Leaked email reveals dietitian Melinda Hemmelgarn’s murky relationship with organic industry
Author’s note: Much of this article has language lifted from a piece on Mic attacking an evidence supported dietician. This is being done under fair use as criticism to show the hypocrisy of the article. When corporations use the word “organic” they are often given a free pass on transparency. Both dieticians should be judged on the science and not their funding sources.
Organic Valley, a multi-billion dollar multinational company and the nation’s second largest producer of organic milk, pays dietitians to spread its controversial organic industry gospel.
It’s pretty standard for a company to pay experts to support a corporate cause. But one dietician who receives funding from Organic Valley argues for the company’s line, while not publicly disclosing her ties to the company.
Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietitian, writes monthly for Organic Valley on their web page. An email obtained through a freedom of information act request by Eric Lipton of the New York Times cited Hemmelgarn as part of a group that can be counted on to:
help out with strategic Tweets, comments to media, etc. Can be asked upfront to take defined actions at key time, and play certain roles in specific communities.
Shortly afterwards she appeared in a video with the author of a study funded by Organic Valley, on Organic Valley’s web page. The author of the study, Charles Benbrook, also wrote the email.
Her tweet on the same subject also failed to disclose her relationship with Organic Valley.
What’s more concerning, however, is Hemmelgarn’s own behavior online. She is quick to throw fellow dietitians and nutritionists under the bus when they have any industry connections.
Nothing in her social media profile hints at her own industry ties.
Interest groups like the American Beverage Association, a soda industry lobbying group that also partners with dietitians, disclose an aggregate sum of how much they compensate consultants like dietitians. However, Organic Valley does not appear to disclose how much it spends compensating dietitian-consultants.
Speaking to Alex Orlov of Mic.com on a similar story, Andy Belatti, strategic director for Dietitians for Professional Integrity — a group that’s been outspoken about removing corporate influence, had this to say:
“Corporate partnerships should be clearly disclosed.This is not only ethical; it also helps build public trust.”
“Nothing raises a red flag like omitting these types of partnerships. If anything, the act of hiding them only adds to the notion that some of these partnerships are controversial.”
Promoting information demonizing conventional agriculture, conventional milk, and GMOs that isn’t specifically authored by Organic Valley still helps Organic Valley. According to the 2010 National Organic Action Plan the industry states that “organic dairy products serve as a gateway to organic food for new mothers, opening up the door for them to purchase additional organic products.” Organic dairy farmers are having a supply problem because they can’t feed their cows feed from GE crops. If GE crops are banned, they can increase the supply of their “gateway” product.
When Melinda Hemmelgarn posts to her social media pages to support or defend the organic industry, she is, essentially, helping Organic Valley normalize over priced food — and she’s paid for it.
When dietitians obfuscate their corporate partnerships, it becomes harder to have authentic dialogue about food. The lack of transparency casts a cloud of doubt; it’s hard to consider experts like Hemmelgarn an unbiased source of information on food.
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