Friday, June 7, 2013

Occupational Regulation vs Public Health Benefits

A member of the Hawthorn community discusses current concerns with regard to nutrition advice.


Should consumers have the right to seek nutritional advice from whomever they deem will be the most helpful for themselves and their families?  Are you aware that there are different types of nutrition professionals and that an organization that represents one type is trying to create a monopoly for itself?  Have you ever wondered what the real reasons are behind such efforts, and what truly warrants exclusive, restrictive licensure laws?  Let’s begin to explore these issues to expand awareness, spur discussion and inspire positive action. 

Numerous natural health and health freedom organizations have exposed a disturbing and largely unseen effort underway that has the potential to severely restrict the choices consumers have when it comes to seeking nutritional advice.  In addition to the impact on consumers, this effort places increasingly restrictive limitations on people’s right to engage in an occupation, limiting jobs and free speech as a result.

It is a multi-faceted campaign being carried out by the trade organization for Registered Dietitians called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly called the American Dietetic Association or ADA).  This recent article by the Alliance for Natural Health provides an excellent summary of what is taking place.  In a nutshell, the organization is working to pass monopolistic laws across the country that favor their brand of nutritional advice while limiting or even criminalizing other approaches.  They are also conducting acts of intimidation against holistic nutrition practitioners who have no history of client complaints.

This thought-provoking statement by the National Health Freedom Coalition/Action discusses how consumers deserve to have choices among the many healing modalities, whether conventional or alternative, mainstream or holistic, and that all people have an inherent right to seek—and practice—the care that most closely aligns with their needs and values.  There are numerous ways of acquiring and sharing knowledge, and making a livelihood from dispensing knowledge has always been commonplace in society.  There are increasing levels of restrictiveness when it comes to occupational regulation, spanning from the least restrictive which is registration (how you register yourself and your business) to certification (what you can call yourself), to the most restrictive which is licensure or the ability to practice at all in a particular field or occupation without attending certain schools and paying certain fees, etc.  The justification for enacting strict and exclusive licensing laws, according to the National Health Freedom Coalition/Action and others, must include imminent risk of harm to the public.  It is best to have the least restrictive regulation for safe occupations, if any, while ensuring proper disclosure of one’s background, training and qualifications in the practitioner-client relationship.   

Many people assume a license is the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and that it's warranted to protect us and serve us.  Indeed, many attempts to pass restrictive, exclusive occupational regulations are promoted under the guise of public safety.  But a level of harm must be evident to justify such regulations (think being a commercial airline pilot, performing surgery, or dispensing pharmaceutical drugs and controlled substances).  However, this is not the case when it comes to many of these regulations that deal with safe occupations where one group is singled out as the chosen one at the expense and exclusion of others.  The reality is that this is turf protection with the intent to limit or eliminate competition. 

The restrictions they enact provide steady and exclusive income for their professional organizations, approved schools, certification programs, insurance programs, etc.  Furthermore, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics receives funding from many multi-national processed food corporations such as McDonald’s, Kraft, and Coca-Cola, as discussed in this recent article by Dr. Mercola.  It is becoming evident to more and more people that these economic advantages are the real reasons such regulations are pushed.  But shouldn’t different schools of thought be allowed to exist and flourish simultaneously?  Shouldn’t consumers have the right to seek nutritional advice from practitioners unencumbered by the influence of Big Business, if they so choose? 

The Institute for Justice has produced some short videos that brilliantly illustrate the struggle that is taking place across many disciplines, including this one regarding a blogger who has been targeted with legal action for giving out dietary advice, and this one highlighting the bigger problem in society.  Luckily, some states are beginning to resist and reverse such laws and create exemptions (also called safe harbor laws) after realizing that such restrictive regulations are often unnecessary and are having a negative impact on job creation and citizen choice. 

It is important to acknowledge that there are many excellent Registered Dietitians who do not agree completely with the aforementioned tactics of the AND, and the AND’s actions in this regard are not a reflection of all Registered Dietitians. 

This short article is by no means a comprehensive account of this complex situation, and more education needs to take place on the topic.   There needs to be coordinated action that complements the work of natural health and health freedom organizations such as those listed in the References below.  Two things people can do are join those organizations and speak to their legislators. 

Take a few minutes to view the links in this article and share your thoughts below (anonymously, if you wish).  Please be thinking of ways we can collectively protect consumer and practitioner freedoms in the pursuit of wellness.

 

References
 
Alliance for Natural Health.  (2013, May 15).  ANH-USA Uncovers Suspicious Activity by State Dietetic and Health Boards. 

National Health Freedom Coalition.  (2003).  Findings and Recommendations for Health Freedom NHFC.