File this under As If We Didn’t Know:
Awhile back I wrote about the dietitians who went after blogger Steve Cooksey for giving out dietary advice without a license. They claim it was to protect the public. I claim they’re full of it. Their only interest is in protecting themselves.
Now Forbes magazine has published a follow-up article based on internal documents circulated within the American Dietetic Association, which someone leaked to Michael Ellsberg, a writer for Forbes. Here’s part of what he wrote:
In these newly-available internal documents, which I quote and outline at length in this article, the American Dietetic Association:
- 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.
After summarizing his original article about the attempt to stifle Cooksey, Ellsberg continues:
In the wake of that original article, I received an email from Judy Stone, Executive Director of the Michigan Nutrition Association, a coalition of Michigan nutrition consumers and practitioners. The subject line of her email to me was “ADA Smoking Gun Document. Naturally, I was intrigued.
Stone showed me a new internal document which had just been leaked to her from someone from within the ADA. This new document was far more detailed than the one I had access to when I wrote the last article. In the new document Stone showed me, the ADA openly strategizes on how to create NC-like licensure laws and dietetics boards across all 50 states, for the express purpose of limiting competition.
With this new document, there is now direct evidence linking the ADA’s stated desire to limit competition, to their legislative action (about which the ADA lies to the public, by saying the laws they are creating and lobbying for are designed to protect public safety, not limit competition.)
(Stone told me: “The ADA has not just angered non-dietetics nutrition professionals, but its own members as well, many of whom simply don’t want to be associated with this kind of power-grabbing under the guise of protecting the public. Willingness to share incriminating internal documents is one of the only ways for those members to effect change in their trade organization run amuck,” alluding to additional documents she has ready to share.)
I’m glad to hear there are some ADA members who are troubled by this kind of nonsense. Too often members of trade organizations seem determined to prove economist Milton Friedman’s observation that people have a limitless capacity to believe that whatever benefits them personally also benefits society as a whole.
The document opens boldly: the purpose of the document is to help allow “the profession of dietetics to be identified as the preferred and qualified provider of nutrition services.”
Preferred is a nice weasel word. I sell a software program to law firms, and I’d certainly prefer they not buy from my competitors. But I’m not out to prohibit them from preferring a competitor’s product.
The internal document then goes into what can only be described as a tirade against competitors:
“There is a proliferation of nutrition-related titles and credentials available to individuals seeking a foothold in the field. . . . Many aggressively challenge the notion that dietitians should have practice exclusivity outside of the clinical setting, and they continue pushing legislative initiatives that allow use of the “nutritionist” title and permit them to perform holistic and other nutritional counseling.”
The ADA further bemoans that. . .
“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.”
All of this is particularly bad, the professional association says internally, because:
“State affiliates [chapters of the ADA] have experienced organized opposition to licensure in all states in which current laws have been proposed. Grassroot opposition has been focused on the American Dietetic Association and has included arguments that dietitians lack preparation to delivery wellness and nutrition care outside of the hospital setting, that licensure creates a monopoly and restricts freedom of choice of provider by the public, creates job loss for non-RDs providers. . . and that licensure requires those who practice to be members of ADA (Appendix A). Rather than respond individually to these media campaigns, ADA can achieve a position of strength by developing and executing an initiative that supports licensure and the dietetics profession while adding member value. [Emphasis added]”
Notice the focus on “adding member value.” NOT “protecting the public” or “ensuring public safety” but “adding member value.” Again, spoken like a true professional association.
So far, the ADA is acting like pretty much every other professional association in existence: it wants special laws passed, conferring special rights and privileges on its members, for the express and primary purpose or limiting competitors and upstarts. Nothing new under the sun.
But here’s where it starts to get truly kooky.
The ADA, in this freshly-leaked document analyzed here, outlines a detailed policy of surveilling and reporting citizens who provide nutrition advice publicly, under state dietetics laws, for the primary purpose of maintaining, justifying, and strengthening the laws themselves:
“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.”
The document says it plain and clear: the reason to surveil and report citizens who provide public nutrition advice (people like Steve Cooksey) is not that there’s any evidence that these citizens actually harm the public. Rather, the reason to surveil and report citizens like Cookey is that doing so is necessary to maintain licensure laws (which were designed by the ADA explicitly to limit market competition.)
Okay, you get the idea. I’d suggest you read the rest of the Forbes article to get the full sense of what’s going on. The ADA clearly wants to limit competition, but they’re smart enough to pitch the scheme to legislators as a means of protecting the public, even though nobody in the public is asking to be protected from unlicensed nutrition advisers.
So who should protect the public when it comes to nutrition advice? Here’s a wacky idea: let the public protect themselves. Even without licensing laws, consumers have a habit of rewarding providers who do good work. One of the subcontractors who did renovation work on our house wasn’t licensed. But he was clearly more competent than the licensed subcontractor he replaced, so we brought him back for a number of jobs.
If people like Steve Cooksey, Mark Sisson, Jimmy Moore, Robb Wolf, Sean Croxton or Yours Truly give nutrition and health advice that works, we’ll draw loyal fans, customers, clients … whatever you want to call the people who reward our efforts. If we give advice that doesn’t work, people looking to improve their health will go elsewhere. That’s how it works in a world of wide-open competition.
And that’s what scares the hell out of the American Dietetic Association.