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Conflicts of Interest
(shocking and... let's not throw out the baby with the bath water)

When doing research on food education and nutrition, the proverb "don't throw out the baby with the bath water" holds particularly true. Some organizations are promoting public health (and they are) while taking money from health-animal-planet damaging companies, lobbies, and special interest groups (and they do). Although some organizations have a recognized reputation as a solid source, too many are lured in by the influence of and/or sponsorships from Big Medicine, Big Beverage, Big Food, and Big Agriculture (this info is in the public domain). Some examples are:

  • American Heart Association: Abbott, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, Boar's Head Canadian Bacon, Butterball Deep Fried Chicken, Sara Lee Virginia Ham, and Healthy Choice Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo

  • Eat Right - Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Confectioners Association, Egg Nutrition Center, a2 Milk Company, National Dairy Council, Coca Cola Company, Kellogg's, Abbot Nutrition, and Truvia 

  • American Diabetes Association: Boar’s Head deli products, Dannon, Equal, Splenda, CVS Pharmacies, Rite Aid, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals

  • American Academy of Pediatrics: Coca Cola Company, Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, Dannon, AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi Pasteur, and three makers of baby formula: Mead Johnson, Abbot Nutrition, and Nestlé

  • US Food and Drug Administration: responsible for providing information with a focus on public health via the MyPlate Dietary Guidelines published every five years. However, their recommendations are focused on supporting Big Agriculture, especially the meat, dairy, and egg corporations and lobbies. This is an egregious conflict of interest.

This list would include... just about every similar organization - even highly respected institutions such as Harvard University, the Mayo Clinic, and the World Health Organization. I fully grasp why this is an unfortunate reality: funding for food research is scarce, competition is crazy-fierce, clinical trials for nutrition studies are expensive, and organizations are always in need of money. Again, not all aspects are harmful, yet the cold hard truth remains: money talks as personal and public health suffers. 

 

Giving back... Have you ever wondered why PepsiCo, McDonald's, Panera, and Tyson have quite public "giving back" programs? Spending ten minutes on any corporate sites such as these will uncover how much money and marketing goes into smoothing over their somewhat tarnished image. A former co-worker of mine is being sponsored by PepsiCo for starting a bakery to complement their women-focused diversity program. The depths of support she receives is astounding. When I asked how she felt about PepsiCo, she said: "I'll take it wherever I can." I'm truly not judging anyone. I'm just disappointed in the entire status quo.

The glitch? Nobody wants people like my talented co-worker to NOT receive funds or support, right? Yet, these funds are well... kinda dirty. At the same time, I'm aware that this is a complex and deeply personal reality for some. Even so, no matter how generous companies might be, it's clearly not in most human natures to speak truth to power or publicly expose the hands that feed us. In short: whistle-blowing is not for the faint of heart. Oh what a tangled web, indeed.

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