by Marion Nestle
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,

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.


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. 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. 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. 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. Accessed October 27, 2015.
7 Nestle  M. Food Politics blog. 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


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 (

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 She also earns royalties from books and honoraria from lectures to university and health professional groups about matters relevant to this Viewpoint.

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  • Farmer with a Dell

    Nestle beams over “identifying” 90 research reports she considers to have been corrupted by industry sponsorship. She neglects to list the more than 500 colleagues in nutrition science whom she impugns as guilty of conflict of interest, if not of outright fraud in the outcome of their scientific studies.

    No problem, a current list has been compiled and is included here for the sake of completeness and transparency and all those other good ethical things… (* denotes author identified by Marion Nestle as “highly conflicted”)

    Richard H Adamson

    Lydia Afman

    David Aguilar

    Concepcion M Aguilera

    Kiran D K Ahuja

    David A D’Alessio

    Dominik D Alexander PhD MSPHab

    Michel Aliani

    Mark von Allmen

    Maria das G Almeida

    Akua F Amankwaah

    Bashar Amer

    Sarah Anderegg

    Catherine J Andersen

    Raiana L de Andrade

    Theodore J Angelopoulos

    Marjolein Ankersmit

    Mahendran Appukutty

    E Archer

    Fernando Arós

    Elizabeth Artalejo

    Christopher E Aston

    Arne Astrup

    R L Atkinson

    J Alejandro Austria

    Rockiy Ayettey

    Nancy Babio

    David J Baer

    Steven K Baker

    Madeleine J Ball

    Martha Nydia Ballesteros

    Marion Balz

    Katherine Baqleh

    Stephen Barnes

    TV Barreira

    Arpita Basu

    LB Bauer

    Laura L Bauer

    Jamie I Baum

    Nerea Becerra-Tomás

    Carol Beevers

    Charles Benbrook

    NT Bendsen

    S Berger

    Helle KM Bergholdt

    Adam M. Bernstein MD ScD

    Nancy M Betts

    Joseph Beyene *

    Aristea Binia

    Ashley Binns

    JK Bird

    Heike Bischoff-Ferrari

    Ann Bjørnshave

    Steven N Blair

    John E Blundell

    Raffaella Bocale

    Chris Boesch

    Mette Bohl

    Nicolas Bordenave PhD

    Dienke J Bos

    Nabil E Boutagy

    Hakim Bouzamondo

    José Brandão-Neto

    Vaclav Brandejsky

    Michelle Braun

    Leigh Breen

    S Brown

    ST Broyles

    Nikki Buijs

    Marco Di Buono *

    Jeffrey H Burton

    Laurie T Butler

    Stephanie PB Caligiuri

    L Camou

    Wayne W Campbell

    Vanessa Campos

    Amanda J. Carleton *

    SE Carlson

    K Carson

    Ian D Caterson

    Shona Cawley

    CM Champagne

    JP Chaput

    Craig S Charron

    Prasanth K Chelikani

    Guo-Chong Chen

    Li-Hua Chen

    Ningning Chen

    Laura Chiavaroli *

    Arnaud Chiolero

    FL Choo

    Vivian LW Choo

    Merete M Christensen

    Yi-Fang Chu PhD

    Amelia A Churnside

    Tyler A Churchward-Venne

    Timothy S Church

    ED Ciappio

    Roger Clemens

    Peter M Clifton

    J Colombo

    Kevin B Comerford

    Dolores Corella

    Miriam Margherita Cortese-Krott

    Adrian I. Cozma *

    L.M. Currie

    Trine K Dalsgaard

    Brenda M Davy

    Kevin P Davy

    C de Graaf

    Madison Demello

    Hans Demmelmair

    Madison Demelloa MS

    Gareth Denyer

    Camille Despland

    Andrés Díaz-López

    Eric L Ding

    Maureen A DiRienzo

    Giovambattista Desideri

    Georgina F Dodd

    Carolina Donat-Vargas

    Steve M Douglas

    Clemens Drenowatz PhD

    Adam Drewnowski

    Sarah Durston

    J Eales

    Andrea L Edel

    Marianne Smith Edge

    M Edwards

    M Eggersdorfer

    Ans Eilander

    M Elia

    Christina Ellervik

    Judi A Ellis

    Pauline M Emmett

    Frederick M. Enright

    Jodi L Ensunsa

    Rajaraman D Eri

    Dorte Eskesen

    Ramon Estruch

    George C Fahey Jr

    Andrew Fahim

    David Falk

    Michael C Falk

    Karin Fattinger

    Robin Feldman

    Maria Luz Fernandez

    Claudio Ferri

    Mario G Ferruzzi

    Heverton A.O. Figueiredo

    Miguel Fiol

    Montserrat Fitó

    M Fogelholm

    Mackenzie Fong

    Reedmond Fong

    Michael J Fox

    Jayne E Freeman

    Madlyn I Frisard

    Dagmar Fuchs

    Dongxu Fu

    Jonathan Fulford

    Victor L. Fulgoni III

    Nicholas R Fuller

    Chenfei Gao

    Zhanguo Gao

    Ursula Garczarek

    Sarah K Gebauer

    Johanna M Geleijnse

    James Gerofi

    Peter R Giacobbi

    Roger D Gibb

    W. Gibson

    Angel Gil

    J Glanville

    Liana C Del Gobbo

    Janette de Goede

    Enrique Gómez-Gracia

    Miguel Ángel Martínez-González

    Jeannette Gootjes

    Susannah L Gordon

    Vishnupriya Gourineni

    Davide Grassi

    Michelle Gray

    Frank L Greenway MD

    Søren Gregersen

    Arno Greyling

    Randolph Guzman

    Vanessa Ha *

    Hongmei Han MS

    Shu-Fen Han PhD

    Gregory A Hand PhD

    Vic Hasselblad

    Peter T Katzmarzyk

    Robert P Heaney

    James R Hebert

    Amy J Hector

    Annemieke C Heijboer

    Christian Heiss

    Rina van Hekezen

    Andrea L Henning

    Annkatrin Herrmann

    Isabelle Herter-Aeberli

    Jan Heuel

    Kelly A Higgins

    S Higgs

    David W Hill

    James O Hill

    Marco Hoeksma

    Heather A Hoertel

    PS Hogenkamp

    Hannah D Holscher

    Jens J Holst

    Sinead Hopkins

    David Hopkins

    G Hu

    Youyou Hu

    Carl J Hulston

    Matthew W Hulver

    Jordan E Immel

    George S Jackson

    PF Jacques

    Jonathan Jaeger

    Hamid Jan JM

    Alexandra L. Jenkins *

    Erik Jensen

    Lillian Jespersen

    EJ Johnson

    William D. Johnson PhD

    Valerie N Kaden

    David Kanter

    Hakima Karimi

    David L Katz

    PT Katzmarzyk

    Sanjay Kaul

    John W Kavanaugh

    Rebecca J Kean

    M L Kearney

    Carl L Keen

    Michael J Keenan

    Christian Keicher

    Kathleen M Kelley

    Malte Kelm

    Cyril WC Kendall *

    Rachel Kennedy

    E.H. Kerling

    Christina Khoo

    Jung Eun Kim

    Jennifer Kimball

    S King

    B. Jan Willem van Klinken MD PhD

    K. Knights

    F J Kok

    Berthold Koletzko

    HC Koo

    Wieneke P Koppenol

    Moritz Krabbe

    Thomas Kraemer

    Roland Kreis

    Gunter G. C. Kuhnle

    A Kurpad

    R Kuriyan

    Catherine Kwik-Uribe

    EV Lambert

    Daniel J Lamport

    José Lapetra

    Idamarie Laquatra

    Mette K Larsen

    Namson S Lau

    A. Laviano

    Carl J Lavie MD

    Andrea L Lawless

    Maria Carmela Lechiara

    Heather J Leidy

    Lawrence A Leiter *

    Julia Le Jeune

    I Lenoir-Wijnkoop

    Kara Lewis

    Misti J Leyva

    Yan-Jie Li

    Josivan G. de Lima

    A Lluch

    Julie A Lovegrove

    Rogier Louwen

    Natalie D Luscombe-Marsh

    Joanna Luttikhold

    Timothy J Lyons

    S. Maaske

    Thane G Maddaford

    C Maher

    J Maia

    Kevin C Maki

    DJ Mela

    Carmine Marini

    George R Marcotte

    Oonagh Markey

    Tania P Markovic

    Berdine R Martin

    Corby K Martin PhD

    Luis Martinez MD MPH

    Maria V Martin

    Roy J. Martin

    J Alfredo Martínez

    Daniela Mastroiacovo

    V Matsudo

    Richard D Mattes

    MI McBurney

    George P McCabe

    Linda McCabe

    Daniel McCartney

    Brian K McFarlin

    Ryan P McMillan

    Johnson W McRorie Jr.

    Anna CQ de Medeiros

    S Mehta

    Sonia Blanco Mejia

    DJ Mela

    Marc W Merx

    Maria D Mesa

    Birgit Michelsen

    Ratna Mukherjea

    Paula E Miller MPHb

    Arash Mirrahimi *

    Dariush Mozaffarian

    M Mohamed

    Tony Y Momma

    G Montopoli

    M Montopoli

    Cathrine M Morberg

    A Muhima

    Laura Mullaney

    Stefan Müller-Lissner

    Caoileann H Murphy

    Mohd Nasir MT

    Stefano Necozione

    AR Ness

    Theresa A Nicklas

    Kristin M Nieman

    C Ning

    Valentine Yanchou Njike

    Børge G Nordestgaard

    AK Norimah

    K Norman

    C Normand

    Kate Northstone

    Janet A Novotny

    AR Nurliyana

    Lorraine O’Driscoll

    Amy C O’Higgins

    T Olds

    Carolyn E O’Neil

    Sadhbh O’Neill

    MK Ong

    V Onywera

    Bob Oranje

    Laura C Ortinau

    Marianne O’Shea PhD.

    Kristin . Osterberg

    Javier I Ottaviani

    Ana N Paiva

    Amanda E Paluch

    Gonca Pasin

    S Passino

    G Pavela

    Jessica W Pawlowski

    Munro Peacock

    Christine L Pelkman

    Jason Pelzel

    C Penfold

    Antonio J Perez-de-la-Cruz

    R Perry

    John C Peters

    Paul Petraro

    Adel Pezeshki

    Stuart M Phillips

    Grant N Pierce

    Luana Pistacchio

    Eric A Prado

    Vivek K Prasada MD MDH PhD

    A Prentice

    P Putz

    Li-Qiang Qin PhD

    A Raben

    Angelo Raffaele

    Tia M Rains

    G Raman

    Oscar D Rangel-Huerta

    Rouyanne T Ras

    Kia V Rasmussen

    Rosa M Lamuela-Raventós

    TF Raziani

    Candida J Rebello MS RD

    Holly Reiland, BS

    L J Reynolds

    Adriana A. Rezende

    Maria C Rico

    Roberta Righetti

    Herman Rijna

    James M Rippe

    Alma E Robles

    Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva

    Ana Rodriguez-Mateos

    PJ Rogers

    Emilio Ros

    Michael F. Roizen MD

    Darrell A Russell

    Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein

    Amanda Sainsbury

    Aleix Sala-Vila PhD

    Jordi Salas-Salvadó MD PhD

    Jill N. Best Sampson

    Roberto Sansone

    OL Sarmiento

    R Drew Sayer

    Carmen Sayón-Orea

    Andreas Schild

    Arianne L Schild

    Anne Grethe Schioldan

    Philippe Schneiter

    Hagen Schroeter

    Dominik Schuler

    Tim Schulze-König

    John L Sievenpiper

    Lluís Serra-Majem

    Mercè Serra-Mir RD

    Rebecca S Shafer

    R Shamir

    Robin P Shook

    William Shrapnel

    JL Sievenpiper

    Anurag Singh

    Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD

    C. Smith

    Sabita S. Soedamah-Muthu

    Kris Sollid

    José V Sorlí

    Maria J Soto

    Russell J de Souza

    Jeremy PE Spencer

    M Standage

    Colin D Steer

    LC Stevens

    Joseph R Stevens

    Xuemei Suia MD MPH PhD

    DK Sullivan

    Kelly S Swanson.

    Hans-Arno Synal

    Ignatius MY Szeto PhD

    SY Tan

    Luc Tappy

    ES Tee

    Frank Thielecke

    J.M. Thodosoff

    T Tholstrup

    TK Thorning

    J P Thyfault

    Chelsie B Todd

    Estefanía Toledo MD MPH PhD

    EA Tolley

    Francisco Tomas-Barberan

    Cheryl D Toner

    Elke A Trautwein

    MS Tremblay

    Judith A Treu

    C Tudor-Locke

    John Turner

    Michael J Turner

    Marcela A.G. Ururahye

    Herlindo Valdez

    Fabrizio Valenzuela

    Fernando Vallejo

    Cinta Valls-Pedret MSc

    Monique GM de Sain-van der Velden

    Rosanne M Van Diepen

    Paul AM van Leeuwen

    Luc JC van Loon.

    R J Joost van Neerven

    Klaske van Norren

    Joanna L Varley

    E Sanne Veerhoek

    Adam S Venable

    Michelle C Venables

    Carole Verhoeven

    Jakob L Vingren

    R Vishwanathan

    Christof Vockenhuber

    Arnold von Eckardstein

    Frank Wagner

    Rabea Wagstaff

    David D Wang *

    Connie M Weaver

    Peter Weber

    Douglas L Weed MD PhDc

    Wendy Weighell

    Eileen M Weinheimer-Haus

    Diane Welland

    Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga

    Juliette MH Weusten

    Peter J Whorwell

    Claire M Williams

    Craig A Williams

    Kathryn H Williams

    Thomas MS Wolever *

    H Wood

    Stephen C Woods

    Amy J Wright

    J. Wu

    Thomas P Wycherley

    Jia-Ying Xu PhD

    MR Yeomans

    EA Yu

    Matthew Yu *

    Zeng-Li Zhang PhD

    P Zhao

    You-You Zhao PhD

    Jolene Zheng

    Michael B Zimmermann

    Diane Zimmermann

    Adam Z Zino

  • Novagene

    I’m sympathetic to the tone of your essay but you went off the rails with the genetic engineering section.

    You’ve recounted your 1994 encounter with Monsanto scientists before (specifically, your book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, and yes, I’ve read the pertinent chapter). I’ve heard your reasons for mandatory labeling, and I’ve heard their arguments against it.

    You both agree on the science, basically genetically modified foods are as safe as any other food (if not safer), so that wasn’t the point of contention back then. The disagreement, according to you, was on public perception.

    While I understand and appreciate the arguments you made in favor of mandatory labeling I agree with the FDA’s initial assessment that those reasons weren’t compelling enough against reasons to not require labeling. Given a slightly different topic, even you agree that labeling certain food information, even if factual, can be misleading.

    From my layperson’s perspective, mandatory labeling not being required by the FDA wasn’t necessarily because Monsanto scientists had more money, but because, quite frankly, their arguments were better than yours.

  • giantslor

    It’s fair to ask why these industry-sponsored studies favored the sponsors 90-9, but perhaps the industry funds only studies they think will have positive conclusions. That’s one way to interpret the disparity that doesn’t involve industry influence on the researchers.

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  • Food Scientist

    Your very logical reasoning has been mentioned many, many times in the comments section of this very blog. Not once has Nestle acknowledged it. Makes you wonder if she may have an agenda?

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