Dietitians for Professional Integrity (DFPI), an advocacy group founded in February 2013 by a team of 14 dietitians, recently released an overview and analysis of the 2013 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). The FNCE is an annual event hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (“The Academy”), “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals,” according to its website. The document is entitled “The Food Ties that Bind: The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ 2013 Conference and Expo,” and is aimed at debunking many of the promotional and “educational” materials circulated at the event by FNCE corporate partners and premier sponsors from Big Food, which include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, General Mills, and Kellogg’s. These companies distributed pamphlets, information sheets, and “educational advertisements” that DFPI considers “misleading,” misrepresenting nutritional facts about each corporation’s products while ignoring the vast number of nutritional and environment shortcomings of each product.
The report also exposes the problematic nature of partnerships between Big Food and The Academy, which claims in its mission statement to be “committed to improving the nation’s health.” According to DFPI, “these partnerships compromise professional integrity, get in the way of sound nutrition messaging, and can inhibit public criticism of these companies’ more egregious practices.”
DFPI urges the Academy to cut ties with corporate partners and sponsors from Big Food, in the interest of remaining true to the Academy’s own stated purpose. “DFPI’s efforts stem from the appreciation and respect its co-founders have for the RD (registered dietitian) credential, which we want to be represented with the utmost professionalism and integrity.”
“We believe it is crucial to have ongoing conversations about this topic with Academy leadership and have incremental goals in place,” DFPI members state in the report, “with the hopeful end result of the Academy severing partnerships and sponsorships with Big Food.”
In its report, DFPI advocates for, among other suggestions, a higher level of transparency in the funding of the FNCE, requesting that the event’s organizers “[s]hare Academy financial summaries and highlight specific contributions from corporate partners and sponsors.” DFPI also criticizes the last-minute policy that banned photography on the Expo floor, which they say only served to “foster mistrust and suspicion,” since “the only booths that seemed concerned with photography and aware of the ban were the Academy’s partners and sponsors.”
Transparency is an area in which some of the most prominent of the FNCE corporate sponsors already have spotty histories. Among other corporate food producers, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Kellogg’s recently spent millions of dollars to oppose the initiative to implement compulsory labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients (GMI) in the state of Washington. The US$22 million spent was channeled through a representative trade group called the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The successful counter-campaign maintained the status quo in Washington that permits Big Food corporations to include GMIs in their products, without having to inform the consumer about the presence of these ingredients.
The push for greater transparency is one of the four “asks” DFPI has put forth in order to gradually implement “systemic change” for future FNCEs. DFPI’s ultimate goal is the complete removal of Big Food involvement with the Expo, and the group offers its report as a starting point to move in that direction. “We believe that once information is made available, future conversations about the Academy’s sponsorships can move away from hypothetical and theoretical and deal with actual figures and numbers that reflect the organization’s reality.”