Kellogg’s: we don’t influence govt food policies, dietitians

My favourite consumer activist, Capetonian Sonia Montford, has upset the Kellogg Company of South Africa with blistering posts on BizNews criticising its sponsorship of the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA). Not surprisingly, the company disputes all claims that it profits in any way from the sponsorship or that it aims to influence government health policy. It isn’t the only company to feel the heat. There is a rowing and global ‘War on Big Food’ companies, and there’s no getting away from the reality that companies such as Kellogg are not charities. They are in business to make money, and as Fortune magazine has reported, the are losing money – major packaged-food companies in the US lost $4 billion in market share alone last year.

It can be disingenuous to deny profiting from the robust ‘health by association’ that sponsoring dietitians’ associations worldwide brings, precisely because dietitians are ethically obliged not to endorse or promote unhealthy products. Dietitians are only human, and it’s human nature not to bite the hand that feed you, unless you don’t mind if it slaps and stops feeding you. Dietitians’ associations such as ADSA seem oddly oblivious to knock-on effects on credibility and integrity of the ‘guilt by association’ that sticks with sponsorship from companies making products shown to contribute to global epidemics of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Companies are having  to do far more than in the past to persuade discriminating consumers of health benefits of their products. Or they could just be honest and admit when they are selling junk food, and be done with it. Here is the statement in full from Gerald Mahinda, MD of Kellogg Sub-Saharan Africa. – Marika Sboros

Kellogg's cerealsBy Gerald Mahinda*

Kellogg has observed with deep concern, published articles that erroneously suggest that the company, through its sponsorship of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) uses dieticians registered with ADSA as “proxies” to influence government’s food policy.

Several of Kellogg’s nutrition staff, including its accounting, engineering or legal staff are registered with their respective professional bodies or associations. Nutrition staff are no different. They are dietitians registered with ADSA.

It is common practice for registered dietitians to be part of their professional association. Such associations enable staff to keep up to date with developments within their respective fields of expertise. It gives them access to continuous professional development and in the case of dietitians, allows them to remain registered with the Health Professions Council in South Africa (HPCSA) and keep in contact with peers.

Kellogg nutrition staff that serve or have served on committees of ADSA do so voluntarily and work independently in their professional capacity and are by no means representing the interests or policies of Kellogg.

Kellogg actively promotes and supports the field of dietetics, and holds the position that where possible the expertise of technical experts, including nutritionists should be retained internally to ensure that Kellogg incorporates recent developments in their field of expertise into the business.

Objectivity and non-endorsement

Kellogg’s sponsorship of ADSA and similar organisations is not unique to South Africa or to Kellogg and is common place in more developed markets. Kellogg’s contribution to the work of ADSA or any other association follows strict principle of objectivity and non-endorsement.

Kellogg does not contribute to ADSA in order to gain product endorsements and/or influence their position or policies on nutrition. Dietitians are governed by the rules and policies of the HPCSA, and a dietitian risks losing their license to practice and/or criminal liability for failure to adhere to the HSPCA’s strict rules on objectivity and professional ethics.

Kellogg encourages healthy eating habits by partnering with the Department of Health and supporting various initiatives such as the Health of the Nation, running Nutrition Clinics Campaigns to share nutrition education to primary healthcare facilities and participating in the National Nutrition Week.

Finally, Kellogg maintains that dietitians have an integral part to play in the development of foods that consumers enjoy every day, and employs such professionals to contribute directly to food innovation and renovation, whilst adhering to the tenets of the HSPCA and the Department of Health.

About Kellogg’s:

Kellogg Company is a global cereal company. With 2013 sales of $14.8 billion and more than 1,600 foods, Kellogg is the second largest producer of cookies, crackers and savory snacks; and a leading North American frozen foods company. Through an initiative called Breakfasts for Better Days, Kellogg provides 1 billion servings of cereal and snacks – more than half of which are breakfasts – to children and families in need around the world by the end of 2016.

*Gerald Mahinda is MD of Kellogg Sub-Saharan Africa