Nutritionists Attempt to Censor Dissent, Protect Corporate Sponsors

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Neva Cochran, candidate for president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has attempted to censor exposure of the junk food funding behind a candidate for its presidency. First the AND told a member to take down a tweet disclosing the candidate’s connections to industry. When that email was quoted in a blog post, multiple complaints were filed requesting that it be taken down. None of the efforts succeeded. In fact, these efforts backfired by drawing greater attention to the unholy alliance between nutritionists and the junk food industry.

The AND is currently conducting a national election to select its President-elect and other members of its Board of Directors. The leading presidential candidate is Neva Cochran. When Cochran is not being paid by the American Beverage Association to fight soda regulation, she consults for Monsanto and the Calorie Control Council. Her past clients include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, the Corn Refiners Association, and KIND Snacks. Her only experience in the field is as a food industry consultant.

None of these corporations are listed in Cochran’s official candidate biography however. When AND member Anna Macnak, RDN, asked the AND about the lack of transparency, the AND replied that it would consider changing its policy for the next year.

Macnak took matters into her own hands by tweeting the following graphic on Jan. 26.

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 2.40.57 PM.pngAn AND official then emailed Macnak to ask her to remove the tweet, claiming,

Although both candidates are represented in your message, the information provided gives the appearance of a negative bias against Neva Cochran. For any member of the Academy, it is assumed the individual will follow guidelines that are put in place to ensure equity and fairness for all candidates on the ballot and respect for the Academy membership. Your cooperation in removing the message from Twitter and following the designated campaign procedures is appreciated.

Not only did AND fail to disclose Cochran’s junk food ties, but the association tried to stop Macnak from disclosing them herself. To her credit, Macnak refused to comply.

Then, Ninjas for Health founder Kyle Pfister exposed AND’s attempt to censor Macnak on his Medium.com blog. CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman linked to the article and tweeted that AND “tried to silence @annamacnakRDN for exposing @NevaRDLD’s junk food sponsors.”

And registered dietitian Ashley Colpaart commented on Pfister’s article,

It is interesting to me that the Nominating Committee found the original post guilty of “us(ing) disparaging or negative comments against opposing candidates”. If that is truly the case, they just admitted that revealing Neva’s client list is, in fact, disparaging or sheds her in a negative light. Given the climate of the Academy, their intrenched corporate sponsorship woes over the years and their [failed] desire to create more “transparency”, I can’t see this playing out well. I’m glad I’m not a paying/voting member this year. Yuck.

Apparently AND was not happy with all the attention surrounding Neva Cochran and her corporate backers. Medium.com received multiple requests to delete the post. These requests claimed that Pfister had posted the private communications without consent. The only private communications in Pfister’s post came from the AND.

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After talking with Pfister, Medium.com decided to keep his post up since the email he quoted came from an official AND spokesman.

Nonetheless, AND’s failed attempt at censorship may concern anyone who cares about free speech or food. As Pfister told us,

Censorship is yet another unethical industry tactic to hide their money’s influence and silence critics. This demonstrates how no health organization (researcher, non-profit, or dietician) with any interest in science and open, ethical discourse should accept industry funding. Underneath their glossy PR, the soda industry values their power and profits over transparency and truth.

This is not the first time nutritionists and dietitians have tried to suppress free speech about food. In 2012 the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition tried to stop Paleo blogger Steve Cooksey from giving free advice on his blog. Cooksey fought back and won, with the help of the Institute for Justice.

Orthopedic surgeon Gary Fettke was not so lucky. The Australian is banned from speaking to his patients about food. When members of the Dietitians Association of Australia heard Fettke was advising his patients to cut back on sugar and other carbohydrates, they reported him to his professional body. As for South African Professor Tim Noakes, his fate remains in the balance. The president of the dietetics association in South Africa reported Noakes to his health professions council for tweeting that babies should be weaned onto low-carbohydrate diets. Noakes may lose his medical license as a result of this report.

In each case the nutritionists and dietitians tried to censor those who threatened the interests of junk food companies. We are not aware of a single instance where nutritionists tried to stop its members from advocating for the industry.

Voting continues through tonight (2/22), so if you are an AND member, please vote soon. This is a fateful election for the AND. Is the institution really interested in promoting public health or the interests of Coca-Cola and Pepsi?

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