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Bergman: Article factually inaccurate, irresponsible

(Editor’s Note: The following is a collection of excerpts from a letter from Ethan A. Bergman, president of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to the Academy membership following the publication by The New York Times of a story involving a squabble among some of the Academy’s members.)

To Academy members:

(April 30, 2013) You may have read an article in the April 11 New York Times titled “Food Politics Creates Rift in Panel on Labeling.”
Despite the academy’s efforts to provide accurate information to the author before publication, the article is factually inaccurate and irresponsible. All academy members are aware of the scientific controversies and personal views surrounding the issue of genetically modified foods and I want you to know that the academy works diligently to seek out authoritative, independent, evidence-based viewpoints on this highly charged issue.
Despite its description in the Times article and headline, the Advanced Technologies in Food Production Work Group of the Evidence Analysis Library is not “a panel on labeling,” nor is it a policy-setting committee.
The work group is focused on analyzing the current state of the science on the broader issues of food technology.
It is not a panel to formulate an official policy on GMOs or labeling.
An Academy member was invited to participate in the work group precisely because of the diverse perspective she brings to the issue, including her perspective on the topic of food technology.
The member was later removed from the work group because, unlike her colleagues on the panel, she refused to disclose any and all conflicts of interest. The fact that she has a consulting practice would at no time be a reason or cause for removal. She was simply asked, repeatedly, to disclose this information and she declined to do so. Failure to disclose is a standard that the Academy holds for all work group participants.
Another Academy member who was accused in the same article – although she was not contacted by the reporter – has set the record straight on her blog:
“… No one contacted me to inquire about my business relationships or to verify what was being written about me … Sadly, this illustrates what is wrong with today’s journalists, the lack of integrity.”
(Editor’s Note: The members mentioned here are Carole Bartolotto, who was removed for failure disclose, and Jennie Schmidt, whom The Times reporter mentioned but did not contact. )
Our organization has adopted the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ Conflict of Interest policy. One aspect of conflict of interest is “secondary interests,” which “may include not only financial gain but also the desire for professional advancement, recognition for personal achievement, and favors to friends and family or to students and colleagues.”
As you know, the academy does not stifle criticism from its members; on the contrary, we welcome civil dialogue on important issues.
However, we will not engage in bullying in the name of advocacy or self promotion. The ends do not justify the means.
And we will not provide a platform for those who would discredit the credentials or derail the work of our colleagues.