An organization that advises the EU and the UN on health has been accused of trying to influence politicians on behalf of giant food companies.
The International Life Sciences Institute, based in Washington DC, is influenced by, and works to help, the companies that fund it, scientists said in a study.
The institute, funded in part by Coca Cola, describes its own goal as promoting “global partnerships for a healthier world.”
But researchers who took a closer look at the body’s work called it a “global stealth network to defeat scientists” on behalf of multinationals.
In a damn e-mail to food company executives, the institute’s founder described guidelines to reduce sugar in food and beverages in the US as a “disaster.”
The International Life Sciences Institute has been accused of trying to influence politicians on behalf of food companies such as Coca Cola and Nestlé, who finance it (stock image)
Experts from the University of Cambridge, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the American non-profit organization, US Right to Know, did the research.
Using the rules for freedom of information in the US, the researchers read correspondence between senior members of the ILSI and large companies.
The organization, with 17 branches around the world, was founded by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president of Coca Cola Company.
He was involved in an e-mail to manufacturers in 2015 in which he said that rules to reduce sugar in the US “would significantly affect us in many ways,” The Guardian reported.
Dr. Sarah Steele, a Cambridge University researcher who led the study, said: “This non-profit organization has been used by its corporate financers for years to combat public health policies.
“We believe that the International Life Sciences Institute should be viewed as an industrial group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body that acts for the greater good.”
Research funded by the ILSI is regularly published in scientific journals, so experts have warned that it is “critical” that people understand how it works.
WHAT IS THE INTERNATIONAL LIFE SCIENCES INSTITUTE?
The International Institute of Life Sciences (ILSI) is a non-profit organization that finances research into nutrition, public health and agriculture.
On its website, the ILSI says its mission is “to provide science that improves human health and well-being and protects the environment.”
It contains a list of research in which it is involved in the categories of food safety, nutrition and health, toxicology and sustainable agriculture and food security.
The ILSI says it is transparent about who is financing it – a study by Cambridge researchers said that financiers include Coca Cola, Nestlé, Kraft and Monsanto. Confectionery company Mars was also involved in the ILSI until last year.
Research it has funded appears in medical and scientific journals and the ILSI has advised the European Union and the United Nations.
The World Health Organization distanced itself from the ILSI because it was concerned about links with the tobacco industry, The Guardian reported.
The Cambridge team study said the organization “promoted its agenda with national and international agencies to influence policies and legislation.”
And it added: “ILSI seeks to influence individuals, positions and policies, both nationally and internationally, and its business members use it as a tool to promote their interests globally.”
Food representatives who have served on the board include Nestlé and Kraft staff – owned by Heinz and Capri-Sun.
And a member of Monsanto, who sells crop seeds and makes a weed killer containing a controversial chemical related to cancer, was also involved.
In an example of the institution trying to influence politicians, an email chain revealed executives focused on Margaret Chan, former director of the World Health Organization.
Malaspina was involved in an email chain that said that Mrs. Chan’s attitude toward producers of junk food was “hardened.”
He said the ILSI should “find a way that someone like a famous scientist” can talk to Chan on their behalf.
If they did not, Mr. Malaspina continued, the WHO director would “continue to accuse us worldwide with significant negative consequences.”
In their study, the researchers said that public health officials should be ‘wary’ for the ILSI and think carefully before acting on the basis of research funded by it.
“ILSI is Big Food’s global stealth network to defeat scientists, regulators and others who point out the health risks of their products,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of US Right to Know.
“Big Food wants you to believe that ILSI works for your health, but it really defends the profits of the food industry.”
Mr. Ruskin and the British researchers published their paper in the journal Globalization and Health.