by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: front group

Nov 16 2022

Food-industry front group: The International Food Information Council (IFIC)

The International Food Information Coouncil (IFIC) headlines its website:  “We promote science-based information on nutrition, food safety and agriculture.”

IFIC is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) education and consumer research organization that communicates evidence-based information on health, dietary patterns, ingredient safety and agricultural production. Our vision is a global environment where credible science drives food decisions.

I have long argued that any time you hear a food company or organization say it is “science-based,” you need to imagine a red warning flag flying into the air.  The term unfailingly means do not criticize food products unless you can prove conclusively that they do harm.  This, of course, is virtually impossible in populations that consume many different foods in meals from day to day.

IFIC lists health organization partners on its website.   Finding out who funds it is not so easy.

IFIC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Trustees, the majority of whom are independent, academic researchers. Our work is primarily supported by grants and contributions from the private sector. IFIC is non-partisan. IFIC does not represent any company, industry or product. IFIC does not lobby or serve as an advocacy organization.

Who in the private sector?  The FAQ takes you to the same health organization partners and to an uninformative 990 tax form.  Who funds IFIC?  According to SourceWatch, food companies used to provide the bulk of funding but I’ve been unable to find a list of current funders.

I’m curious about this because investigators associated with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins and US Right to Know have just published: “How independent is the international food information council from the food and beverage industry? A content analysis of internal industry documents.”

The study team reviewed emails and documents obtained via public records requests related to IFIC and the IFIC Foundation, with the purpose of describing how IFIC generates and disseminates nutrition information to policy stakeholders and the general public. Results from this content analysis suggest IFIC communicates nutrition information to broad audiences using a variety of tactics designed to shape preferences about the link between unhealthy foods and chronic disease outcomes, manufacture doubt about existing evidence linking certain foods to negative health outcomes, and influence key opinion leaders in academia and government positions to support limited public health interventions designed to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods.

IFIC, they charge, is a food industry front group (this has been known for a long time) Their observations of industry funding sources date to 2018.

I’ve always thought IFIC was the most reasonable of industry front groups, perhaps because of its now former long time president, Sylvia Rowe, who understood consumer concerns exceptionally well.

This paper documents IFIC’s strategies in promoting food industry interests.

Documents

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Oct 3 2019

The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI): true colors revealed

The furor over the “don’t-worry-about-meat” papers published earlier this week (see my post) did not have much to say about the lead author’s previous association with the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), disclosed in a “you don’t need to worry about sugar” review from the same journal in 2016: “This project was funded by the Technical Committee on Dietary Carbohydrates of ILSI North America.”  The meat papers did not mention the previous connection to ILSI, even though it occurred within the past three years.  They should have.

ILSI is a classic food-industry front group, one that tries to stay under the radar but is not succeeding very well lately.

The New York Times titled its recent ILSI investigation: A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World.

This reminded me of what I wrote about ILSI in my book Unsavory Truth (2018).  When I was working on the last chapters of the book, I realized that something about ILSI’s role turned up in practically every chapter.  Here, I refer to a study funded by ILSI.

The front-group funder was the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an organization that turns up often in this book. ILSI describes itself as an independent scientific think tank, but it was created and is largely funded by the food industry. This makes it, by definition, a front group.

But you might not realize this from reading the study authors’ disclosure statement, which describes ILSI as “a public, nonprofit scientific foundation that provides . . . a neutral forum for government, academic, and industry scientists to discuss and resolve scientific issues of common concern for the well-being of the general public” (1).

ILSI keeps a relatively low public profile but seems never to miss an opportunity to defend the interests of its four hundred or so corporate sponsors. Its 2016 annual report takes four pages and fifteen columns to list industry supporters of its national and international branches; these contribute two-thirds of this group’s nearly $18 million in annual revenues (the rest comes from government or private grants or contributions). ILSI’s board of trustees is about half industry and half academia, all unpaid volunteers.

Critics describe ILSI as a “two-level” organization. On the surface, it engages in legitimate scientific activities. But deep down, it provides funders with “global lobbying services . . . structured in a way which ensures that the funding corporations have majority membership in all its major decision-making committees.” (2).

(1) Besley JC, McCright AM, Zahry NR, et al.  Perceived conflict of interest in health science partnerships. PLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0175643.  McComas KA.  Session 5: Nutrition communication. The role of trust in health communication and the effect of conflicts of interest among scientists.  Proc Nutr Soc. 2008;67(4):428-36.

(2) Miller D, Harkins C. Corporate strategy and corporate capture: food and alcohol industry and lobbying and public health. Crit Soc Policy. 2010;30:564-89.

I have written about ILSI in previous blog posts:

Others have also written about this organization:

It’s about time ILSI’s practices are being exposed.

Feb 20 2019

What is a portion size? The British Nutrition Foundation’s answer

Lisa Young, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, has long argued that portion control is the key to maintaining healthy weight.

Now, the industry-funded (see list here) British Nutrition Foundation has issued a “handy” guide to appropriate portion sizes.

I put “handy” in quotes because the system is based on hand measurements.

The guide tells you how many servings you are supposed to have each day from each of the major food groups, and how to tell the serving size for a very long list of foods.

I find all of this hugely complicated, and don’t think you should need to learn what looks like a guide to sign language to know how to eat.

I’m especially suspicious because the Nutrition Foundation is an industry-sponsored group and it is very much in the interest of the food industry to have you take full responsibility for controlling your own food intake.  If you eat too much, it’s your fault for not learning this system.

How about food companies making and serving smaller portions?  Nope.  It’s up to you to take greater personal responsibility for what you eat.

Try this for yourself and see what I mean.

  • The guide is here.
  • The full list of portion sizes is here.
  • A one-page summary is here.