Nina Teicholz, The BMJ, The Nutrition Coalition and nutrition science's George Soros: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation

source:  Politico

I have had several conversations since I wrote Nina Teicholz Reports in the British Medical Journal ~ The Conflicts & Funding and a petition to editors at The BMJ.  I have some of my answers, most of which were not provided to me in the interests of the same transparency demanded of others by the players themselves -- Nina Teicholz, The BMJ and The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  Details to follow.  First, some personal notes, an apology, and why the George Soros nod.  Then the goods insofar as I have them.

A Few Words in Preface:

I have so much outside this blog going on that I just don't have the time to devote to this that I'd like.  I've again gone a bit AWOL in my own comments section I'm afraid.  This isn't a personal blog, so I really don't want to discuss details, but folks always seem to get all tinfoil hatty and such with mention of having a life outside of blogging, so I will say this.  It's mostly my husband facing some health issues, the unknowns surrounding diagnosis, waiting for test results, etc.  I'd rather not use downtime from that for heady issues, but there's no stopping time.   Any thoughts, prayers, vibes or whatever that things go well in the coming weeks for our family are greatly appreciated.  Many thanks in advance.  If you don't care, that's OK too, just please curb the nonthusiasm if you will.  With that said ...

A lot just came out yesterday pertaining to some long-running activities surrounding this whole Teicholz/BMJ/LJAF scandal -- and yes, I believe this is a scandal -- and I'm behind the ball here!  Many hat tips due in the past few days, please forgive my lack of individual nods.    

Due to what has come out, I have some updating and correcting to do to my original post on Nina Teicholz's BMJ "Investigation" and my petition which I am in the process of doing.  However that is time consuming, and I'm hoping to wait until the weekend on the petition for (a) time to breathe, and (b) so it is up to date waiting on a few responses I still await.  My hope is not to be continually updating something that really should remain close to original form.  This post collects all of this in one place, and for now I can at least edit links to this article in a the appropriate places elsewhere, to make sure new information is clarified.

Apology to Adele Hite

In my original post and petition, when unable to find anything on The Nutrition Coalition, my first thoughts went to Adele Hite's Healthy Nation Coalition.  This was incorrect.   I apologize to Adele and her Coalition for any issues this may have caused and thank her for setting the record straight.

Hite, herself, commented on this blog to confirm that The Healthy Nation Coalition is NOT, the Nutrition Coalition to which Teicholz referred  in her article.    
Just to let you know: No, the Nutrition Coalition is not the same thing as the Healthy Nation Coalition. I know as much about the Nutrition Coalition as you do. You are right, HNC does not have formal 501c3 non-profit status, nor do we intend to apply for it. We don't ask for, nor do we receive/accept donations (maybe because we don't ask?). All the work we undertake is done on a volunteer basis. Nina Teicholz is not formally affiliated with HNC in anyway, although I do know her. I hope that helps to clarify things.
The fact still remains that Teicholz has connections to this advocacy group (HNC), if not formal ones, but her work assisting Adele Hite pales mightily in comparison to the I'm-not-even-sure-what-to-call-it organization that is The Nutrition Coalition.  I'm not sure Teicholz was bound to disclose any connection to Hite/HNC, but providing editorial support for Hite's Nutrition article with the Brattle Group does, in my opinion, constitute mention under the can-you-think-of-anything-that-might-be-of-interest spirit of the BMJ Disclosure.   YMMV.

The George Soros Reference:

For those who don't get the George Soros reference, he's a Hungarian born billionaire who has invested billions influencing politics in the United States and around the globe.  My inference refers mostly to the "outsider" nature of his influence through money.  Money from Soros is "not from industry" you see.   He's never given a direct dime ... he's not a citizen of the US.  He funds a lot of advocacy groups and such.

The billionaire Arnolds -- Laura and John -- are likewise not "citizens" of the nutrition science realm.  While the analogy is not perfect, their money to burn and a barely-believable line about not taking sides, coupled with independence shrouded in opacity, brought Soros immediately to mind.  They are to nutrition science what Soros is to US politics.  Oh ... and yeah ... this IS also politics.   Big money politics.

To Recap:

When the Nina Teicholz piece in The BMJ came out, factual issues aside, there was a strong marine odor emanating from this whole thing.   In a nutshell, what was Nina Teicholz doing conducting an investigation of the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee at the behest of the British Medical Journal with the funding of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation?    In a bit more detail:
  • A prominent medical journal from another country (The BMJ)
  • commissions a journalist with zero inherent qualifications  (Nina Teicholz)
  • to conduct an investigation into the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the United States
  • and publishes this as "a BMJ Investigation."
  • In disclosures the article -- designated as commissioned and externally peer-reviewed -- is listed as being fully funded by a grant from the John and Laura Arnold Foundation.  No grant to The BMJ or Teicholz was listed on the LJAF website.
  • In the initial release of the article to the press, Teicholz fails to include her book in potential disclosure of competing interests.  This book, The Big Fat Surprise, seemingly being her sole qualification for doing such an investigation to begin with.
  • In the article, Teicholz's disclosures were, in my opinion, lacking detail specifically her involvement with the meat industry.
  • She also discloses being on the board of the Nutrition Coalition, designated as a non-profit.  At the time there was no public record of this organization.

The Nutrition Coalition

Are you ready for this?  From the Washington Post's Wonkblog:  Congress takes aim at the science behind the government’s nutrition advice

A group of academics and other scientists, calling itself the Nutrition Coalition, has also formed to push for stronger science in the guidelines.  The coalition is funded by the Action Now Initiative, an advocacy group supported by Houston-based philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold.   No financial support is provided by industry groups of any kind, the group said.   Three of the group members are former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and another is former chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee.
That should read, no DIRECT financial support is provided by industry groups of any kind.  And it should be noted by freaking responsible reporters that financial support is NOT the only kind that can be provided .....

When sent a link to the website for this coalition several days ago, this is what I got.  The domain registrants were/are private, but according to WhoIs, it was registered back in June of this year.   Oddly enough, although specific links to pages work, the main link still shows this same announcement as of the publishing of this post.

As of, I guess, yesterday, The Nutrition Coalition *unveiled itself*.

The Nutrition Coalition (TNC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that national nutrition policy is based on rigorous science. Our activities focus on educating stakeholders, including the public, and working with policymakers and experts to improve the policy process. 

TNC therefore aims to improve the formation of nutritional policy by instilling key principles into the process, including:
1) Greater transparency about potential conflicts of interest
2) Better safeguards against bias of all kinds
3) Increased questioning of longstanding, but possibly erroneous, beliefs
4) Stronger methodological rigor that requires systematic reviews of the scientific literature, including the clear prioritization of clinical trials over observational data.
Transparency is a term with a very fluid definition for these folks, apparently.     But rest assured, funding is all on the up and up!
Currently, our sole source of funding is the Action Now Initiative (ANI), an advocacy group supported by {emphasis mine} Houston-based philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold. Their eponymous foundation funds initiatives in a variety of areas aimed to ensure that public policy is based on sound science.
Neither TNC nor ANI is backed by any industry group of any kind.
So the LJAF is funding the ANI which is funding the TNC.  Got it?  And you thought I was an acronym hack!!  Did I mention Soros?  LOL.   

The Action Now Initiative

Why is the LJAC not funding TNC directly?  What or who is The Action Now Initiative?  The ANI
"is a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization with a multi-pronged strategy that spans a range of high-reward interventions, from anti-obesity policies to education, criminal justice and pension reform."   
Quite the barebones website.  Much more to come on that angle, too much to delve into and sidetrack myself with for now.  I do not know exactly what this means, however.  On neither their 2012 nor 2013 Form 990's are grants from LJAF listed.  What is, however is this:

This does not preclude financial support in 2014 or 2015, but there seems to be more to this "relationship".   Furthermore, a search on ANI on the LJAF website turns up no grants through June 2015.

The LJAF does not *support* ANI, it appears that ANI is part of the LJAF.  I could be wrong.  Time may tell, though I doubt it will be Time (magazine) that tells.  How all of this tax exempt status stuff shakes out is of great interest where politics are involved!    

Mid-Writing Process Update -- as I was going to quote something else from Politico further down this blog post, I noticed that the Purdy and Evich piece I'll be linking to below describes ANI thusly:
The Arnolds also invested at least $130,000 through their lobbying group, The Action Now Initiative, a 501(c)(4) organization,
It seems that this description is accurate, and yet this lobbying group receives grants from other organizations.  How odd, no?  That there's nothing on LJAF's website regarding grants to ANI (because they "are" ANI?!).

Who is The Nutrition Coalition?  As in Who's Who?

In the interest of transparency and all that, and to ease the burden on my readers who might seek to look into this, I C&P the entire listing from their website.  You'll see a few familiar names that I've bolded.  Please if any others jump out at you, chime in with why in comments!
Scientific Advisory Board: Our scientific advisory board is comprised of leading nutrition experts. Most are former members of the HHS-USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; including a two-time chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee:
  • Ronald M. Krauss, Senior Scientist and Director of Atherosclerosis Research, Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine at UCSF and in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at UC Berkeley, and Guest Senior Scientist in the Department of Genome Sciences of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
  • Theresa Nicklas, Professor of Pediatrics, USDA/Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, ACSH Board of Scientific and Policy Advisors, appointed to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2005)
  • Eric Decker, Department Head, University of Massachusetts, Amherst Department of Food Science, awarded one of ISI Most Highly Cited Agricultural Scientists, appointed to Food and Drug Administration Food Advisory Committee
  • Dr. Cheryl Achterberg, Dean, The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, inaugural dean of the College of Human Sciences, appointed to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2010), liaison to the governing board of TNC
  • Joanne Lupton, Distinguished Professor, Texas A&M Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Member, Institute of Medicine, chair of the Macronutrients Panel for the Dietary Reference Intakes and the National Academy panel on dietary fiber, current member of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, lifetime associate of the National Academy of Sciences, appointed a member of the Dietary Guidelines Committee (2005).
  • Esther Myers, former chief science officer of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, developer of the Evidence Analysis Library for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, director of nutritional medicine for the US Airforce.

Medical Council: Our medical council is comprised of prominent physicians who have embraced recent developments in nutrition and cardiovascular science to serve patients suffering from obesity, diabetes, and other nutrition-related diseases:
  • Dr. Sarah Hallberg, DO (Chair), Medical Director and Founder, Indiana University-Arnett Health Medical Weight Loss Program, , Diplomate, American Board of Obesity Medicine and American Board of Clinical Lipidology, ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Adjunct Professor Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Dr. Thomas Dayspring, MD, Director, Cardiovascular Education at Foundation for Health Improvement and Technology, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at New Jersey Medical School, awarded the National Lipid Association’s prestigious 2001 President’s Service Award
  • Dr. Michael Ozner, MD, Director, Wellness & Prevention at Baptist Health South Florida; Symposium Director, Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, awarded 2008 American Heart Association Humanitarian Award, elected to Top Cardiologists in America,Bestselling Author
  • Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, MD, Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Director, Pre-Doctoral Family Medicine Education and Faculty, Rural Family Medicine Residency Program of West Virginia University; Lt. Col., US Air Force Reserves.
  • Dr. Carrie Diulus, MD, Former Medical Director, Information Technology Division at the Cleveland Clinic, CEO and founder of Speira Health, Senior Clinical Associate for Tres Rios Group and Amati Health, active member of the North American Spine Surgeon Association.
Coordinator: Beth Johnson, MS, RD, Food Directions LLC
Treasurer: Maggie S. Gentile, MS, RD, LD, Food Directions LLC
[My note regarding:  Food Directions LLC "is a boutique government relations firm specializing in food policy from farm to fork.  Food Directions operates at the intersection of food policy where science, legislation, and regulation meet. With the credentials and expertise to understand the science and a thorough understanding of the interconnectedness of the legislative and regulatory process, we follow all issues related to agriculture, food safety, and nutrition policy at the federal, state, and international level. Headquartered in Washington, with deep relationships within federal agencies like FDA and USDA, and on Capitol Hill, Food Directions is plugged into the ever-changing dynamic. By providing technical expertise, counsel, and strategic direction, Food Directions can assist you in navigating the cluttered, and sometimes overwhelming, food policy environment. ]
Governing Board:
  • Dr. Cheryl Achterberg, Dean, The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology [I might add that this is the department and university at which Jeff Volek was recently hired on as a professor of human nutrtition]
  • John Billings, Director, NYU Wagner Health Policy and Management Program
  • Nina Teicholz, Investigative Journalist and Author

Of Timelines and Timing:

There is a lot that smells fishy around here, but most of all, the timing.  The Nutrition Coalition stuff was not public until just yesterday.  Yet surely The BMJ knew something of this.   To repeat from the Politico article opening this post: 
Teicholz has been working the Hill for months (passing out copies of her book along the way), using lobbyists the Nutrition Coalition hired to get sit-downs with lawmakers and key staffers. She has also gotten a face-to-face with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

More from the Politico (linked piece in that article is behind a paywall, but this one is not):  The money behind the fight over healthy eating.    The article in The BMJ was published online on September 23rd, and there have been reports that the advanced copy distributed to press, etc., did not include her disclosure regarding authoring The Big Fat Surprise.   Articles like the one written by Teicholz do not simply spring up overnight.  We are talking at least a few months.   If she skirts the semantics of some law, if the Kevin Baconesque nature of the funding trail is sufficient to mask this legally, it makes no matter:

Nina Teicholz, a paid spokesperson for the meat industry, is lobbying the US Congress with the backing of tax-exempt organizations under the guise of political (and scientific) neutrality.  

If this is not illegal, it should be.  This much we know for sure: 

This Nutrition Coalition has been a long time in the making and operation and yet has had no "public face" or profile until just the day they unload their barrels on the US Congress.   The BMJ article was no independent investigation, The BMJ was "paid off" if it didn't have a direct hand in instigating matters.   And where do the Arnold's figure into all of this?  With their own tax exempt 501(c)3??      According to Politico

It started with a tweet
Teicholz’s evolution from writer to Washington player might not have happened were it not for a tweet.
Last October, in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, she accused the Dietary Guidelines committee of anti-fat bias. It caught John Arnold’s attention.
I find this scenario hard to fathom, but at least it puts some "official" start at roughly a year ago.  It is far more likely that Nina Teicholz's long relationship with Gary Taubes -- dating at least back to her doing some manuscript review for Good Calories, Bad Calories in 2007 -- is what got her noticed as a potential fresh face the movement needed.  Go and watch (or rewatch) her TEDx talk.  She's come a long way baby.

One thing is for sure, however.  The Arnolds are hardly non-partisan actors in all of this.    And another thing ... none of this happened overnight, and public disclosures have been anything but timely and complete.    The LJAF is essentially funding Nina Teicholz's activities on Capitol Hill and her Nutrition Coalition.  

That Grant

Which brings me to the last topic I have time for today, which is the specific grant or funding of the Teicholz investigation/article in The BMJ.   To recap, the article was both "commissioned" by The BMJ, and fully funded by the LJAF.  Furthermore, the article, while bylined "Nina Teicholz reports" was written as if it were an investigation by the journal.

I cannot stress enough just how out of the ordinary this all seems.   Journals have long relied on subscriptions for revenue, subscriptions that also bring in ad revenues, including classifieds.  For medical journals these include, by the way, ads by the very same industries they claim should not be sponsoring research:  makers of drugs, medical devices and diagnostic equipment.  This was expanded, with journals like Open Heart,  to include pay to publish revenues, and a ramped up publicity department with response-rates at Time too rapid to exclude a standing agreement.  So why the LJAF funding?  After all, Teicholz didn't do any real new investigating.  It didn't cost much.  Other commissioned articles have not been funded by outside parties.  Why now?    Other questions arise and were asked regarding who the funding was to, specifically.

When I first wrote on this topic, I submitted a request about this grant to LJAF inquiring as to why there was no record of the grant on their website, the amount of the grant, and for them to clarify who the recipient of the funds was.  Several days later (and after my petition was launched), I received the following response.

As you can see, I received some answers to some of my questions.  The amount of the grant remains a mystery.  Why the grant does not appear on their website remains one as well despite their explanation.

Quarterly means ending in March, June, September and December.  On their site, they specify:

This page includes a listing of grant agreements executed between January 1, 2011, and June 30, 2015

There are grants for rather small amounts on the site, and grants dating through at least 2017.  This article had to have been commissioned prior to June 30, 2015.    At the very least, September 30 marks update time for Q3 and it should not take months to get this information.  The article is already published now, there's nothing proprietary here ....  I have a hard time believing it should not have already been on the website.  This is a matter of urgency and importance and needs to be updated yesterday!
This email reads as if the grant is to the British Medical Journal.    It will be interesting to see how this is revealed/designated.  But that category -- it is NOT the category under which the NuSI grants are listed.  Those are under the heading "Research Integrity" ... isn't that ostensibly the issue here?

No, instead I am told that it will be under "Venture Development", where you find, for example

There's that word again.  Transparency.  

Rather than getting tax breaks to promote all of these organizations insisting everybody else under the sun abide by their definition of transparency, perhaps all parties involved should put it all on the table right here and now.  Otherwise, it seems as if certain industries -- that have been licking their wounds since the days of McGovern -- have finally found a nifty way to circumvent the process. 

Not to worry though, The Nutrition Coalition takes NO industry money.

I won't hold my breath waiting for disclosure.

If you haven't done so already, 

please consider signing my petition 

(which will be updated shortly to reflect new information, etc.)   Also consider writing our representatives in D.C., make your own requests of LJAF, The BMJ, Nina Teicholz personally, and anyone else you think might be able to get some light through the thick curtains of obscurity.  Also, it may be too late, but can we get pressure on ANY news organization to have SOMEONE fact check The Big Fat Surprise?   It is unconscionable that our lawmakers are being asked to rely on that book, rather than the work of the DGAC, in formulating public policy.

Thank you.