Genetics and Nutrition in the Aberdeen meeting of the Nutrition Society this year hit snags even before it started, because an article in the Guardian had pitched into the Society’s registration scheme and its administration.
1. Genetics and Nutrition in the Aberdeen meeting of the Nutrition Society this year hit snags even before it started, because an article in the Guardian had pitched into the Society’s registration scheme and its administration. The criticism revealed an embarrassment with a member on the register whose business and practices were alleged to contravene good behavior. In common with other professions the Society is trying to establish its authority in a market abounding in competing practitioners with qualifications and competence the NS can’t accept as adequate for registration, although they may be members. Commercialism rears its ugly head because nutritional therapists in particular can earn much more with less responsibility but more acclaim than a practitioner working with the tighter disciplines asserted by the nutritional and medical authorities. This is a situation familiar in the growth of private and unorthodox (complementary and alternative) medicine and slowly reformed, e.g. by raising osteopaths to an equivalent ancillary status like physiotherapists, nurses, and dietitians). The Nutrition Society has the further responsibility of avoiding confusions with registered associations of well-trained dietitians (who are in short supply in the NHS).
2. Like many national and international professional organizations the Nutrition Society has to cram a lot of business into 2 or 3 days in which all delegates are able to assure their employers or their charity that their journeys were really necessary. The Nutrition Society handles the concurrent sessions, poster viewings and appraisals, and publications of abstracts and proceedings very well. A single participant can’t attend all that goes on. The Society aims to completing its AGM and other business during the lunch hour of a very busy day. How is that for members’ dedication? The professions are now allowed to award delegates for attendance with points for career progression and development (CPDs) that prove their efforts at continued training and demonstrate improvements that help them in securing promotion. This has become common practice for doctors, vets, and other members of the caring professions and of many others. It is important in the EU’s efforts at registering professionals with qualifications consistent and acceptable throughout Europe.
3. The Nutrition Society still shows signs of its honorable association with sociology and the remediation of deficiency diseases in many countries overseas and also far away from the competition of commercial nutritional and food technology. Not only are their meetings held in universities in functional accommodation, their big occasions are accompanied by locally provided entertainments, if not morris dancers, but certainly ceilidh bands – at least we didn’t have bagpipes at Aberdeen. At last year’s annual conference in Norwich the meat marketing representatives rushed in with an offering of a hog roast provided by the local butchers, regardless of the theme for that year, which was Plant Foods for Human Nutrition and therefore of great interest to veggies, of whom there are a number who describe themselves thus. The Society brooks little of the advances in vegetarianism over the last decades and it and its contractors usually neglect at refinements on bookings and lump vegans in with vegetarians whom they deem able to spell properly and follow their milky way in the hallowed fashion of McCance and Widdowson. This year we can claim success: the caterers at Aberdeen had not only produced decent vegan offerings but labeled them with the diner’s name. It was, however, obvious once again how few of the hundreds at the conference were real veggies, i.e. vegans. This is disappointing in view of all the outpourings of nutritional and health utterances that spew out of vegetarian and vegan societies. It leaves VEGA with a lot to do.
4. The Nutrition Society does a good job in keeping these events affordable and stimulating and attractive to students. In value-for-money terms its events are never-to-be-missed occasions for anyone interested in diet and health and the wider consequences. They are not sumptuous, unlike so many commercially-sponsored occasions, and delegates, such as the VEGA representative, revisited the Spartan university accommodation of student life in halls of residence where en suite is a concept as alien as its name. It is always advisable to arrive with a small tool kit and plugs for washing facilities and electrics, as well as emergency rations if one abstains from the junk foods in the ubiquitous machines. Reforms in schools still haven’t reached the universities and the damage of alcoholic excesses appall those who eked out the most frugal existence measured out with (instant) coffee spoons and very occasional visits to the pub, where a pint had to last the evening. Nutritionists should take heed of such matters, not go on their ways regardless.
5. The Nutrition Society’s annual conference this year was held in July in Aberdeen on the subject of Genetics, Diet, Health, and Disease. Both the University and the Rowett Institute and St Andrews (and golf) within short distances had attracted attendance from speakers and participants from all over the UK – and from all over the globe for that matter. The Rowett Institute, once a centre with the widest purview in nutrition and agronomy, has followed the trend towards an emphasis on human nutrition, but it and some speakers from overseas contributed information of research on the nutrition of non-human animals, but dominated by the interests of farmers in production.
6. Like other professional organizations, for instance, the Royal Society of Medicine, the Nutrition Society attracts sponsors to relieve the heavy costs in transport and integration in international authority and to pay costs for lectures and their accommodation. Lecture facilities nowadays usually offer space for stalls for commercial organizations. Associations such as these may arouse suspicions of partiality or at least a cosiness attracting bias and suspicion. Whereas the medics may be suspected of partiality to the pharmaceutical industry, the nutritionists may earn disrepute by connivance, even unwitting, with the giants of the food and confectionery industry. VEGA had to raise these matters at July’s meeting, which included sponsors at loggerheads on some issues with the Food Standards Agency. Cadbury’s was a notable and topical example. The practical issues in this debate are questionable: there was no evidence at the July meeting or in many others where such misgivings arise that sponsors exert undue influence. They may contribute usefully to the proceedings.
7. The food, feed, and pharmaceutical companies have ways of ingratiating themselves with NGOs and charities by straight involvements in the form of logos, emblems, and symbols accompanied by nods and winks or more blatant approvals and claims (of the Most Practitioners recommend Bloggins’ Mouth Wash, for instance; claims for Bloggins’ Eye Wash need slightly more subtlety). As so many medical conditions have a society offering special “independent” advice and support manufacturers of drugs and supplements and even foods may receive funding for literature appearing under a charity’s logo but of benefit to the commercial sponsor over its less generous competitors. Doctors’, dentists’ and vets’ waiting rooms and literature for patients, parents, and owners demonstrate useful examples e.g. for special diets, care of ears, eyes, teeth, feed etc and many do a useful job, making points for canny readers in a way more colorful and arresting than official material in black and white.
8. While VEGA sees some merit and gain in commercial sponsorships – in fact, nutritional research, not to mention pharmaceutical endeavor, would almost collapse without funding and sponsorships from non-government agencies, it took exception to the array of sponsors named prominently in the literature for this year’s Nutrition Society conference. Some of these sponsors were at loggerheads with the Food Standards Agency over issues of claims, labelling and catering in schools and with controversy over junk foods. We cannot adduce evidence of partiality or influence in the content of the conference, although the composition of the participants illustrated the strains on universities, students, and NGOs in funding attendance. Dubious associations, even ill-founded, detract from the status of frugal and praiseworthy organizations coping with competition from suspect elements in a lewd and naughty commercial world. NGOs such as VEGA have a lot to do at these professional conferences. Corresponding commercial affairs are run in much grander conditions and even the “charity rates” are beyond the means of NGOs; and the press is excluded from many.
What Makes Life Worth Living…
9. The conference theme on Genetics, Diet, Health, and Disease could have been mistaken for a medical event. What were once appreciated as familial disorders or associations with blood group, histocompatibility antigens, and metabolics are receiving the full genetic and biochemical treatment applied to the epidemic of disorders, as well as fascinating and serious rare conditions, that affect so many organs. Cardiovascular and bone and joint disorders dominated, but failings in the brain and eyes and linked risks of degeneration are gaining more attention. New indicators are supplementing or replacing familiar tests, some now accomplished non-invasively or attractive for walk-in checks at a local clinic or pharmacy. Variations of diet during life, especially during the periods of gestation, pregnancy, and lactation were covered, even touching – albeit inconclusively – the age-old curse of the misnamed morning sickness (many mothers could describe it better). So the answer to the question is now wider than It Depends on the Liver. There’s evolution to consider as well. There’s everything to be said for making a meal of food.
10. Fish oils, statins, and biochemical indicators found us heavily engaged in current issues and sounding the environmental corollaries. Some of the evidence has come from consumption of not just fish oils but also from other denizens of the deep, such as seals and whales. The biochemistry and botany of plants, primitive, marine, and terrestrial, is receiving the attentions of evolutionists and botanists, who are redoubling assessments of diets, which may vary by more than the composition of the unsaturated fats; and will mass medication with drugs such as the statins (which were developed from products in certain types of mushrooms and fungi) overcome the dire effects of greed and sloth and the consequent obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes?
11. Commerce and PR furnished a welcome special event at the Nutrition Society Conference in bringing Professor David Jenkins from Canada to lecture on his versions of diets within the portfolio of investment in meat-and-dairy-reducing dietary lifestyles that could replace statins and other drugs to counter the effects of obesity and the consequences of metabolic syndrome X on lowering the quality of western-style life. VEGA couldn’t ask for more – well, yes, we could: more interest and action from reformers in the UK in farming, food, health, and land. Veggie groups and supposedly animal welfarists (and rightists) are losing the plot, which has been vigorously unfolded on our website: for one thing, David Jenkins is now a vegan, as are his proven and tested dietary recommendations in the medical and nutritional refereed literature. David was an Oxnut in Oxford when we met 30 or so years ago. He was a pioneer in bringing forward glycemic index as a significant dietary factor. He has gained international renown and he has embraced the green principles that imbue VEGA and its endeavors to elicit support from British manufacturers and retailers – and those sluggish and costive veggie organizations whose campaigning diet has rated an unduly high glycemic index. This was indeed a meeting of like minds: something we might not have achieved without commercial and academic sponsorship.
12. And it doubled the number of full veggies, i.e. vegans, to be catered for among the hundreds at the conference, many of whom professing to be veggies. The Nutrition Society is beginning to recognize the real thing when it turns up at the table. Its caterers this time had ready-made and nominated meals for all 2 of us at the conference, which was worth it on many counts.
13. So who was the commercial sponsor? It was the Californian Almond Association. About 80% of the almonds traded internationally come from California, so the nutty Portfolio diets offer the growers plenty of scope. There is also an International Tree Nut Council in the USA, so we look forward to further developments extending the repertoire. Commercial nut-growing goes on in Europe; traditional farming in hazel nuts is being slowly revived in the UK, particularly in East Surrey and Kent; and commercial interest is growing in the UK for fairtrade brazil nuts. There is hope in enlisting support from major retailers in the UK. The supermarkets are taking up possibilities in the whole food, “healthy” market, in advance of competition they expect as the American Whole Food Market enterprise gets going next spring in its occupation of Barker’s department store in High Street Kensington, which will include 3 restaurants. The WFM is absorbing Fresh and Wild stores and intends to follow up the London development with 6 or 7 in other cities.
Evolution and Development in Portland Place
14. The only other major outing in July took VEGA to a medical meeting in London on the Microevolution of Development at the Novartis premises in Portland Place. Novartis is a scientific foundation set up by pharmaceutical companies to foster independent research and academic facilities in a relaxed atmosphere. After a few days of informal and freewheeling discussions on site by experts brought in from all corners of the globe, 5 or 6 are deputed to interpret the results in a day’s lectures to interested outsiders. Evolution and development play a major part in “what makes them different from us”. Such events keep us in the swim and the benefits will emerge in further commentaries.
Future Activities Off Site
15. We have no outside events arranged for August (except for a Trustees’ meeting, one of about 10 held during the year to discuss projects, arrangements, finances, and budgets and to satisfy the Charity Commissioners’ requirements for lively organizations on their register). The Trustees are unpaid volunteers and full veggies (vegans). We need more. Contact us if you think you might be eligible and willing. We shall have nothing more to report for August. The new academic year already promises much activity (and the appropriate preparation and consultation) beginning in September and occupying us at home and away until the New Year.