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Few institutions have as much influence on the public’s eating habits as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which helps shape national food policy and trains thousands of dieticians to help people decide what to eat.
But recently released documents show the academy has a long history of financial ties to major food companies, including many that sell and market ultra-processed foods that have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
The documents, detailed in a report published Monday in Public Health Nutrition, a peer-reviewed journal, contain thousands of pages of the academy’s financial records, tax returns and internal emails. They show that between 2011 and 2017, the organization received more than $4 million in donations from food companies and industry groups, including some of the world’s largest producers of soft drinks, sugar, candy and ultra-processed foods, such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé. , Hershey, Kellogg’s and Conagra.
The academy not only accepted sponsorship money from major food companies, but also invested money in shares of the food industry. For example, the documents show that in 2015 and 2016 the academy had more than a million dollars’ worth of shares in PepsiCo, Nestlé and JM Smucker.
The documents were obtained by US Right to Know, a research group that has long been at odds with major food companies, but also beset with controversies of its own. US Right to Know has announced on their website that they are accepting funding from the Organic Consumers Association, which is associated with the anti-vaccination movement. The organization has also said it is investigating uncertainty about the origins of Covid-19.
The academy has long been criticized for working with processed food companies, but the full extent of its financial ties to the food industry had not been made public.
In a statement, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics called the new report inaccurate and misleading, saying it had strict guidelines and principles for its corporate sponsors and supporters, which “prohibit outside influence.”
“The Academy’s programs, leadership, decisions, policies and positions are not influenced by sponsors,” a statement said. “The Academy’s procedures and formal agreements with outside organizations are designed to prevent undue corporate influence.”
The academy said less than 9 percent of its funding comes from sponsorships, and less than 3 percent of the foundation’s investments and investments are in food companies. It said all sectors of the S&P 500 are represented in its stock portfolios.
The academy is a powerful force in nutrition. It boasts of having 112,000 licensed practitioners, including tens of thousands of registered dietitians and other nutritionists. The academy members lobby Congress on health issues and regularly serve on the federal government’s advisory committee that shapes the federal government’s dietary guidelines for Americans.
Although the academy has for years criticized its ties to major food companies, it is a private organization and its confidential financial information is protected from public scrutiny. The new trove of documents came to light only because Donna Martin, a former academy president who works for a Georgia public school district, used her school email for academy-related matters, placing those communications in the public domain. .
US Right to Know says it spent five years acquiring more than 50,000 pages of documents, largely through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The revelations provide a rare insight into how the food industry has maintained close relationships with the organizations and individuals believed to advise consumers on healthy eating. Here’s what the report found:
Many of the academy’s biggest contributions between 2011 and 2017 came from some of the world’s largest producers of soft drinks, sugar, candy and ultra-processed foods. Conagra, owner of brands like Slim Jim, Duncan Hines, Reddi-wip and Chef Boyardee, gave the academy at least $1.4 million. PepsiCo provided more than $486,000 in funding and Coca-Cola gave the academy at least $477,000. Hershey gave the academy about $368,000 and Nestlé gave the academy more than $200,000 during this time. The academy’s financial supporters included sugar trade groups such as the Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association, as well as influential lobby groups for the soft drink, beef and dairy industries. The National Dairy Council was one of the academy’s largest sponsors and gave her at least $1.5 million between 2011 and 2017. The data shows that the academy recognized that certain levels of financial support gave contributors more leverage. Companies that paid ‘sponsorship’ fees were given ‘specific rights and benefits’. Meanwhile, donors, donors and supporters were defined as those who “made a charitable contribution without expecting a commercial return”.
Internal emails show that in 2014 Martin, who was then the group’s treasurer, dismissed ethical concerns about investing in PepsiCo and suggested in a message to another director of the academy that it would be good if the group also Coca-Cola would invest.
“Personally, I love PepsiCo and have no problem with us owning it, but I wonder if anyone will say anything about it,” wrote Martin, who could not be reached for comment by The Washington Post. “Hopefully they will be happy as they should be! Personally, I’d be okay with owning Coke stocks!!”
“I’m stunned,” said Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, nutrition studies, and public health at New York University, and author of “Unsavory Truth,” a book about the food industry’s involvement in nutritional science. “These are people who are supposed to talk about healthy food. How can they invest in companies that make ultra-processed products and make people sick?”
The academy said its sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola and Hershey ended in 2015 and that PepsiCo’s sponsorship ended in 2016.
Today, the Academy lists more than two dozen “supporters” on its website, ranging from the Hass Avocado Board and the Mushroom Council to Tate & Lyle, one of the world’s largest producers of high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners. Another supporter of the group is the National Confectioners Association, a trade and lobby group for the candy industry that includes Hershey, Mondelez International, Mars, and the Jelly Belly Candy Company.
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