, sponsorships with the likes of Coca-Cola, General Mills, and PepsiCo come across as painfully tone deaf and out of touch.
The public health landscape has changed considerably over the last decade, and organizations that dig their heels in and continue these partnerships self-sabotage their reputations. Organizations that continue to dig their heads in the sand and refuse to evolve will likely end up having to do major damage control with time.