President, Strategic Communications, LLC

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition Pulls a Romney on GMOFood Policy

The debate over GMO foods got "curiouser and curiouser," to quote Alice, last week at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Annual Meeting in Philly, as the AND leadership pulled a "Romney" on its long-held, often updated and often cited policy position supporting the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) approved for use in food by the FDA.

Drated, redrafted, peer-reviewed and finally published in JADA (American Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 108, No. 7.) in 1992 and updated in 1995 and 1998, the position of the AND is in line with FDA policy, and safety analyses conducted by the World Health Organization, National Academy of Sciences, and most recently by the American Medical Association in addition to countless other science based organizations such as an IFT expert panel. The policy remained unchanged for twenty years was on the AND website and just about every science-based organization involved with the issue pointed to it as a voice of reason. AND loved it.

Suddenly,without a word of explanation, in September the AND website was wiped clean of all references to the JADA article. According to an email from the AND media relations office, "the Agricultural and Food Biotechnology position paper expired on December 31, 2009" and removed from the website.

The curious thing is although the paper technically "expired" in 2009, it remained active on the organization's website and was a core document in the public debate about GMO labeling for almost three years. It may be more than coincidence that the date AND wiped its website coincided with the launch of the GMO labeling Initiative, Proposition 37, in California. In fairness to AND, it did post a convoluted press release which basically said the prior position "expired" and the Academy now had no position on the issue of GMO foods pending a new study due out in 2013. How convenient?

I know something about food, politics and the way large hierarchical organizations work when they get unhappy calls and emails -- pressure and bullying --  from members. I am a political realist not a conspiracy wingnut.

This is what I think really happened. In the dark of night, behind closed doors, when AND thought no one was looking, the AND leadership rolled over and played dead to robust opposition from its largest state delegation, California. Having the position paper on the website was causing the anti Prop 37 AND members heartburn and they were not happy campers, so AND pulled a "Romney" -- a position that was developed in 1992, peer-reviewed and published in JADA, and promoted for 20 years as science based suddenly was not the position of the AND. In fact, according to AND's press release AND has no position at all. What changed besides the politics, certainly not the science?

I don't want to get into political ad homonyms descriptions, but an old DC medical story makes the case. I will clean it up for general consumption. Two surgeons are killing time in the Doctor's Lounge debating what kind of patient is easiest to operate on. The first surgeon says it is an accountant because once you open the person up everything is connected by numbers. The second surgeon disagrees and says it is a politician because when you open one up you discover there is no brain, no guts, no heart, no spine, no .... well, you get the point.

What did happen was an organizations that prides itself to the public about integrity and transparency showed none of those core character values. For a national organization that represents RDs in states where 80 percent of the food that is produced contains GMO ingredients, the AND action represents a callous disregard for their views. For an organization that rakes in millions from the food industry, including many of the companies that produce wholesome, safe, nutritious products from GMO raw materials, their message was "we will take your money because we do science-based policy," but on hot issues we are going to flip and flop and leave science twisting slowly in the wind because some our more activist members are upset.

AND is a huge centrally controlled organization. It stands by its press release. It has failed to learn one of the basic rules of political issue management-- the cover up it almost always worse than the original act. If the paper "expired in 2009 it should have been pulled at that time, not left in the public domain, promoted and cited  for  three more years. Did an AND staffer just make a career limiting decision? Did he or she quote Rick Perry and said, "Oops?"

People will draw their own conclusions whether AND just was too inept to manage all  the issues of the disappearing policy paper. To me it is just too coincidental that an approved and updated 20 year old science-based paper, which may have "technically expired," yet remained on the AND's website for almost three years after its "best used date," a paper that remained part of the debate about GMO labeling suddenly was Mission Impossible disavowed because it challenged the political correctness of California politics.  For twenty years AND had a position on this most important issue. Today, AND has no position whatsoever. Go figure.

Kudos to the anti-Prop 37 Proposition AND folks for bullying the masters in Chicago into impotence.And shame on AND. Mitt would be proud. The Academy's nose just grew a bit longer and it lost a whole lot of public credibility.

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