A few days ago, an article appeared in the New York Times entitled, "Food Politics Creates Rift in Panel on Labeling," by Stephanie Strom. It was about my dismissal from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics work group for not disclosing a business that I don't even have.
The work group was tasked to review the evidence related to food technologies, including genetically modified foods. I was happy to be a part of the group because I have seen how industry uses these position papers to support their stance. Last fall in the state of California, we had a proposition on the ballot that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state voters' guide incorrectly said that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics had concluded that "biotech foods are safe." However, the Academy's position was expired, so they actually had no position. The Academy issued a press release about this, but it was too late. The voter guide was already mailed to over 18 million registered voters. And Prop 37 lost. This is why I wanted to be on the group. I was hoping to prevent this from ever happening again.
Being on the work group was an interesting experience. Right off the bat, I had some major concerns, including the following:
- Two members, Jennie Schmidt and Marianne Smith Edge, disclosed their ties to industry groups such as Monsanto.
- The evidence review was not going to link to the position paper. And it would only include human studies, not animal. The problem with this is that there are not very many human studies to review.
- The position paper was going to be written by Christine M. Bruhn, PhD, from UC Davis, a vocal supporter of genetically modified foods who is against labeling. UC Davis has strong ties to Monsanto.
I mentioned some of my concerns with the group and I also sent an email to an Academy employee involved with the project about the potential conflicts of interest. Because of my concerns, members of the group were asked to fill out the Academy's disclosure statement again and disclose any money they might have received.
On March 22, 2013, I received a letter saying I was dismissed for not disclosing my consulting business, listed on my blog, healthyeatingrocks.com. I was shocked to say the least, especially since I do not have a business. At some point I would like to pursue one, but I am too busy with my full-time job and family obligations.
I sent the Academy three emails explaining that I do not have a business, that I did have questions, and would like to talk. Since the dismissal letter specifically stated, "Please contact us if you have any questions," I was expecting a response back. I waited for over three weeks, but I heard nothing
And that is why I decided to talk to the New York Times.
Then the Academy posted a statement that was filled with inaccuracies.
I did not refuse to "disclose any and all conflicts of interest." Why would I disclose something that does not exist? I did disclose however, that I received $135.00 from two sources that were relevant to the project, as they required.
The Academy also says that "She was simply asked, repeatedly, to disclose this information and she declined to do so." However, it was my questioning of the group's policy to include people on the committee with ties to industry that led to the Academy's request for more information from the entire group, not only me. And I complied with their request.
It was clear their minds were made up. A nonexistent business, not disclosed, was a bigger concern than two people who are involved with industries that would directly benefit from an evidence review and position paper with a positive slant toward genetically modified foods.
All of this posturing takes away from the real issue: Is it appropriate to have people involved with the biotech industry, which could benefit from the outcome, sit on a biotech-related work group? I don't think so. Additionally, I found it alarming that the Academy was intent on moving forward with a position paper, written by Christine M. Bruhn, PhD, to be published before the evidence review was complete. She wrote the Academy's 2006 position paper, which said that GMOs "...enhance the quality, safety, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and increase the efficacy of food production, processing, food distribution, and environmental and waste management." I am guessing her 2013 version will offer up more of the same.
Sadly, it is the American people who are the losers in this situation because they will probably not get clear, unbiased and balanced information about what to eat from the organization that represents the largest group of nutrition-related health professionals in the country.
Considering that we have no long-term evidence showing that genetically modified foods are safe for humans, the most responsible position the Academy could take would be to say, "The long-term health effects of genetically modified foods are unknown. Until and unless we know more, at minimum, they should be labeled."
Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics committed to telling Americans the truth about genetically modified foods? I, for one, am not convinced.