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General mills logo and food pyramid

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is the world’s largest trade group of nutrition professionals, with a membership of some 74,000 registered dietitians, researchers and educators committed to improving the nation’s health by promoting smart food choices.

Recently, the long-respected organization, formerly known as the American Dietetic Association, has come under fire for allowing corporate sponsorships — which include leading educational seminars for nutrition professionals — by companies like PepsiCo, General Mills and Hershey.

Between 2001 and 2011, in fact, the academy’s food-industry sponsors more than tripled, and corporate contributions became AND’s single largest source of revenue — totaling $1.85 million out of a total of $34 million in 2011, or roughly 5 percent.

That AND is being accused of cozying up to industry is no small thing, since the organization is responsible for providing reliable nutrition information to the public, accrediting undergraduate and graduate dietetics programs, credentialing nutrition workers, and publishing the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“AND members are on the front lines, helping Americans navigate the often-confusing world of how to eat right — which explains why the food industry sees them as so critical,” says Michele Simon, public health attorney and author of the report And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food? 

According to Simon, AND too often bows to its sponsors, allowing companies like Nestlé to host nutrition symposiums at annual meetings and Coca-Cola to offer continuing education classes. In addition, she argues, the organization is unwilling to upset its corporate sponsors by lobbying for controversial changes like soda taxes or GMO labeling.

Simon’s report urges the academy to take a stand on critical food and nutrition-policy issues, provide greater transparency on its corporate funding, and reject corporate-sponsored education.

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