Thursday, May 21, 2015

Money Laundering, Food Industry Style?

I'm betting many nutrition, medical, and health professionals would be uncomfortable giving a talk sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association (the high-fructose corn syrup lobby).

But what if the talk wasn't sponsored by the Corn Refiners, but rather by something that sounded like a medical institute? Optically being a speaker for what sounds like a medical institute would sure look a heck of a lot less like something a person like me might suggest is a conflict of interest.

A few months ago I came across this symposium held at the American Society of Nutrition's (ASN) most recent Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting. The symposium was all about how misunderstood sugar is - a conclusion that no doubt would be welcomed by the high-fructose corn syrup promoting Corn Refiners Association, so when I saw that it was a "Sponsored Satellite Symposium" I figured it must have been sponsored by them.

Except it wasn't.

Instead it was organized and sponsored by the Rippe Lifestyle Institute. But I did recognize the name Rippe, as James Rippe is a man who at one time was reported to take home a $41,000 monthly retainer from the Corn Refiners Association. Looking to his Lifestyle Institute, it reports partnerships with Kraft, Coca-Cola, Welch's, Dr. Pepper, Snapple, General Mills, McDonald's, Kellogg's, Orville Redenbacher, Hunt's, and yes of course, the Corn Refiners Association.

David Despain, a health journalist, happened to be at Rippe's Institute's sponsored symposium. According to him the symposium included breakfast and was attended by roughly 50 people. According to the ASN's sponsorship page, symposia run sponsors between $15,000 and $50,000 (and I imagine that cost doesn't include breakfast).

So, taking a conservative estimate at costs, and including breakfast, Rippe's Institute likely spent tens of thousands of dollars to tell 50 people that sugar was a-ok. This of course leaves me wondering how spending that kind of money on a grand total of 50 people would be worth the Institute's while, which in turn makes me wonder if their sponsorship was just a novel means to money/conflict-launder the Corn Refiners' agenda?

(Oh, and just as a by the by, this particular symposium appears to have been approved for continuing professional education credits by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.)

[Note: Original post had also stated that symposia was hard on artificial sweeteners - have changed post to reflect fact that I was mistaken therein and talks were in fact, in anything, pro-NNS]