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Originally published May 5 2015

Flashback: State nutrition boards tried to outlaw websites discussing nutrition

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) The effort by governments and mega-corporations to hide valuable information from the public regarding the foods they eat is not a new development by a long shot. In fact, just a few months ago, reports surfaced that efforts to keep vital, up-to-date nutrition data out of the public's hands were thwarted.

In February, The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) provided an update about Steve Cooksey, a North Carolina-based Paleo blogger who received a cease-and-desist order in 2012 from the state's Board of Nutrition/Dietetics for offering advice regarding the Paleo diet on his blog at no charge because (gasp!) he didn't have a state-issued/board-issued license.

Free speech meets a state's "right" to legislate?

As conservative columnist George Will noted at the time:

North Carolina is giving Steve Cooksey some choices. He can stop speaking. Or he can get a PhD in nutrition, or a medical degree, or a bachelor's degree in nutrition and then pass an examination after completing a 900-hour clinical internship. Or he can skip this onerous credentialing, keep speaking and risk prosecution.

He instead chose to get a lawyer, and as the ANH noted, a legal battle ensued. In mid-February, the case resulted in a settlement that affirmed Cooksey's First Amendment right to provide general nutritional advice on his own blog.

ANH further reported:

In guidelines that were voted on and approved as part of the settlement of the case, the board stated it will not "restrict the expression of general information, guidance, or encouragement about food, lifestyle, or dietary practices." It will, however, continue to restrict activities that occur in the context of a "professional-client relationship," where an individual's nutritional needs are assessed and a nutritional regime is recommended based on the perceived needs of that individual.

This is essentially a good thing because it means that bloggers and nutrition coaches who provide only general advice no longer have to worry about facing legal problems from the state's board. It also creates a precedent that other dietetic boards will likely have to surmount; that bid to contain crony capitalism was no small feat.

More litigation likely ahead

Nevertheless, there is more to come, as ANH noted. The board is still permitted to take legal action against credentialed nutrition experts who have committed the "crime" of failing to jump through the board's regulatory hoops, which are fashioned primarily for dieticians. It is still against the law for anyone with a Ph.D. in nutrition, as one example, to provide advice to a client regarding their specific needs without first being forced to proceed through the board's registration process. The only way to fix this problem is to amend statutory law or repeal it.

What is the primary driver behind these state nutrition and dietetics boards? That would be the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the trade association for Registered Dieticians (RDs). The organization has made it a priority to pass "scope-of-practice" legislation in as many states as possible to limit the provision of nutritional services and advice to RDs only. That naturally precludes any other nutritionists - many whom are often better educated, more experienced and better qualified than RDs - from providing any nutritional advice whatsoever.

Currently, 21 states have scope-of-practice laws and 17 others have other forms of restrictive practice regulations. The ANH has managed to make some progress in getting those repealed or amended, but legal attacks against advisors like Cooksey are continuing.

Will noted in his 2012 column that historically, if state legislatures have provided even the most basic of reasons for implementing such laws, courts have generally deferred to them.


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