Leaked documents show ADA campaign of surveillance and threats against nutritional bloggers

Back in April I wrote about the case of Steve Cooksey, a former morbidly obese diabetic who radically changed his diet by subscribing to Paleo principles and licked his diabetes. Briefly, the Paleo diet subscribes to the principle that humans are not adapted to optimally process and utilize processed foods or grains, and that a return to what our caveman ancestors ate — a diet rich in real food (fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts, and yes, fat) is the key to optimal health.

Cooksey was so enthusiastic about his new healthy eating habits that he began blogging about his transformation and offering diet tips and meal plans for others wanting to transform their eating habits as well. That’s when he ran afoul of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition, which accused Cooksey of violating Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes, essentially “practicing nutrition” and “providing nutrition counseling” without a license.

The NCBDN threatened Cooksey with arrest and up to a month and a half in prison unless he made substantial changes to his blog, changes that were marked up in schoolmarmish fashion complete with red pen pointing out all of the violations on a 19 page printout of Cooksey’s website.

The good news in the Cooksey saga is that he has now filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina for violating his first amendment rights to free speech, and I for one am hoping he wipes the floor with them.

But the story doesn’t end there. In a remarkable exclusive yesterday, Michael Ellsberg, a contributor to Forbes, uncovered leaked documents by the American Dietetic Association that suggest why the NCBDN went after Cooksey with such a vengeance and all but prove that the trade association has been intentionally using state legislatures around the country to block folks like Cooksey from providing nutrition advice.

The story is a blockbuster, so with advance apologies to Ellsberg I’m going to quote from it extensively below.

First, Ellsberg reports that the leaked documents explicitly laid out the ADA’s rationale for the proposed nationwide crackdown on folks like Cooksey — no, it wasn’t to protect the public from harm, but rather to limit competition to registered dietitians. According to Ellsberg, one of the leaked documents;

Openly discusses creating and using state boards of dietetics/nutrition (including in NC and in every other state in the union) for the express purpose of limiting market competition for its Registered Dietitian members.

Openly discusses a nation-wide plan of surveilling and reporting private citizens, and particularly all competitors on the market for nutrition counseling, for “harming the public” by providing nutrition information/advice/counseling without a license—through exactly the same means by which Cooksey was reported to the NC Board. Again, for the explicit purpose of limiting marketplace competition.

Ellsberg quotes directly from one of the leaked ADA documents suggesting that like most every other professional association in existence, the purpose of licensure is to confer special government-granted rights on its members while limiting competition.

“As government funding for preventative care and wellness increases and private insurers continue expanding clinical coverage to include visits to nutrition professionals, there will likely be a concomitant growth in the number of competitor health care professionals willing to provide some form of nutritional counseling. . . . Registered Dietitians and Dietetic Technicians, Registered (DTRs) face a significant competitive threat in the provision of various dietetic and nutrition services.”

But even more creepy, the ADA also outlines a policy of surveilling and reporting citizens who provide nutrition advice publicly in order to strengthen licensure laws for dietitians. Again, from the leaked ADA document;

“States generally require that someone file a complaint before an investigation into a violation can be opened; the complaint process is integral to aggressive enforcement of dietitian licensing acts. Because all too often state dietetics boards receive few (or no) complaints alleging violations, one is led to conclude either that (a) few, if any, violations are occurring in these states and licensing is not necessary or (b) violations are occurring, but are not being reported. If the latter scenario is accurate, dietitians and others benefitting from licensure must be more vigilant in identifying and reporting violations.”

Note again, that the ADA is not suggesting that the purpose of spying on and reporting bloggers who provide nutrition advice without a license is because there’s any evidence of “public harm,” — the ADA itself admits that state boards receive few (or no) public complaints — but rather because in the absence of a whole bunch of reported violations that ADA can wave around, the whole idea of licensure for nutrition advice in the first place begins to look rather shaky. So what to do? Recruit ADA members to manufacture as many complaints as possible by ratting out the Cooksey’s of the world as harmful of course.

In the very next sentence, ADA admits the real reason for licensure laws and spying on unlicensed nutritional bloggers;

“Because professional regulations act as a barrier to entry and usually provide a mechanism for removing harmful practitioners from practicing within the state, they effectively restrict the supply of practitioners and often lead to an increase in the cost of services.”

Good grief! Crony capitalism at its finest.

Oh, but it gets even better…

Guess who the corporate sponsors of the American Dietetic Association are? Well, there’s Coca Cola… And Pepsi of course. The candy industry is well represented (Mars and Hershey’s). Oh, and you’ve got those oh-so-nutritious children’s breakfast cereal manufacturers like General Mills and Kellogg’sAbbott Nutrition, which markets “science-based nutritional products” is a sponsor… As are the National Dairy Council, Cargill, SoyJoy (which promotes a diet heavy in soy products – a big no-no to Paleo-enthusiasts), and artificial sweetener company Truvia — a product developed jointly between Cargill and Coca Cola.

In other words, almost the entire corporate sponsor list of the American Dietetics Association is made up of companies whose products are heavily processed or grain-based Franken-foods, precisely the “foods” that are verboten under the Paleo diet plan Cooksey recommended on his website.

I have no problem with processed foods per se, and an occasional coke, candy bar, or bowl of Captain Crunch isn’t going to kill you. I also believe that they have every right to market and sell their products to consumers. But it certainly doesn’t strain credulity to believe that the ADA and its sponsors don’t give a rats ass about your health. The ADA is doing the bidding of its corporate sponsors, AND limiting competitors in the “nutrition advice” field. Hell, for them it’s a twofer!

One final note: It turns out that Michael Ellsberg is carrying on a great family tradition of exposing fraud and corruption… His father exposed a systematic campaign of lies and deceit by the Johnson Administration about the Vietnam War. It was known as the Pentagon Papers.

Oh, and if you want to know where your food comes from… This is helpful:



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