by Marion Nestle

Search results: global energy balance

Nov 9 2015

University of Colorado returns Coca-Cola funding for Global Energy Balance Network

On Friday, the University of Colorado School of Medicine announced that it was giving back the $1 million that Coca-Cola had donated to fund the Global Energy Balance Network.

This is the group of scientists funded by Coca-Cola who were promoting activity as the best way to prevent obesity, but playing down any contribution of soft drinks and junk food to weight gain (see my post on this).

This is the fourth impressive result of the investigative report by Anahad O’Connor in the New York Times in August that revealed Coca-Cola’s funding of such initiatives.

  1. Coke’s chief executive, Muhtar Kent, disclosed that the company had spent almost $120 million since 2010 to pay for partnerships with medical and community health groups, and promised that the company would be more transparent.
  2. Coca-Cola set up a transparency website where it revealed the list of funded organizations.
  3. Coke ended its relationships with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy for Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Practice (or these groups pulled out—everyone seems to want to credit).
  4. Now this. Coke says it will donate the returned money to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

I am quoted in this story:

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, called the network “a front group” for Coca-Cola intended to promote the message that obesity is primarily caused by a lack of exercise, not by overconsumption of junk food.

On Friday, Dr. Nestle, the author of “Soda Politics,” said she was pleased that the university had returned the money.

“Both deserve congratulations for making a difficult but necessary decision,” said Dr. Nestle. “Let’s hope other groups also decide to do the right thing and end such financial relationships.”

Next?

Jan 15 2019

Coca-Cola’s political influence in China: documented evidence

The BMJ (the new name for what was formerly the British Medical Journal) has just published a report by Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist and China specialist at Harvard, of how Coca-Cola, working through the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), got the Chinese government to focus its anti-obesity efforts on promoting physical activity rather than dietary changes.

Professor Greenhalgh documented industry influence on Chinese health policy through review of published work as well as interviews with key players in this drama.

A more thorough report of her investigation with details of her interviews was released at the same time by the Journal of Public Health Policy: “Soda industry influence on obesity science and policy in China.”  This report comes with extensive supplemental information about her methods and interview details (these explain why training in anthropology is useful for this kind of work and provides information not otherwise available).

For readers familiar with Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), this is a familiar story.

I tell the GEBN story in a chapter in my recently released book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

One surprise in writing that book was how often ILSI turns up in its pages.  ILSI positions itself as an independent “nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” but it was founded by Coca-Cola and is largely supported by food and beverage companies.  It works in many countries to promote food-industry interests.

Greenhalgh’s articles thoroughly expose how this organization accomplishes its objectives.  If you would like to know more about it, UCSF Food Industry Documents Library can help, as I learned about from this tweet.

Greenhalgh’s investigation has received extensive press coverage.

I was particularly interested in the account by Crossfit’s Derek Fields and Russ Greene, which provides further documentation of the close connections between Chinese health agencies, ILSI, and programs funded by Coca-Cola.

Jan 5 2017

Coca-Cola and ABA sued over misleading science

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sent out a press release yesterday to announce a lawsuit filed on behalf of the nonprofit Praxis Project.

The complaint says Coca-Cola and its trade association, the American Beverage Association (ABA), mislead the public when they trash the science linking sugary drinks to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the like.

It cites the August 2015 account in the New York Times of Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network, which aimed to shift attention from poor diets as a cause of obesity to lack of physical exercise.  Coca-Cola spent $120 million on research from 2010 to 2015 that could cast doubt on evidence linking health risks to sugary drinks.

It also cites quotations from officials of Coca-Cola and the ABA and researchers they fund “making false and deceptive statements about sugar-sweetened drinks.”  For example:

  • Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, Katie Bayne, claims that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.
  • “Simply put, it is wrong to say beverages cause disease,” the ABA stated in another release.
  • One of the scientists funded by Coca-Cola, Dr. Steven Blair, stated that “there is really virtually no compelling evidence” that sugar drinks are linked to the obesity epidemic.

The complaint also charges that Coca-Cola paid dietitians to promote sugary drinks; it quotes one dietitian who suggested that an eight-ounce soda could be a healthy snack, like “packs of almonds.”

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit fares.  Stay tuned.

Oct 13 2016

I’ve been Wikileaked!

I’ve been following the story of Hillary Clinton’s Wikileaked e-mails (which John Podesta says the Russians released to sway the election)  but never dreamed that I would turn up in them.

But Crossfit’s Russ Greene sent me his blog post yesterday and there I am [the photo comes from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald].

Coke’s Surveillance of Marion Nestle

Strangely, the DC Leaks database does not include any Coca-Cola emails from August 2015, the month that the New York Times first exposed the Global Energy Balance Network. Nonetheless, it does reveal that Coke sent a representative to attend and take notes on Dr. Marion Nestle’s speech at Sydney University in January.

Dr. Nestle, an NYU professor who most recently published “Soda Politics,” spoke on conflicts of interest in health science and government food policy. She mentioned the GEBN as a case study in soda-influenced science.

Nestle moderately concerned Coke. They mentioned the need to “Monitor social media,” but stated that Nestle achieved “very limited pick up from yesterday’s presentation – #sodapolitics.”

Of course the pick up was limited.  This was a private, invitation-only meeting with Sydney nutritionists deliberately kept small so as not to compete with my subsequent public lectures (see below for the media list).

Who was the Coca-Cola note taker?   I have no idea but the notes seem fine.

Coke’s Surveillance of CSPI

I also turn up in the e-mails related to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  Evidently, Coca-Cola was tracking the social media response to a CSPI report on its marketing to children.

The most shared tweet was this one – https://twitter.com/CSPI/status/732239510138949633, which was mainly because Marion Nestle re-tweeted it.

By now I assume that someone from Coca-Cola is taking notes at every talk I give and reporting in to headquarters.

What does all this have to do with Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

As Russ Greene explains, the emails reveal that Capricia Marshall, who is working on the Clinton campaign, is also working for Coca-Cola’s communications team.

The evidence that Marshall is working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is extensive and undeniable. HillaryClinton.com features her prominently at Clinton campaign events.

Just to make things easy for Coca-Cola, here’s my Australia media list

March 10 ABC 7:30, TV interview with Sarah Whyte on Coca-Cola’s funding of research: Sweet Talk

March 2 ABC-FM interview with Margaret Throsby, Classic FM, on Soda Politics

March 1 Lecture to Sydney Ideas: Soda Politics: Lessons from the Food Movement, U. Sydney

March 1 ABC News radio and print interview with David Taylor, on Soda Politics

Feb 29  Interview (online) with ABC Sydney on Soda Politics

Feb 27  “At Lunch With” column in the Sydney Morning Herald: “the powerful foodie”

Feb 24  Podcast of lecture on Soda Politics at the University of Melbourne

Feb 22 Lecture at symposium at Deakin University, Melbourne (this is an mp4 file requiring a lengthy download)

Feb 19 Radio interview with Mark Colvin, ABC News (Sydney) on Soda Politics

Feb 19 Podcast interview with Colvinius, ABC News (Sydney) on Soda Politics

Jul 5 2016

The Disney-funded paper episode comes to closure (I sincerely hope)

My invited, accepted—but omitted—commentary about a study funded by Disney has at last been published by the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research.

In February, I explained how the editors had solicited this commentary, but then given it to the article’s authors to rebut, and allowed me to comment on their rebuttal.  None of this correspondence appeared when the journal published the Disney-funded article.

Could Disney’s involvement have anything to do with this omission?  The editors said no; they had just ran out of page room.

But in April, I wrote about how Stat had obtained e-mails between Disney and one of the authors indicating that the company had attempted to withdraw its study because it feared adverse publicity.  Some of the study’s authors had been associated with the Global Energy Balance Network, the group funded by Coca-Cola to promote the idea that physical activity is more important than diet in maintaining healthy weight.

When I complained about the omission of my accepted piece, the editors arranged to have it and the correspondence published in the journal’s June issue.

While the correspondence was in proof, I added a last line bringing the situation up to date: “Disney’s now exposed attempt to withdraw their paper from publication (Kaplan 2016) provides further evidence for the hazards of industry-funded research.”

Done.  Finished.  Amen.

Apr 11 2016

The strange story of my accepted but yet-to-be published commentary on a Disney-sponsored study gets stranger

Last week, StatNews.com revealed that the Walt Disney company tried to withdraw a research study it had funded because its University of Colorado authors, Jim Hill and John Peters, were behind the Global Energy Balance Network, the group funded by Coca-Cola to minimize the role of sugary drinks in obesity.

The headline: “Disney, fearing a scandal, tried to press journal to withdraw research paper.”

StatNews.com based the story on e-mails obtained from the University of Colorado by Gary Ruskin of US Right to Know through open records requests.

An e-mail from John Peters to a Disney representative says “could I ask you to look this [draft press release] over and edit as you see fit.”

But the authors’ conflict-of-interest disclosure statement says:

This work was supported by the Walt Disney Company and by the National Institutes of Health (grant no. DK48520). The Walt Disney Company and the National Institutes of Health had no role in the design, analysis, or writing of this article.

This may be strictly true, but the authors were asking Disney to approve their press release, which is not exactly “no role.”

Readers: does any of this sound familiar?  In February, I wrote a blog post about precisely this article for which I wrote an invited Commentary, accepted by the journal but not published.  I said:

The paper turned out to be by a group of authors, among them John Peters and Jim Hill, both members of the ill-fated Global Energy Balance Network, the subject of an investigation by the New York Times last August…I thought Disney’s sponsorship of this research and its withholding of critical baseline and sales data on kids’ meals that the company considered proprietary did indeed deserve comment, and wrote my piece accordingly.  Brian Wansink [the journal editor] soon accepted it for publication but to my surprise, gave it to Peters et al. for rebuttal.  They filed a lengthy response.  I was then given the opportunity to respond, and did so, briefly.

My Commentary—and the back-and-forth—were omitted (although they are online and will be published in a later issue, apparently).

Brian Wansink wrote colleagues who are editing the next issue of the journal that the back-and-forth debate over the article “was heated, and it also dragged on (because of Disney approvals) and – as we feared – it missed the deadline of our issue.”

This suggests that Disney had even more of an involvement, but when I asked Wansink if Disney approvals were responsible for his having dropped my Commentary, he said no, they just ran out of room.

We now know that Disney was more involved than disclosed.  How involved?  We dont know but perhaps other e-mails will surface to answer that question.

In their Rebuttal to my Commentary, Hill and Peters said

We were disappointed by Dr. Nestle’s assertion that Disney’s decision to not allow publication of kid’s park attendance numbers or raw kid’s meal sales numbers (because of their proprietary nature in the competitive business of theme parks) and the fact that Disney funded the study raises “red flags” about the veracity of the data presented…While we believe caution and transparency are always key ingredients when working with industry we also believe that solving the obesity problem will require finding a productive model for working together that can channel everyone’s energy toward finding solutions.  The Disney study is a good example of why partnering with industry can help move the field forward.

I am sorry I disappointed them, but I disagree.

The e-mails demonstrate even more forcefully that the Disney study is a good example of why partnering with industry should raise acres of red flags.

To repeat my response:

The response from Peters and Hill still fails to acknowledge the severity of the problems posed by Disney’s sponsorship of their research—the company’s failure to produce data essential for proper interpretation of study results, and the level to which sponsorship by food companies biases such interpretations.  At one point, Disney boasted of the results of this research, confirming its benefit to marketing goals.  The threat of industry sponsorship to research credibility has received considerable press attention in recent months, as must surely be known to these authors. [References one and two]. 

Because of Disney’s funding, the company must have thought it had the right to determine whether and how its funded study would be published.  And, as these e-mails reveal, therein lies the problem.

Feb 17 2016

The strange story of my accepted but then unpublished commentary on a Disney-sponsored study

Last summer, Brian Wansink, a friend and Cornell colleague and the editor of the new Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, asked me to write a commentary on a paper to be published in its inaugural issue.

The paper turned out to be by a group of authors, among them John Peters and Jim Hill, both members of the ill-fated Global Energy Balance Network, the subject of an investigation by the New York Times last August.

Titled “Using Healthy Defaults in Walt Disney World Restaurants to Improve Nutritional Choices,” the paper described the benefits of improving the composition of kids’ meals at Disney World.

The healthy defaults reduced calories (21.4%), fat (43.9%) and sodium (43.4%) for kid’s meal sides and beverages sold in the park. These results suggest that healthy defaults can effectively shift food and beverage selection patterns toward healthier options.

The authors explain:

This work was supported by the Walt Disney Company and by the National Institutes of Health…The Walt Disney Company and the National Institutes of Health had no role in the design, analysis, or writing of this article. Full disclosure: JH is a consultant for the Walt Disney Company and for McDonalds; KA is a consultant for the Walt Disney Company.”

I thought Disney’s sponsorship of this research and its withholding of critical baseline and sales data on kids’ meals that the company considered proprietary did indeed deserve comment, and wrote my piece accordingly.  Brian Wansink soon accepted it for publication but to my surprise, gave it to Peters et al. for rebuttal.  They filed a lengthy response.  I was then given the opportunity to respond, and did so, briefly.

The paper by Peters, et al. did was published in the journal’s first issue.   This issue also includes several commentaries on other papers (none of which are accompanied by rebuttals).

My commentary—and the back-and-forth—however, were omitted.

After some discussion, the journal published my commentary online.  You have to scroll down to find it.  The site provides no links to it in the table of contents or in the article by Peters et al.

Is it possible that Disney or the authors’ contractual relationships with Disney could have had anything to do with the omission of my accepted-for-publication commentary?  Brian Wansink says no, they just ran out of room (despite room for others).

Whatever.

Here’s what I wrote:

Dietary nudges for obesity prevention: They work, but additional policies are also needed

In 2006, the Walt Disney Company announced a new initiative to improve the nutritional quality of meals served to children at its theme parks. The company would be changing the default kids’ meals—the components that come without having to be ordered separately–to include low-fat milk, juice, or water rather than soft drinks, and sides such as apple sauce or carrots rather than French fries. Parents who wanted sodas or fries for their children would have to ask for them, something many might not bother to do. Health groups had long advocated for this policy change (Wootan 2012).

As I commented to a reporter at the time, “going to Disney World is an excuse for eating junk food…Disney or its advisers must be feeling they have some responsibility” (Horovitz and Petrecca 2006). Indeed, the healthier defaults were part of a larger effort by Disney to deal with its contribution to obesity in America. After ticket prices, food is the second greatest source of revenue at Disney World. Although reducing the amount of food consumed at the parks might help create a less “obesogenic” food environment, revenues might fall. But the default change might be revenue neutral. By 2008, Disney could report that two-thirds of U.S. customers ordering kids’ meals had accepted the default, with no loss in sales. In Hong Kong Disney parks, nearly all customers accepted the default. The report, however, did not include data on the numbers or proportions of customers ordering kids’ meals (Walt Disney Company 2008).

Disney’s more recent summary of its child health initiatives states that it is funding investigators at the University of Colorado to conduct a more formal evaluation of use of the default options (Walt Disney Company 2015). The paper by Peters et al. (2016) in this issue of the Journal presents the results of that research. Their work confirms the ongoing effectiveness of the strategy. Nearly half the customers ordering kids’ meals accepted the healthy default side dishes and two-thirds accepted the healthier beverages. These choices resulted in significant reductions in the calories, fat, and sodium in purchased kids’ meals, but not sugar (Peters et al 2016).

The authors argue that gentle nudges changes like these are preferable to more coercive policies that smack of nanny statism. Such reductions help, but are they enough to make a real difference? To answer this question, it would help to know what else the children were eating along with the drink and side dishes. Although the authors were given raw sales data, Disney did not permit them to use this information as part of the overall analysis. The company also refused to provide information about the number of children who visited the park or the number of kids’ meals sold.

These missing pieces raise red flags because this is a Disney-funded study that produced results that Disney can use to advertise itself as a company that cares about kids’ health, and to deflect attention from Disney World’s’ reputation as a junk-food paradise. Corporate funding of research introduces conflicts of interest and reduces the credibility of the results, not least because the biases inherent in such research are largely unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized (Moore et al 2005) The results of this study merit especially careful scrutiny. Taking them at face value, the default strategy worked well for the drink, but the sides are still a problem, and so are the sugars. They do not reveal much about what kids eat in a day at Walt Disney World

Nudges like this default are an important part of strategies to counter childhood obesity. But are they enough to deal with the public health problem? To make a real difference, they need to be accompanied and supported by a range of policy approaches. Current thinking about such approaches recommends combining insights from behavioral research, economics, and public health to establish a food environment far more conducive to making the healthy choice not only easy choice, but also the preferred choice. Doing so is likely to require multiple actions—for example, regulation of nutrient content and marketing; incentives such as subsidies of healthier foods; disincentives such as taxes, warning labels, and nutritional rating systems for unhealthier foods; and education of adults and children (Hawkes et al 2015). Disney’s voluntary default is a small step in the direction of such policies, but many more are needed if we are to make real progress in reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity.

  • Margo G. Wootan. Children’s meals in restaurants: families need more help to make healthy choices.   Childhood Obesity 2012;8(1):31-33.
  • Bruce Horovitz and Laura Petrecca.  Disney to make food healthier for kids.  USA Today, October 17, 2006.
  • Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Company—2008 Corporate Responsibility Report. 2008.
  • Walt Disney Company.  Magic of Healthy Living brochure.  2015. https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/sites/default/files/MOHL_Brochure.pdf.
  • John C. Peters, Jimikaye Beck, Jan Lande, Zhaoxing Pan, Michelle Cardel, Keith Ayoob, and James Hill. Using healthy defaults in Walt Disney World restaurants to improve nutritional choices.  J Assoc Consumer Res., 2016;1:1.
  • Don A. Moore, Daylian M. Cain, George Loewenstein, and Max H. Bazerman, editors.  Conflicts of Interest: Challenges and Solutions in Business, Law, Medicine, and Public Policy.  Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Corinna Hawkes, Trenton G Smith, Jo Jewell, Jane Wardle, Ross A Hammond, Sharon Friel, Anne Marie Thow, Juliana Kain.  Smart food policies for obesity prevention. The Lancet 2015;385:2410–2421.

And here’s my response to the rebuttal by Peters et al.

The response from Peters and Hill still fails to acknowledge the severity of the problems posed by Disney’s sponsorship of their research—the company’s failure to produce data essential for proper interpretation of study results, and the level to which sponsorship by food companies biases such interpretations.  At one point, Disney boasted of the results of this research, confirming its benefit to marketing goals.  The threat of industry sponsorship to research credibility has received considerable press attention in recent months, as must surely be known to these authors.1,2 

1  Anahad O’Connor.  Coca-Cola funds scientists who shift blame for obesity away from bad diets.  New York Times, August 9, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/

2  Candice Choi.  AP Newsbreak: Emails reveal Coke’s role in anti-obesity group.  US News, November 24, 2015.  http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/11/24/apnewsbreak-emails-reveal-cokes-role-in-anti-obesity-group

Jan 6 2016

Viewpoint: Food-industry Funding of Food and Nutrition Research

My latest Viewpoint, “Corporate funding of food and nutrition research: science or marketing,” was published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine 2016;176 (1):13-14.  doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.6667.

The longstanding influence of food industry funding on nutrition research, researchers, and professional societies1 threatens the credibility of nutrition science. So much research is sponsored by industry that health professionals and the public may lose confidence in basic dietary advice. Although most journals now require authors to disclose who pays for their work, disclosure—even done diligently—is not sufficient to alert readers to the extent to which industry funding influences research results and professional opinion. As is well established from experimental and observational research, drug company gifts and grants can have substantial effects. To recipients, however, these effects are almost always unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized, making them especially difficult to prevent.

Medical schools and medical journals have increased efforts to minimize and manage conflicts of interest with industry. But from my observations, nutrition researchers, journals, and professional societies, like medical researchers, often fail to realize that food-industry funding may affect their work and its credibility.

Two recent investigative articles in the New York Times illustrate the concerns about biases introduced by industry funding. The first3 described the support by Coca-Cola of academic researchers who founded a new organization, the Global Energy Balance Network, to promote physical activity as a more effective method than calorie control (eg, from avoiding sugary sodas) for preventing obesity. The second4 analyzed emails obtained through open-records requests to document how Monsanto, the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, on the one hand, and the organic food industry, on the other, recruited professors to lobby, write, and testify to Congress on their behalf.

Both articles3,4 quoted the researchers named in these reports as denying an influence of industry funding and lamenting the paucity of university research funds and the competitiveness of federal grants. Despite leaving their organizations open to accusations that they have sold out to industry,5 officers of nutrition research societies tell me that they cannot function without industry funding of journals and conferences. They have a point. Although the investment by federal agencies in food and nutrition research has increased steadily since the early 1990s, US Department of Agriculture grants are diminishing, and the National Institutes of Health are funding fewer researchers at state agricultural colleges. Investigators have a hard time obtaining grants for projects related to food composition, food technology, nutrients, and nutrient metabolism as federal agencies have understandably shifted priorities toward research on obesity, genetics, and chronic diseases.6

Food companies, such as Quaker Oats, used to support basic research conducted by in-house scientists, but Unilever and Nestlé (no relation) are among the very few companies that continue to do so. Instead, food companies outsource research, much of which can appear as designed for marketing purposes. Recently, in preparation for what I intend to be a more systematic analysis of corporate funding of nutrition research, I began collecting a convenience sample of studies funded by food and beverage companies or trade associations as they appear in journals I happen to be reading. I sort them by whether their results do or do not favor the interests of the sponsor, and post examples online at my blog, https://foodpolitics.com.7

Between March and October 2015, I identified 76 industry-funded studies. Of these, 70 reported results favorable to the sponsor’s interest. Despite ongoing requests to readers of my blog to help me identify funded studies reporting results contrary to a funder’s interest, I have found only 6.  [Note: Since writing this, the score has gone to 90:9.] This discrepancy is consistent with the results of systematic investigations of industry sponsorship, such as one on the role of sugar-sweetened beverages in obesity.8 In general, independently funded studies find correlations between sugary drinks and poor health, whereas those supported by the soda industry do not.9 In the studies I collected, companies or trade associations promoting soft drinks, dairy foods, eggs, breakfast cereals, pork, beef, soy products, dietary supplements, juices, cranberries, nuts, and chocolates supported the study itself, the investigators, or both. These studies all found significant health benefits or lack of harm from consuming the foods investigated, results that can be useful for deflecting criticism of a company or promoting its products.

Mars Inc, for example, the maker of chocolate candies such as M&Ms, funds studies on the effects of cocoa flavanols on arterial function and blood pressure. One such study, published in September 2015,10(p1246)concluded that these compounds “improved accredited cardiovascular surrogates of cardiovascular risk, demonstrating that dietary flavanols have the potential to maintain cardiovascular health even in low-risk subjects.” The study investigators,10 one of whom is employed by Mars, followed well-established scientific protocols in conducting the research. Science is not the issue here. Marketing is the issue. The question is why Mars would fund a study like this and assign one of its employees to help design and write it. In this instance, the answer is obvious. Mars issued a press release “Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people,” and noted these results in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on September 27, 2015, Neither the press release nor advertisement explained that cocoa flavanols are largely destroyed during all but the most careful processing of chocolate, nor did they mention chocolate at all. They didn’t have to. Uncritical readers are likely to interpret the statements as evidence that chocolate is good for them and that its sugar and calories can be ignored.

The second New York Times article4 raised more insidious concerns about industry involvement with scientists, using Monsanto and organic food companies as cases in point. Although both industries recruit scientists to speak on their behalf, Monsanto has far greater resources. In 1994, I was a member of the Food Advisory Committee to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when that agency approved genetically modified (GM) foods. I observed how Monsanto-funded scientists convinced the FDA that labeling GM foods would be misleading.

Confronted with increasing public support for labeling foods that are produced with GM ingredients, the biotechnology industry supported—and the House of Representatives passed—H.R. 1599 in July 2015. This bill, expected to be considered by the Senate before the end of 2015, has the Orwellian title, “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” but some critics call it the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.” Proposed by Representative Mike Pompeo (Kansas) on the basis that GM foods are safe and, therefore, acceptable, the act would block states from enacting labeling laws (as Vermont has already done) and permit GM foods to be labeled as “natural.” Opponents question the safety of GM foods. But they also raise additional reasons for full transparency in labeling—patents, control of seed stocks, the widespread application of chemical herbicides to GM crops, and the increasingly widespread resistance of weeds to those herbicides. When evaluating conflicting scientific and policy arguments about GM foods, it is useful to know who funds the researchers and their studies.

Should nutrition researchers and professional societies accept funding from food companies? Not without careful thinking. It’s time that food and nutrition researchers and societies recognize the influence of food-industry sponsorship, take steps to control its effects, and ensure that sponsored studies promote public health, not the marketing of food products. Journal editors should ensure that editors and members of editorial boards are free of industry conflicts, require peer reviewers to note food-industry funding in manuscript evaluations, and be wary of accepting industry-funded publications with evident commercial implications. If food companies and trade associations want to fund research, they should consider pooling resources and setting up an independent foundation to administer the grants. Everyone involved in this system should be doing everything possible to advocate for more research funds from federal granting agencies. Nothing less than the credibility of nutrition research and advice is at stake.

REFERENCES

1 Nestle  M. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.3rd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2013.
2 Lo  B, Field  MJ, eds. Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009.
3 O’Connor  A. Coca-Cola funds scientists who shift blame for obesity away from bad diets. New York Times. August 9, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/?_r=0. Accessed October 22, 2015.
4 Lipton  E. Food industry enlisted academics in G.M.O. lobbying war, emails show. New York Times. September 5, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/food-industry-enlisted-academics-in-gmo-lobbying-war-emails-show.html. Accessed October 22, 2015.
5 Simon  M. Nutrition scientists on the take from Big Food: has the American Society for Nutrition lost all credibility? June 2015. http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/ASNReportFinal.pdf. Accessed October 22, 2015.
6 Toole  AA, Kuchler  F. Improving health through nutrition research: an overview of the U.S. nutrition research system. Econ Res Rep No. 182. January 2015.http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1760111/err-182.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2015.
7 Nestle  M. Food Politics blog. https://foodpolitics.com. Accessed October 27, 2015.
8 Lesser  LI, Ebbeling  CB, Goozner  M, Wypij  D, Ludwig  DS.  Relationship between funding source and conclusion among nutrition-related scientific articles. PLoS Med. 2007;4(1):e5. PubMed   |  Link to Article
9 Massougbodji  J, Le Bodo  Y, Fratu  R, De Wals  P.  Reviews examining sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight: correlates of their quality and conclusions. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(5):1096-1104. PubMed   |  Link to Article
10 Sansone  R, Rodriguez-Mateos  A, Heuel  J,  et al; Flaviola Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program.  Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. Br J Nutr. 2015;114(8):1246-1255. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002822PubMed   |  Link to Article

ARTICLE INFORMATION

Corresponding Author: Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, 411 Lafayette, Fifth Floor, New York, NY 10003-7035 (marion.nestle@nyu.edu).

Published Online: November 23, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.6667.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Nestle’s salary from New York University supports her research, manuscript preparation, website, and blog at https://foodpolitics.com. She also earns royalties from books and honoraria from lectures to university and health professional groups about matters relevant to this Viewpoint.