As a dietitian I feel it’s very important to practice what I preach. Doing so helps me gain trust and credibility with my individual clients and the companies I work with. And, everyone who knows me knows that I do not always cook from scratch or plan my meals days in advance (I know myself too well and Wednesday will roll around and I’ll think “but I don’t want that turkey meatloaf I made 2 days ago”). But, I do keep foods on hand so I can “assemble” a healthy meal in a matter of minutes. I also eat processed foods (“processed” ≠ terrible food). And, though I read food labels and teach my clients to do so as well, I have, on occasion, mistakenly chosen an item because I quickly glanced at the front without fully taking the time to realize it isn’t what I wanted. In addition, my clients often want specific brand names or for me to tell them exactly what to buy so they don’t have to stand there trying to figure out which olive oil is best out of the 30 possibilities in front of them. And therefore, when I read about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ (AND) Kids Eat Right Foundation (KER) implied endorsement of Kraft Singles (it’s actually a “seal of approval” according to AND and not an endorsement but, perception is reality and to me it looks like an endorsement) I was dismayed because I can see consumers running through the grocery store, seeing the logo and grabbing Kraft Singles while thinking “all dietitians stand behind this food and it must be the most nutritious cheese.”
AND represents over 75,000 dietitians, dietetic technicians, dietetics students, and other professionals holding undergraduate and advanced degrees in nutrition and dietetics. And therefore, by placing the Kids Eat Right logo on Kraft Singles, this implied endorsement, which suggests that Kraft Singles are nutritionally superior to other foods in the cheese category, comes not just from AND but all of AND’s members as well (including me). And while Kraft Singles aren’t the worst cheese-based product out there (far from it in my opinion given spray cheeses and some of the liquid cheeses etc.) it doesn’t deserve a seal of approval making it stand out from other cheeses. Plus, this isn’t something that was voted on or supported by AND members (we were in fact blindsided). To make matters more confusing, AND hasn’t been transparent about this relationship (read below). And therefore, I am backing #RepealtheSeal, started by my colleagues Rachel Begun MS, RDN, Kate Geagan MS, RDN and Regan Jones, RDN (please see their letter to AND below).
What do you think of logos or seals on food products? For instance, the American Heart Association has a heart – check food certification program while the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a Food Scores program. Do they make you pick up certain foods or give you the perception that the food with a logo is better than other foods in the same category?
Disclosures: I am a spokesperson for Cabot Cooperative Creamery and an Advisory Board Member for Southeast United Dairy Industry Association (SUDIA) which supports all dairy. My parents eat Kraft fat free singles from time to time and yes I’m okay with this given that it boosts the protein content of their meal with fewer calories. Plus they like it.
I am a long-time, proud member and supporter of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but today I — along with my dietitian/nutrition colleagues Rachel Begun and Kate Geagan — feel compelled to speak up in light of a new partnership announced between The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Kids Eat Right (KER) Foundation and Kraft, which allows for the inclusion of the KER logo on packages of Kraft Singles (the Academy’s formal Press Release on this partnership can be read here.)
As dietitian/nutritionists, we work hard to provide full transparency in all of our own business relationships, and we expect the same from our Academy. In the business world, a logo on a product label conveys an endorsement, an alignment, and recognition of a paid relationship.
We are making known to the public and the Academy through the OPEN LETTER printed below that (1) we do not support this type of logo placement (2) we request that the on-package logo be repealed and (3) we request full transparency by AND & KER about this partnership to ensure this does not happen in the future.
March 16, 2015
To Mary Beth Whalen, President Sonja Connor, leadership at the Academy and the Kids Eat Right (KER) Foundation:
As long-time members and proud supporters of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), we are dismayed, shocked, and saddened by the blog post in last week’s New York Times. The piece (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/a-cheese-product-wins-kids-nutrition-seal/?_r=0 – ) reports on the KER Foundation’s Nutrition seal— a seal that the Academy states was not an endorsement of the product, but is an indicator of the brands that support Kids Eat Right.
As dedicated Registered Dietitians/Nutritionists and food and nutrition experts, we are protesting the Academy’s position to allow the Kids Eat Right logo on Kraft Singles, as well as the possibility to allow any future implied endorsement of any product by AND for the following reasons:
Flawed Understanding of the Marketplace
We wholly reject the rationale that the Academy used in their formal press release to defend the nature of the relationship between Kraft and the Academy. A logo on a product label is an endorsement, an alignment, and recognition of a paid relationship. Simply stating otherwise in a press release, no matter how emphatically, doesn’t change this fact. Rather, AND’s actions illustrate how profoundly out of touch AND is with business principles, which has put our professional integrity and credibility at risk. It is also a decision that is out of touch with members’ values.
Failure to Provide Transparency to AND Members and Consumers
We work hard to provide full transparency in all of our own business relationships, and we expect the same from the Academy. Failure to be transparent about ANDs actions violates the Academy’s own Ethics Policy, which calls for the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and for members to not engage in false or misleading practices of communications.
Actions Requested of the Academy: #RepealtheSeal
We ask that the Academy make available to its members, the media and the public the following:
We ask for full transparency regarding the process of approval to allow the KER logo on the Kraft product— including the names of those involved, the meeting minutes of the discussion, and Board’s vote on this issue.
We ask for full disclosure of the terms of the financial agreement between KER Foundation and Kraft. We also request full transparency regarding the status of future agreements under consideration for use of our Logo.
We ask the Academy to provide their plan for the discontinuation of this specific relationship with Kraft and removal of the KER logo off Kraft Singles product packaging.
Academy members deserve strong leaders who will protect the integrity of the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist credential. This latest action is an embarrassing misstep that must be corrected swiftly in order to prevent further damage to the RD/RDN brand and to the Academy.
Rachel Begun MS, RDN
Kate Geagan MS, RDN
Regan Jones, RDN
Registered Dietitian/Nutritionists colleagues listed at change.org
[Update: The following is a listing of posts by bloggers who are supporting the #RepealTheSeal campaign. Please visit their sites for more thoughtful commentary on this issue.]
Lindsay Livingston, RD @ The Lean Green Bean
Rachael Hartley, RD @ Avocado A Day
Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD & Serena Ball, MS RD @ Teaspoon of Spice
Gretchen Brown, RD @ Kumquat
Alanna Waldron, RD @ Eat Real Food
Alex Caspero, RD @ Delicious Knowledge
Anne Mauney, MPH, RD @ Fannetastic Food
Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD @ Southern Fried Nutrition
Ashley Colpaart, MS, RD @ Epicurean Ideal
Christina Schu, Dietetics Student @ The Beautiful Balance
Hannah Eddy, Dietetic Intern @ The Wholey Trinity
Jessica Serdikoff, RDN, CPT @ Floptimism
Sarah Moran, RDN @ Sarah Moran Nutrition
April Graff, RD @ This RD Eats
Emily Hein, RDN @ Zen & Spice
Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM, @ US News Health (Eat + Run)
Robin Plotkin, RD, LD @ Robin’s Bite
Yoni Freedhoff, MD @ Weighty Matters