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The Dietetics Monopoly’s Cozy Relationship with Big Food—Now in Australia Too

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Conflicts of interest are nothing new for dietetics associations, to the shame of many sincere and dedicated dieticians. An important report from Michele Simon shows massive problems with the Dietitians Association of Australia.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer who has been researching and writing about the food industry and food politics since 1996. Her first book, Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, was published by Nation Books in 2006. New York University Professor Marion Nestle (who calls the book “brilliant”) has made it required reading for her nutrition students.

Simon’s new report, “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: Is the Dietitians Association of Australia in the Pocket of Big Food?” examines the cozy relationship of the processed food industry with the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA).

Pulse of Natural Health readers will immediately recognize similarities between the DAA and its US affiliate, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), which represents Registered Dietitians and works legislatively to entrench its monopoly as a provider of nutrition services in various US states. The AND, far from advocating truly nutritious approaches to one’s diet,  seems to us more intent on fundraising by actively promoting the junk food industry and has offered continuing education courses sponsored by Coca-Cola. McDonald’s provided food to the California Dietetic Association’s annual conference, and some of the heads of state dietetics associations even appeared to shill for soda companies in opposition to a federal soda tax bill.

Some highlights from Simon’s report:

  • The DAA received $661,000 from corporate sponsors in 2013, and $70,000 in 2012. Corporate partners like Nestlé, Unilever, Campbell’s, Arnott’s (a producer of cookies and snack crackers), and Dairy Australia make up 15% of the organization’s annual budget.
  • Relationships with Big Food associations are influencing the DAA’s “healthy eating” programs. Meat and Livestock Australia, for example, which provides marketing and research to the meat industry, also funds Australia’s Healthy Weight Week through the DAA. The result? Recommendations for eating healthier do not include consuming less meat (and certainly not grass-fed free-range meat) or any meat alternatives.
  • The Nestlé Nutrition Institute funds the DAA’s “Emerging Researcher Award.” The Australian press criticized Nestlé’s controversial role in promoting infant formula and undermining breastfeeding as recently as 2013. The DAA happily takes their money and Nestlé proudly claims to be the biggest employer of dietitians in Australia. They say that they have worked with their dietitians to renovate 70% of their portfolio to meet new nutritional criteria—but fail to state what those new criteria are, beyond saying vaguely that their new system “assesses a product’s nutritional contribution.” In 2014, the DAA partnered with Nestlé in their “Nestlé Choose Wellness Roadshow,” which traveled across Australia allegedly promoting healthy eating. What they ended up promoting was that “Nestlé products are the ideal partners to help you invite more fresh food into your diet.” These products include MILO (a chocolate milk mix) and instant Maggi noodle soups (similar to Top Ramen).
  • There are serious conflicts of interest among the DAA “In the Spotlight” dietitians (featured on their website), showcasing twenty-one media-trained dietitians across Australia. One dietitian, who works for Kellogg’s, proudly points to a sodium reduction program and the addition of foods “with more fiber” as having “made a real difference while demonstrating economic value”; Kellogg’s sponsors a breakfast program that the DAA actively promotes. Another dietitian works for PepsiCo, the world’s second largest food company that makes  money selling some of the least healthy products.* One of the DAA’s board members currently directs the Australian Breakfast Cereal Forum of the Australian Food and Grocers Council, which works to ensure the long-term success of the food and grocery sector.

Be sure to download and read Michele Simon’s report in full. You’ll see a disturbing pattern of activity from the dietetics industry—one that crosses international borders.

* The report refers to the two dietitians as DAA spokespeople. However, DAA features them under the “In the Spotlight” section on their website. This article has be revised accordingly. The critique regarding conflict of interest remains the same. 2/18/15

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