The last time the academy was in the news, it was for taking an undisclosed amount of money from Kraft in exchange for giving Kraft permission to put the academy’s “Kids Eat Right” logo on Kraft Singles. When nailed for this, the academy denied that this amounted to putting a stamp of approval on Singles. What it really was, they claimed, was an ad for the academy’s Kids Eat Right initiative. If this were true, it would be the first time in the history of the world that an advertiser received money for placing an ad, instead of paying for it.
The story of the academy’s smelly deal with Kraft, broken in March by Stephanie Strom in the New York Times and amplified by The Daily Show, the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets, raised such a public stink that its endorsement of Kraft Singles was yanked. It also drew an unflattering spotlight on the academy itself, which counts 75,000 dietitians and other food and nutrition professionals among its members.
It turns out that the academy has long functioned more like a trade group than a professional society. As detailed in 2013 by public health lawyer Michele Simon in “And Now a Word From Our Sponsors,” the academy’s major sponsors have included ConAgra, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Dairy Council, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s. Andy Bellatti, strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, an organization of academy members who believe Americans deserve nutrition information “not tainted by food industry interests,” traces the long trail of taint: In 1993, the academy “teamed up with McDonald’s to develop a line of Happy Meal Toys.” In 2010, it “joined forces with the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition ‘to educate Americans on better, balanced eating’.” In 2014, it “received a grant from Elanco, maker of livestock pharmaceuticals, to ‘teach dietitians about farming’.” The academy isn’t a watchdog of the industry; it’s married to it.
And now, fresh from the Kraft Singles debacle, the academy is back in the news. This time it’s for an article about added-sugar labeling in an issue of its seemingly academic publication, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The article reports the findings of a survey carried out and paid for by the International Food Information Council Foundation. Whatta name! It’s like having, “We’re not lobbyists, pimps, propagandists or obfuscators – we’re legit! No, really!” tattooed on your forehead. This Foundation, you will not be shocked, shocked to learn, is funded by the food and beverage industry.
You might think an outfit calling itself an academy would be, you know, academic. But as Jon Stewart put it, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is as much an academy as the “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product” called Kraft Singles is cheese.