by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Conflicts-of-interest

Sep 28 2015

Never a dull moment: the BMJ’s attack on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report

Really, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) report shouldn’t be this controversial and shouldn’t be controversial at all (as I’ve said before).  But lots of people—the food industry, of course, but also some scientists and journalists—seem to have exceptionally intense opinions about the fat recommendations [Recall:  The DGAC report does not constitute the Dietary Guidelines; these are written by USDA and HHS and are not due out until the end of this year].

Now, we have the journalist Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, repeating the themes of her book in the BMJ: The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?.

The BMJ has also found that the committee’s report used weak scientific standards, reversing recent efforts by the government to strengthen the scientific review process. This backsliding seems to have made the report vulnerable to internal bias as well as outside agendas.

Teicholz’s interpretation of the science relating dietary fat to health has been thoroughly critiqued (see end of post).   The way I see it, these arguments are difficult to resolve outside the context of dietary patterns as a whole.

My hypothesis (note: hypothesis) is that for people who balance calorie intake with expenditure, the type of fat—or carbohydrate—matters much less than it does for people who overeat calories.  This hypothesis needs testing to confirm it.

What troubles me about Teicholz’s work is the certainty with which she presents her ideas.  She comes across as utterly convinced she is right, even in the face of substantial and substantive criticism of her statements and interpretations.

At least one error

Here, for example, is one statement in the BMJ article that I know from personal experience cannot be correct.

Much has been written about how industries try to influence nutrition policy, so it is surprising that unlike authors in most major medical journals, guideline committee members are not required to list their potential conflicts of interest.

I was a member of the 1995 DGAC and I was required to declare conflicts of interest.  So were members of the committees in 2000, 2005, and 2010, as shown in this excellent short video.

Later, discussing conflicts of interest among DGAC members, Teicholz says:

Still, it’s important to note that in a field where public research dollars are scarce, nearly all nutrition scientists accept funding from industry. [Nearly all?  I don’t, and I doubt this is correct].  Of far greater influence is likely to be bias in favor of an institutionalized hypothesis as well as a “white hat” bias to distort information for what is perceived as righteous ends.

The “white hat bias” comment refers to a paper by authors who themselves report food-industry funding:

Competing Interests. Drs. Allison and Cope have received grants, honoraria, donations, and consulting fees from numerous food, beverage, dietary supplement, pharmaceutical companies, litigators, and other commercial, government, and nonprofit entities with interests in obesity and nutrition including in interests in breastfeeding and NSBs. Dr. Cope has recently accepted a position with The Solae Company (St Louis, MO.).

Responses to the BMJ article

The DGAC wrote a rebuttal to Teicholz.  It is published on the BMJ website.

HHS also published a statement, reproduced by Mother Jones.

The British Medical Journal’s decision to publish this article is unfortunate given the prevalence of factual errors. HHS and USDA required the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to conduct a rigorous, systematic and transparent review of the current body of nutrition science. Following an 19-month open process, documented for the public on, the external expert committee submitted its report to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA. HHS and USDA are considering the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, along with comments from the public and input from federal agencies, as we develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be released later this year.

Yoni Freedhoff’s Weighty Matters blog provides a handy summary of additional responses to the BMJ article.

Scientific analysis of The Big Fat Surprise

Many of the scientific claims in this book seemed so far-fetched that they induced a nutritionist, Seth Yoder, to go over it line by line, read the references, and point out discrepancies.   These are posted on his website in two parts.

A summary quote from Part 1:

What makes this particular book interesting is not so much that it is bad (which it is) or that it is extravagantly biased (which it also is). No, what really fascinates me about this book is that the author excessively and shamelessly lifts other people’s material.

And a quote from Part 2

The Big Fat Surprise (BFS) by Nina Teicholz is yet another book in a long line of books that informs the reader that everything you thought you knew about nutrition is wrong: saturated fat from animals is actually quite good for you, cholesterol isn’t really important, the government lied to you, nutritionists and dietitians lied to you, the American Heart Association lied to you, etc… Leaving aside that the concept of that kind of a conspiracy actually existing is really absurd, what I’m surprised about is that publishers can keep churning out books like this and people are gullible enough to keep buying them.

Caveat emptor.


Sep 22 2015

Coca-Cola’s transparency initiative

Sugars item #2 for this week (about half of the sugars in US diets come from sugar-sweetened beverages)

As promised in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in August, Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, is making its funding transparent.  He said he “directed Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, to”

Publish on our website a list of our efforts to reduce calories and market responsibly, along with a list of health and well-being partnerships and research activities we have funded in the past five years, which we will continue to update every six months.

True to his word, here is Coca-Cola’s commitment to transparency:

This makes interesting reading, to say the least.  Enjoy!


Sep 21 2015

Sugars for toddlers: an invitational roundtable from The Sugar Association

This week, I’m going to be posting items about sugar politics.

Item on sugars #1:

Funny thing.  I was not invited to this event, but someone who was invited passed along the invitation.  You too will be sad you weren’t invited.

I am contacting you at the request of Dr. Courtney Gaine, VP of Scientific Affairs from The Sugar Association, regarding an invitational roundtable on The Role of Sugars in Supporting a Nutrient-dense Diet for Toddlers, 12 to 24 Months.  It will be sponsored by the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Department of Pediatrics, chaired by Dr. Ronald Kleinman from Harvard Medical School, co-chaired by Dr. Frank Greer from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and facilitated by Sylvia Rowe.  The roundtable is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from the Association….

Roundtable Objectives

  • Provide a forum to discuss the science and research voids on the role of sugars as a strategy that may help parents successfully transition their older infants and toddlers (12 to 24 months) from complementary infant foods to consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods from the family table.
  • Generate potential research ideas and questions on this topic for future guidance on the feeding of young children, including birth to 24 months, which is scheduled for integration into the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Create the impetus to extend this research to public-private partnerships with industry, academy and the government.

Proposed Topic Areas 

  • The roundtable has been tentatively divided into these 5 topic areas: 1) transitional toddler feeding and nutrition policy; 2) physiology; 3) sugars in toddler feeding practices; 4) parent-feeding strategies: emerging science; and 5) the research path forward….


The Sugar Association will reimburse you for all reasonable travel expenses, plus a $2,000 honorarium for your review of abstracts and presentations, which you will receive in mid-October, and your participation in the 1 ½ day roundtable.

This requires some translation.  I may be over-interpreting here, but as I see it, the Sugar Association is paying academics $2000 to implicitly endorse:

  • Promoting the use of sugar as a way to get toddlers to eat healthier foods.
  • Making sure the 2020 dietary guidelines say nothing about the need for kids to eat less sugar (we don’t even have the guidelines for 2015 yet).
  • Making sure that government agencies don’t advise or set policies to encourage eating less sugar.


Sep 17 2015

Another five industry-funded nutrition studies with industry-favorable results. Score: 60:3

Nutrition research studies funded by food companies are pouring in and here’s another set of five with expected results.  The first one is notable for its extensive revelations, a case of TMI (too much information) if I’ve ever seen one.  As usual, if you run across more of these—and especially industry-funded studies that do not favor the sponsor’s interest, please send.  The roundup since mid-March: 60 with favorable results, 3 without.

Effect of Fructose on Established Lipid Targets: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Controlled Feeding Trials.  Laura Chiavaroli, Russell J. de Souza, Vanessa Ha, Adrian I. Cozma, Arash Mirrahimi, David D. Wang, Matthew Yu, Amanda J. Carleton, Marco Di Buono, Alexandra L. Jenkins, Lawrence A. Leiter, Thomas M. S. Wolever, Joseph Beyene, Cyril W. C. Kendall, David J. A. Jenkins, and John L. Sievenpiper.  J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4: originally published September 10, 2015, doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001700.

  • Conclusion: Pooled analyses showed that fructose only had an adverse effect on established lipid targets when added to existing diets so as to provide excess calories (+21% to 35% energy). When isocalorically exchanged for other carbohydrates, fructose had no adverse effects on blood lipids.
  • Conflicts:  The disclosures cover two full pages in the journal.  These authors report every source of income—honoraria, prizes, travel funds—including those of their spouses.  They apparently work for every food company imaginable, including any number with interests in minimizing a harmful role of fructose in health.
  • Comment:  I do not know why the editors of this journal decided that the conflict-of-interest statement was worth two pages of journal space.  Perhaps they don’t think such statements necessary and were being ironic?  Or perhaps they wanted to make sure that these highly conflicted authors were fully exposed?  Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters consulted an ethicist about this question but did not get a clear answer.  I wrote the journal editor and asked what this was about, but have not received a response.

Beneficial effects of oral chromium picolinate supplementation on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized clinical study. Ana N. Paiva, Josivan G. de Lima, Anna C.Q. de Medeiros, Heverton A.O. Figueiredo, Raiana L. de Andrade, Marcela A.G. Ururahye, Adriana A. Rezende, José Brandão-Neto, Maria das G. Almeida.   Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 32 (2015) 66–72.

  • Conclusions: CrPic supplementation had a beneficial effect on glycemic control in patients with poorly controlled T2DM, without affecting the lipid profile.
  • Conflict: Manipulation Pharmacy Companhia da Fórmula donated the chromium picolinate supplement.
  • Comment: Without knowing more about this situation, it’s not possible to say whether donation of a supplement is enough to raise concerns.  This study raises questions because most independently funded studies of chromium and diabetes have shown minimal or no benefits (see, for example this one).

Oat consumption reduced intestinal fat deposition and improved health span in Caenorhabditis elegans model. Chenfei Gao, Zhanguo Gao, Frank L. Greenway, Jeffrey H. Burton, William D. Johnson, Michael J. Keenan, Frederick M. Enright, Roy J. Martin, YiFang Chu, Jolene Zheng.  Nutrition Research September 2015 Volume 35, Issue 9, Pages 834–843.

  • Conclusion: Oat consumption may be a beneficial dietary intervention for reducing fat accumulation, augmenting health span, and improving hyperglycemia-impaired lipid metabolism [in nematodes].
  • Conflict: This research was supported by a nonrestricted donation from PepsiCo Inc. Oats used in this study were a gift of PepsiCo Inc. Y. Chu is an employee of PepsiCo, Inc, which manufactures oatmeal products under the brand name Quaker Oats.

A pilot study examining the effects of consuming a high-protein vs normal-protein breakfast on free-living glycemic control in overweight/obese ‘breakfast skipping’ adolescents. L B Bauer, L J Reynolds, S M Douglas, M L Kearney, H A Hoertel, R S Shafer, J P Thyfault and H J Leidy.  International Journal of Obesity (2015) 39, 1421–1424; doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.101; published online 7 July 2015

  • Conclusion: These data suggest that the daily addition of a HP breakfast, containing 35 g of high-quality protein, has better efficacy at improving free-living glycemic control compared with a NP breakfast in overweight/obese, but otherwise healthy, ‘breakfast skipping’ adolescents.
  • Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest, but the study was funded by the Pork Checkoff.

Acute Cocoa Supplementation Increases Postprandial HDL Cholesterol and Insulin in Obese Adults with Type 2 Diabetes after Consumption of a High-Fat Breakfast.  Arpita Basu, Nancy M Betts, Misti J Leyva, Dongxu Fu, Christopher E Aston, and Timothy J Lyons.  J Nutr September 2, 2015, doi: 10.3945/​jn.115.215772

  • Conclusions: Acute cocoa supplementation showed no clear overall benefit in T2D patients after a high-fat fast-food–style meal challenge. Although HDL cholesterol and insulin remained higher throughout the 6-h postprandial period, an overall decrease in large artery elasticity was found after cocoa consumption.
  • Funding: Among other sources, the lead author receiveda grant from The Hershey Company.
  • Comment: This is a negative study (no benefit) with a positive spin (higher HDL, decrease in large artery elasticity).


Sep 14 2015

Five more industry-funded studies with expected results. The score: 55:3

Here’s the latest collection of 5 studies funded by food companies or trade associations, all with results that favor the sponsor’s interests.  I’ve just reviewed them and found a couple of duplicates, so this is a corrected score.  The correct score is 55 industry-funded studies with positive results vs. 3 with results unfavorable to industry—since mid-March.

I’m particularly interested in the unfavorable category.  If you run across any, please send.

Jejunal Casein Feeding Is Followed by More Rapid Protein Digestion and Amino Acid Absorption When Compared with Gastric Feeding in Healthy Young Men. Joanna Luttikhold, Klaske van Norren, Nikki Buijs, Marjolein Ankersmit, Annemieke C Heijboer, Jeannette Gootjes, Herman Rijna, Paul AM van Leeuwen, and Luc JC van Loon. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:2033-2038 doi:10.3945/jn.115.211615.

  • Conclusions: Jejunal feeding of intact casein is followed by more rapid protein digestion and AA absorption when compared with gastric feeding in healthy young men. The greater postprandial increase in circulating EAA concentrations may allow a more robust increase in muscle protein synthesis rate after jejunal vs. gastric casein feeding.
  • Funding: Supported by Nutricia Research, Utrecht, Netherlands. J Luttikhold was employed by Nutricia Research; K van Norren is a guest employee of Nutricia Research; and LJC van Loon has served as a consultant for Nutricia Research.  [Note: Nutricia Research is a subsidiary of Danone].

Higher Total Protein Intake and Change in Total Protein Intake Affect Body Composition but Not Metabolic Syndrome Indexes in Middle-Aged Overweight and Obese Adults Who Perform Resistance and Aerobic Exercise for 36 Weeks. Wayne W Campbell, Jung Eun Kim, Akua F Amankwaah, Susannah L Gordon, and Eileen M Weinheimer-Haus. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:2076-2083 doi:10.3945/jn.115.213595.

  • Conclusions: In conjunction with exercise training, higher TPro [total protein] promoted positive changes in BC [body composition] but not in MetS [metabolic syndrome] indexes in overweight and obese middle-aged adults. Changes in TPro from before to during the intervention also influenced BC responses and should be considered in future research when different TPro is achieved via diet or supplements.
  • Funding:  Supported by the US Whey Protein Research Consortium (to WWC) among others.  WW Campbell was a member of the National Dairy Council Whey Protein Advisory Panel while the research was being conducted.

Intense Sweeteners, Appetite for the Sweet Taste, and Relationship to Weight ManagementFrance Bellisle.  Current Obesity Reports March 2015, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 106-110 10.1007/s13679-014-0133-8

  • Conclusion: While many of the existing studies cannot identify any causal links between use of LES [artificial, low-energy sweeteners] and appetite for sweetness, randomized trials in children and adults suggest that use of LES tends to reduce rather than increase the intake of sugar-containing foods and to facilitate, rather than impair, weight loss.
  • Conflict: Parts of [this study] are extracted from a non-published document for which the author received an honorarium from the International Sweeteners Association (ISA).  France Bellisle is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for General Mills and has received travel reimbursement and honoraria for contributions in scientific congresses from Mondelez, ISA, and General Mills.

Impact of cocoa flavanol intake on age-dependent vascular stiffness in healthy men: a randomized, controlled, double-masked trial.  Christian Heiss & Roberto Sansone & Hakima Karimi & Moritz Krabbe & Dominik Schuler & Ana Rodriguez-Mateos & Thomas Kraemer & Miriam Margherita Cortese-Krott & Gunter G. C. Kuhnle & Jeremy P. E. Spencer & Hagen Schroeter & Marc W. Merx & Malte Kelm & for the FLAVIOLA Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program.  AGE (2015) 37: 56 DOI 10.1007/s11357-015-9794-9

  • Conclusion: CF [cocoa flavanol] intake reverses age-related burden of cardiovascular risk in healthy elderly, highlighting the potential of dietary flavanols to maintain cardiovascular health.
  • Funding: …Additional funding was provided by an unrestricted grant by MARS, Inc…MARS, Inc. provided the standardized test drinks used in this investigation. HS is employed by MARS, Inc., a member of the FLAVIOLA research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities.

Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health StudyRoberto Sansone, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos , Jan Heuel, David Falk, Dominik Schuler, Rabea Wagstaff, Gunter G. C. Kuhnle, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, Hagen Schroeter, Marc W. Merx, Malte Kelm and Christian Heiss for the Flaviola Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program.  British Journal of Nutrition, September 9, 2015. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002822.

  • Conclusion: In healthy individuals, regular CF [cocoa flavanol] intake improved accredited cardiovascular surrogates of cardiovascular risk, demonstrating that dietary flavanols have the potential to maintain cardiovascular health even in low-risk subjects.
  • Funding: Additional funding was provided…through an unrestricted grant by MARS Inc. MARS Inc. also provided the standardised test drinks used in this investigation… H. S. provided test drinks on behalf of Mars Inc… H. S. is employed by MARS Inc., a member of the Flaviola research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities. [The conflict statement also discloses that MARS employee H.S. shared responsibility for designing the study, writing the paper, and approving the final content].
  • Comment: Lest the implicit (but never stated directly) “eat more chocolate” message of these studies be missed, Mars sent out a press release: “Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people.”
Sep 10 2015

Industry-funded studies with results that do NOT favor the sponsor! The score since March: 50:3

Since mid-March, I’ve been collecting research studies funded by food companies or trade associations, and dividing them into those that come out with results favorable to the sponsor (50 so far–this is a corrected number) and those that do not (as of today, 3).

As always, if you run across others, please send.

A reader, Cole Adam, sent me this study on dark chocolate funded by a Finnish company that makes chocolate products.

Dark chocolate and reduced snack consumption in mildly hypertensive adults: an intervention study.  Raika Koli, Klaus Köhler, Elina Tonteri, Juha Peltonen, Heikki Tikkanen and Mikael Fogelholm.  Nutrition Journal 2015, 14:84  doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0075-3

  • Results: Daily consumption of dark chocolate had no effects on 24 h blood pressure, resting blood pressure…or arterial stiffness.  Weight was reduced by 1.0 ± 2.2 kg during the control (reduced snack only) period, but was unchanged while eating chocolate (p < 0.027 between the treatments).
  • Conclusion:  …inclusion of 49 g dark chocolate daily as part of a diet of mildly hypertensive participants had no significant effects on cardiovascular risk factors during 8 wks.  Apart from a small effect on body weight (dark chocolate seemingly prevented a slight decrease in body weight during the control period), no other negative effects were observed.
  • Funding:  This work was funded by Oy Karl Fazer Ab. Authors declare no competing interests regarding this study.  [Oy Karl Fazer Ab sells bakery, biscuit, and confectionery products in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, Russia, and internationally]

Several points to note about this study:

  • Eating 49 grams (just under 2 ounces) of dark chocolate a day may be fun, but it is not going to reduce your blood pressure.
  • Eating 49 grams of dark chocolate a day makes weight loss more difficult.
  • The authors do not view corporate funding as introducing competing interests.  OK.  Maybe not in this case, but this is a rare exception.

Another reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, sent this one:

Milk intake is not associated with low risk of diabetes or overweight-obesity: a Mendelian randomization study in 97,811 Danish individualsHelle KM Bergholdt, Børge G Nordestgaard, and Christina Ellervik.  Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:487–96. 

  • Conclusions: High milk intake is not associated with a low risk of type 2 diabetes or overweight-obesity, observationally or genetically via lactase persistence.  The higher risk of type 2 diabetes in   individuals without milk intake likely is explained by collider stratification bias.
  • Conflict: HKMB’s PhD project was partly funded by the Research Unit at Naestved Hospital, the Danish Dairy Research Foundation, and the Regional Research Unit in Region Zealand. [The population studies were funded by a long list of government agencies, health organizations, and foundations].
  • Comment: This study says that high milk intake is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, although it explains it away.  The Danish dairy industry paid for part of the first author’s dissertation research.  It looks like most of the funding came from independent sources, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but to be super scrupulous let’s count it as industry-funded.

NOTE: All three “negative” studies I’ve posted since March were funded by international food companies (the previous one was funded by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation).

Sep 8 2015

Should scientists with financial ties to Monsanto be subject to FOIA requests?

Sunday’s New York Times story on academic conflicts of interest focused on scientists with financial ties to Monsanto.  The ties were revealed by open-records requests for e-mails and other information.

The Times was not the only one to make these requests.  U.S. Right to Know, a group devoted to investigating Big Food and its front groups had already done so.  U.S. Right to Know is funded primarily by the Organic Consumers Association, a national grassroots network advocating for organics, sustainability, and food safety—but against GMOs.

U.S. Right to Know rightfully takes credit for establishing the basis of the Times’ story.  It sent open-records requests to scientists working for public institutions who seemed likely to have financial ties to Monsanto.  Bingo.  Some of the e-mails revealed such ties.*

But should government-funded scientists be subjected to open records requests?  Couldn’t these requests amount to open season on academics—a modern-day version of witchhunts?  This question is now under active debate (and see comments on my previous post).

While these debates are raging, here is one aspect of this story that the New York Times did not tell.

Earlier this month, Paul Thacker and my NYU colleague Charles Seife, wrote a piece for PLoS [Public Library of Science] Blogs arguing that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests “for personal correspondence are not just appropriate, but crucial to ensuring transparency.”   They argue that the benefits of transparency outweigh the costs.

But transparency laws remain a fundamental tool for monitoring possible scientific misbehavior. And it would be a mistake to believe that scientists should not be subject to a high level of outside scrutiny. So long as scientists receive government money, they are subject to government oversight; so long as their work affects the public, journalists and other watchdogs are simply doing their jobs when they seek out possible misconduct and questionable practices that could threaten the public interest.

Thacker and Seife explain:

Last week, Nature reported that the University of Florida had provided them with emails that U.S. Right to Know had FOIA’d on one of their researchers…the [Nature] story noted that the researcher has received money from Monsanto to fund expenses incurred while giving educational talks on GMOs.  The article also noted that the PR Firm Ketchum had provided the scientist with canned answers to respond to GMO critics, although it is unclear if he used them [the Times story says he did but now regrets it].

The article does not report that the scientist has repeatedly denied having a financial relationship with Monsanto. The article also does not report on an email titled “CONFIDENTIAL: Coalition Update” from the researcher to Monsanto in which the scientist advised Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California to require labeling of GMO products.

Some readers of PLoS were outraged that this online journal would publish an article supporting open-records requests of scientists (see, for example, this from the American Council on Science and Health).

Here’s where things get interesting.

PLoS responded to the criticism by, of all things, retracting the article.

Seife and Thacker explained their views in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

If the public pays your salary, citizens have the right — within limits — to see what you’re doing. That’s the principle at the core of the federal Freedom of Information Act and of the many similar state freedom of information laws… “snooping” on scientists’ inboxes by journalists, watchdogs and government officials has revealed significant problems that would never have come to light via other means.

That, of course, is the basis of the New York Times’ exposé of Monsanto’s funding of scientists to testify on the company’s behalf to reporters, Congress, and the public.

Bottom line: Because industry-funded science and scientists almost invariably provide data and testimony that favors the sponsors interests, the press and public need to know about sponsorship.

One more comment:  A substantial body of literature exists on industry sponsorship of science, particularly on the effects of pharmaceutical industry funding of medical professionals.  Conflicts-of-interest researchers conclude that such conflicts are generally unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized by participants.  The remedy is increased government spending for research, an unlikely possibility these days.  This means journalists will be kept busy exposing the many problems that arise when scientists take industry funding.

*The documents collected by the New York Times


Sep 6 2015

Another exposé of industry-funded scientists: this time, GMOs and organics

Today’s New York Times has another front-page (and on the inside, full-page) story on the food industry’s financial relationships with academic scientists.

The article describes how Monsanto funded scientists to lobby for GMOs in Washington (I will say more about this in a subsequent post).

But, as is clear from this report, the organic industry is doing much the same.

The Times based the story on e-mails it collected through open records law requests (the equivalent of Freedom of Information Act requests for federal documents).

And surprise!  I turn up in Charles Benbrook’s.  I learned this from checking Twitter yesterday.


I’m only on the B-list for influencing public opinion?  Alas.

It seems that Charles Benbrook, a strong proponent of organics (as am I), was working with (for?) the Organic Valley Cooperative on a public relations campaign to promote his organics-funded study demonstrating that organic milk has a healthier fatty acid profile than conventional milk.

I vaguely remember him contacting me about the study, but I didn’t write anything about it.  It appeared to be an industry-funded study with results favoring the sponsor’s interests—much as, in this case, I sympathize with those interests.

A few months later, I did write write about another conflicted organic study:

The study is not independently funded….This study is another example of how the outcome of sponsored research invariably favors the sponsor’s interests.  The paper says “the  [Sheepdrove] Trust  had  no  influence  on  the  design  and management of the  research  project  and  the  preparation  of publications  from the project,” but that’s exactly what studies funded by Coca-Cola say.  It’s an amazing coincidence how the results of sponsored studies almost invariably favor the sponsor’s interests.  And that’s true of results I like just as it is of results that I don’t like.

Benbrook has been criticized recently for not fully disclosing his ties to the organic industry.  Even if he had, disclosure is not enough.

The bottom line: Conflicted studies are conflicted, no matter who pays for them.

Documents: Charles Benbrook

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