by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Conflicts-of-interest

Mar 21 2009

Is food the new tobacco?

The Rudd Center at Yale is devoted to establishing a firm research basis for obesity interventions.  Its latest contribution is a paper in the Milbank Quarterly from its director, Kelly Brownell, and co-author Kenneth Warner, an equally distinguished anti-smoking researcher from the University of Michigan.  Its provocative title: The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died.  How similar is Big Food?

The paper is getting much attention.  A spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, a group well known for its close ties to food companies, emphasizes that food is not tobacco.  Of course it’s not.  But food companies often behave like tobacco companies, and not always in the public interest.  The Milbank paper provides plenty of documentation to back up the similarity.  Worth a look, no?

April 3 update: Evidently, FoodNavigator.com thinks so.  It is asking readers to file 100 word comments on issues raised by the paper by April 8.   And here are the comments.

Jan 28 2009

More on Bisphenol A

How serious a problem is Bisphenol A, the hormone-like substance that leaches from some plastic water bottles?  The answer: how would we know?  According to investigative reporter, David Case, most of the studies of bisphenol A toxicity are sponsored by corporations that spin the results.  Take a look at his most interesting January 14 report, The real story behind bisphenol A.

In theory, whoever is paying for a study should not matter.  In practice, the sponsor matters a lot.  It’s not that scientific investigators are corrupt; most aren’t.  But sponsorship – perhaps unconsciously – influences the design of studies as well as their interpretation.   According to Case, the bisphenol A studies are a good example of this phenomenon.  You can find other examples filed under Sponsorship.

Dec 26 2008

Do whole grains do any good?

At the request (and expense) of Kellogg’s, the Life Science Research Organization convened an expert panel to evaluate studies linking consumption of whole grains – as defined by FDA – to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Using the FDA’s definition, the panel judged the studies insufficient to support a claim that whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.  The FDA defines whole grains as whole: grains that are ground, cracked, or flaked but include all the parts in their original proportions.  When the panel expanded the definition of whole grains to include supplements of bran, germ, or fiber, the results came out better.   Supplements work better than the real thing!  Kellogg’s must be pleased with the results of its investment.

Nov 7 2008

Dietary guidelines committee: conflicts of interest

Oh no, not again!  Merrill Goozner of the Integrity in Science project at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) writes that six of the 13 members of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee, including the chair, get research support  or consulting fees from food or drug companies with vested interests in what the guidelines say.  CSPI had to dig up this information, as the sponsoring agencies did not disclose these potential conflicts of interest. 

Oct 31 2008

More fuss over bisphenol A

The FDA’s lack of concern (see previous post) about the safety of bisphenol A has now come under criticism from a subcommittee of its own science advisory board.  As described in USA Today, the board criticizes the FDA for relying too heavily on industry-funded studies and not holding the studies to rigorous scientific standards.    Here’s the board’s report.  An earlier story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal charged that the FDA used research – and a research summary -  provided by the plastics industry as the basis of its original conclusion that bisphenol A posed no problems.  It looks like this is turning out to be one of those unfortunate examples of industry interference with the risk assessment process.  The science of food toxicology is difficult enough without this sort of thing happening.  Alas.

Aug 20 2008

Industry funding has no effect on research quality!

I love the way sponsored science works. We now have data claiming that there is no difference in the quality of controlled clinical weight loss trials whether they are funded by industry or independently. The senior author on this comparative study is the very same person who was relieved of his responsibilities as head of a national obesity society because he wrote a letter opposing calorie labeling without disclosing that he was paid to do it (see previous post on this topic).  NIH paid for this study in part (the other parts aren’t attributed).  For this study, as the paper says, “Ethical approval is not required.”

Jul 22 2008

Guess the sponsor: rbGH milk study

Even I am astonished by this one. Greg Miller of the National Dairy Council sends me all the studies that favor eating dairy products.  This one is a classic (of sorts) from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association .  The study compares the nutrient value of conventional milk, rbGH-free milk, and organic milk and finds–surprise!–no significant difference. In case you need a reminder, rbGH is recombinant bovine growth hormone, the genetically engineered hormone that increases milk production in cows.  Monsanto makes it.  OK, class: it’s quiz time.  The study has ten authors.  Guess who seven of them work for (or used to work for)? Guess who paid for the study?  And what are the other three authors doing there?

Jun 5 2008

European Commission dietary recommendations: Fox guarding chickens?

I’d been hearing rumors about how the the European Commission is spending $20 million  to develop dietary recommendations and food standards that will apply to all EU member states.  I now have some confirmation of them through the British magazine, Private Eye (May 30, 2008).   The project, called EURRECA, will be conducted by a bunch of universities but the overall management is going to be through the European branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), “a front for the food and bioscience industry.” ILSI is funded by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Bayer CropScience, and Monsanto, among other such entities.  So $20 million in taxpayer dollars will be  laundered through a food and agbiotech front group.  Private Eye says that it eagerly awaits “EURRECA’s no doubt scientifically rigorous and untirely unbiased conclusions.”

I could do this for a lot less than $20 million, but nobody asked me, alas.

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