Report Details the Influence Big Business Food Brands have on Health and Nutritional Policy

Report Details the Influence Big Business Food Brands have on Health and Nutritional Policy

Global Accountability is a nonprofit organization that specializes in issues related to clean water, climate change, tobacco use, democracy, and food. In their recent report titled “Partnership for an Unhealthy Planet: How Big Business Interferes with Global Health Policy and Science,” the organization details the connections between the Coca-Cola funded ILSI and the adverse health and policy outcomes that have resulted from the organization’s research.

To start over, ILSI is an abbreviation for the International Life Sciences Institute. It is an organization that was founded in 1978 by former Coca-Cola executive Alex Malaspina and is responsible for conducting nutritional research on behalf of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—a committee chosen by the United States Office of Health and Human Services, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture. It should be further noted that outside of Coca Cola, ILSI also receives funding by other “American Classics” such: as McDonald's, Nestle, Pepsico, Red Bull, Kraft/Heinz, General Mills, Dr. Pepper, and based on how this list is going, you would probably expect Monsanto—because they fund ILSI too. Companies that you might not expect, however, would be industrial chemical powerhouses such as Dow, Dupont, Bayer, and BASF.

In Global Accountability’s study, however, the organization was able to reveal that the connections between ILSI and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are dubious at best. Some quick takeaways are:

More than half of those appointed to the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has ties to ILSI.
The chair and vice-chair of the Pregnancy and Lactation Subcommittee as well as the Birth to 24 Months Subcommittee are ILSI affiliated scientists with ties to Gerber, Johnson & Johnson as well as Dannon.
The current organization’s board of Trustees violates its own conflict of interest policy, with more than half of it having some kind of private-sector affiliation.
Though the group claims to not lobby, this is only stateside. It offered direct guidance to the Argentinian government to update its national food composition database. Additionally, it partnered with government research institutions in India and published studies that misrepresented the effects of traditional foods, and failed to discuss the impacts of foods such as fast food and soda on public health.
Finally, the report reveals that 40 percent of ILSI journals published between 2013 and 2017 did not disclose ILSI’s relationship with big food brands.

When you look at the report, there is a section that highlights some of ILSI’s most prominent members since the organization’s founding. No, they do not look like nefarious, bad people. They do not look like villains, or dubious actors hoping to turn the next big buck on the health of the average American. But their involvement in the big food industry is an indicator of ILSI’s inability to function as an objective actor when it comes to addressing the writ-large concerns of health and nutrition in America. According to Research Director at Corporate Accountability, Ashka Naik, “Since its founding, ILSI has proven critical to the junk food industry’s growth and global expansion… In this time, the fortunes of these companies have grown… on a similar trajectory to the global rates of diet-related disease. The correlation is no coincidence.”

Naik’s suggested correlation reveals that while ILSI may not write government policies on health and nutrition, they certainly have a role in determining how they play out. But for as much as Global Accountability does a great job of revealing the connections between big food and public health outcomes, it also produces another question. That is, for as much as ILSI should not be involved in consulting any government on health or nutrition, should an organization such as ILSI even dare to exist? Put another way, should companies that deal in sugary and fatty foods be allowed to conduct research on their products, and the nutritional effects of them?

I think on a certain level, we all would like to believe that the answer is yes. Perhaps we are too altruistic for our own good but, even as a business, we like to think that most corporations out there do not want to see their customers get sick and potentially even die from using their products. Though our take might seem a little bit too simplistic, because instinct would suggest that corporations only care about making money, the other side of the coin is that dead customers do not pay for Big Macs or Coca-Cola.

I think the issue becomes invariably more complicated when it involves sharing this information with the public or government institutions because objectivity would almost certainly be brought into question—and with good reason. Unfortunately, I also do not think there is much of a clear answer. Perhaps it would start with creating a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that was actually objective and have them consulted by a team of scientists who are not empathetic to any sort of corporate agenda. From there, if privately-funded organizations want to do independent research, they can, but this research is capable of being scientifically vetted by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and its scientists, without a single shred of bias.

Ultimately, while the issues of nutrition and food security are wrapped up in topics that we regularly cover, such as sustainable agriculture, these issues are also the clear result of mismanagement, cronyism, and borderline corruption at the administrative and policy-drafting levels. Part of addressing the issues of nutrition and food security, hence, involve taking meaningful approaches to reform the policy apparatus that operates in support of our current standards. (via Food Tank)