Professor Tim Noakes is being prosecuted over a scientific disagreement with dietitians, his lawyer Michael Van der Nest said on Tuesday as the Banting guru's misconduct hearing starts wrapping up.
''If they wanted to charge Professor Noakes with dangerous advice, they should have done so,'' said Van der Nest.
All Noakes did was offer unconventional advice, his lawyer continued.
A long Twitter debate
The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) was hearing final argument in the protracted hearing into a complaint by the former president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, Claire Julsing-Strydom.
She had complained about Noakes giving advice relating to his Low Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) diet on Twitter to a mother.
The mother's tweet read, "@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies?? [sic]"
Noakes advised her to wean her child onto LCHF foods, which he described as "real" foods.
'Not evidence based'
His tweet read, "Baby doesn't eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high-fat breast milk. Key is to ween [sic] baby onto LCHF."
A long Twitter debate ensued, in which dietitians jumped in to the fray, also offering advice, said Van der Nest, but none of them are facing a complaint.
Julsing-Strydom's complaint said, “I would like to file a report against Prof Tim Noakes. He is giving incorrect medical (medical nutrition therapy) on twitter that is not evidence based.
''I have attached the tweet where Prof Noakes advices [sic] a breastfeeding mother to wean her baby onto a low carbohydrate high fat diet. I urge the HPCSA to please take urgent action against this type of misconduct as Prof Noakes is a “celebrity” in South Africa and the public does not have the knowledge to understand that the information that he is advocating is not evidence based – it especially dangerous to give this advice for infants and can potentially be life threatening. I await your response”.
On Tuesday Van der Nest said that the complaint was unusual because usually the HPCSA is faced with an injured person, but in this case there was not a shred of evidence to show that anybody had been harmed.
And, Noakes in no way had a doctor/patient relationship with Leenstra, and was not giving her medical advice, he continued.
He said there are also no norms and standards relating to giving medical advice on social media and if there were, it would be difficult to do so because of the very public nature of the medium.
If the HPCSA found against Noakes' comments on Twitter, then writers of diet books would be equally liable towards the people who buy their book.
He added that Leenstra had Noakes' Real Meal Revolution book and would have understood the concepts that he espoused. However, the HPCSA never called her as a witness to establish if she had been harmed.
Van der Nest said Noakes could not be prosecuted for having an unconventional view, and nor should people who might be wrong not be allowed to speak.
''What if he is right?'' he asked.
The argument to wrap the case will continue on Wednesday.