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Commitment to Institutional Ethics

Academy Responds to Inaccurate and Irresponsible New York Times Article

April 12, 2013 

To Academy members:  

You may have read an article in the April 11 New York Times titled "Food Politics Creates Rift in Panel on Labeling." Despite the Academy's efforts to provide accurate information to the author before publication, the article is factually inaccurate and irresponsible.  

All Academy members are aware of the scientific controversies and personal views surrounding the issue of genetically modified foods and I want you to know that the Academy works diligently to seek out authoritative, independent, evidence-based viewpoints on this highly charged issue. 

The Academy values the opinions of all our members, and we are proud of those who challenge the status quo and push to improve the organization and our profession. But as a science-based profession, we have an obligation (to ourselves, our fellow members and to all of society) to clear up misinformation and inaccuracies.  

The Facts:

Despite its description in the Times article and headline, the Advanced Technologies in Food Production Work Group of the Evidence Analysis Library is NOT "a panel on labeling," nor is it a policy-setting committee. The work group is focused on analyzing the current state of the science on the broader issues of food technology. It is not a panel to formulate an official policy on GMOs or labeling.

  • An Academy member was invited to participate in the work group precisely because of the diverse perspective she brings to the issue, including her perspective on the topic of food technology.
  • The member was later removed from the work group because, unlike her colleagues on the panel, she refused to disclose any and all conflicts of interest. The fact that she has a consulting practice would at no time be a reason or cause for removal. She was simply asked, repeatedly, to disclose this information and she declined to do so. Failure to disclose is a standard that the Academy holds for all work group participants.
  • Another Academy member who was accused in the same article – although she was not contacted by the reporter – has set the record straight on her blog:

"… NO ONE contacted me to inquire about my business relationships or to verify what was being written about me … Sadly, this illustrates what is wrong with today's journalists, the lack of integrity."

As you know, the Academy does not stifle criticism from its members; on the contrary, we welcome civil dialogue on important issues. However, we will not engage in bullying in the name of advocacy or self promotion. The ends do not justify the means. And we will not provide a platform for those who would discredit the credentials or derail the work of our colleagues. 

Unfortunately, some members have engaged in activity that is, at best, aggressive and, at worst, hostile. Examples range from hijacking Twitter chats and spreading inaccurate information to using Internet troll tactics that antagonize or humiliate staff and fellow registered dietitians, shutting out those who voice a difference of opinion.  

The Academy and the Commission on Dietetic Registration believe it is in the best interest of the profession and the public we serve to have a Code of Ethics in place that provides us guidance in acting ethically at all times. The first Fundamental Principle of the Code of Ethics is that "the dietetics practitioner conducts himself/herself with honesty, integrity and fairness." 

Next Steps

I have sent a letter to the editor of the New York Times, focusing on inconsistencies and factual errors in the article.  

To reiterate what I made clear in the letter: The EAL work group is not a panel on labeling. The member was removed from the work group solely for not disclosing information. The fact that she has a consulting practice would at no time be a reason or cause for removal. 

Biased articles based on preconceived notions will not affect the Academy's commitment to putting out straightforward, factually based information for the public and other health professionals.  

I am encouraged by the continued support from members who exercise real professional integrity, who thoroughly scrutinize information from all sources and do not claim to unite for a cause by misleading and dividing a community. 

On behalf of all members of the Academy, thank you very much. 

Ethan A. Bergman, PhD, RDN, CD, FADA
Academy President 2012-2013