Is the ADA Controlled by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Monsanto?
How much do corporate interests influence the recommendations issued by the American Dietetic Association (ADA)? Well, if author and Food Safety News writer Michele Simon‘s experience at the ADA’s annual conference is any indication, way more than you might expect!
For years now, I have been hearing about the food industry’s influence on the annual conference of the American Dietetic Association — the nation’s largest gathering of nutrition professionals — with some 7,000 registered dietitians in attendance. Last month, I witnessed it for myself and discovered the corporate takeover by Big Food was worse than I even imagined.
The top-paying sponsors, whom ADA called “partners,” were Coca-Cola, Aramark, the National Dairy Council, and Hershey (their “Center for Health and Nutrition” – really). “Premier sponsors” included PepsiCo, Mars, and General Mills.
The exhibit hall seemed more like a processed food trade show than a nutrition conference. I saw very few booths with actual information, apart from that being peddled by the likes of Nestle, Kraft, and McDonald’s, along with (of course), ubiquitous product samples, tastings, and myriad swag. (Oddly, Monsanto’s booth featured its branded, soy-based lip balm.)
But the worst cooptation came during the “educational sessions,” which should have been off limits to marketing. Numerous panels were hosted by industry players, including, “Dairy Innovations,” brought to you by (surprise!) the National Dairy Council, which also hosted a media-only session, as did others.
“Culinary” demos were offered by cooking experts such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey, and McNeil (maker of the fake sugar, Splenda). For attending several “Expo Impact Sessions,” described by ADA as “scientific and evidenced-based,” RDs could even earn continuing educational units. Who better to teach, “Are Sugars Toxic: What’s Wrong with Current Research?” than the Corn Refiners Association? I attended a silly session called “Snacking and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines” brought to me by the largest snacking experts in the nation, Frito-Lay, who also had a huge booth touting their deceptively-labeled “natural” products, nearby the monstrous booth hosted by parent company PepsiCo.
But while all this was obvious industry spin, several sessions had backers harder to identify because of the stealth names, lack of transparency, and impressive backgrounds of the presenters. Enter the International Food and Information Council. Certainly sounds legit. But if anything sets off my BS detector it’s the word “council.” It’s often used by corporate front groups to magically transform public relations into credible science.
A closer look reveals IFIC’s true agenda. On its board of trustees sits representatives from PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, and General Mills, while funders include the likes of Coca-Cola, Hershey, McDonald’s, Nestle, and Monsanto. (Funny how this list sounds remarkably similar to ADA’s sponsors.)