What’s the Deal with “Repeal the Seal?”

by Marissa Donovan

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the worlds largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, faced criticism recently after establishing an agreement to display their Kids Eat Right seal on Kraft Singles. This controversy sparked debate regarding Academy endorsement of specific food products both within the nutrition community and extending further out to consumers.

Over the last month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has encountered backlash after licensing its Kids Eat Right seal on Kraft Singles.  After The New York Times ran the story “A Cheese ‘Product’ Gains Kids’ Nutrition Seal,” many expressed confusion that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics would “endorse” a Kraft product. Kraft informed The New York Times that the Academy had endorsed this product, although according to the Academy, this was not an endorsement.

Instead, the Academy stated that: “As part of this nutrition education initiative, the Kids Eat Right logo will appear on KRAFT Singles packaging, identifying the brand as a “proud supporter” of Kids Eat Right and encouraging parents to visit www.KidsEatRight.org/cheesyfacts for tips to help kids get more vitamin D and calcium.”

Soon after The New York Times article ran, Academy members began a campaign and drafted a petition against the Kraft Kids Eat Right seal, appropriately named #Repealtheseal. With nearly 12,000 signatures, the petition caused a huge uproar. As of April 1, the Academy made the decision to terminate the Kids Eat Right initiative with Kraft.

Leaders of the #RepealtheSeal campaign, Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, Kate Geagan, MS, RDN, and Regan Jones, RDN responded: “It takes courage to sit down and listen to criticism and then do something about it. They did just that—and we believe it will ultimately improve our profession, our organization and our public trust.”

Although the initiative was terminated, it is important to note that the logo will appear on products until at least July 2015, as some packaging has already been manufactured.

So why is this such a big deal?

In the business world, a logo, such as the Kids Eat Right logo, placed on a product conveys an endorsement or recognition of a paid relationship – in this case between the AND and Kraft. Whether or not the logo was an AND “endorsement,” it would undoubtedly cause confusion for shoppers searching for healthy options.

Having the AND “endorse” products threatens the credibility of the organization and its practicing members. Members of the AND as well as the general public deserve full transparency regarding the relationship between the AND and industry, including Kraft.

As the AND is the professional association for registered dietitians, it is important that it remains an unbiased resource for nutrition information. If not, the AND could lose all credibility, notably expressed by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart who, following this controversy, claimed that “the AND is as much an Academy as (Kraft Singles) is cheese.”

This controversy is not the first of its kind. The Academy has been criticized in the past regarding its relationship with industry, causing AND member and public concern about corporate sponsorship.

Although this event is unfortunate, it does show that AND members won’t stand for occurrences such as this. AND members are professionals, passionate about what they do and what they represent, shown by their overwhelming support and commitment to #RepealTheSeal.

As Dr. Marion Nestle, nutrition professor and author of Food Politics, told TakePart regarding this incident, “the capital N news is that dietitians are fighting back at last.”

Marissa Donovan is a registered dietitian and first year student in the MS Nutrition Communications program at the Friedman school. She loves hiking, traveling, finding new restaurants and, of course, Netflix. You can follow her on twitter at @marissadonovan1

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