A recent report from the global campaign Corporate Accountability uncovers conflicts of interest and misrepresented science that influence nutrition standards around the world. The report, “Partnership for an Unhealthy Planet: How Big Business Interferes with Global Health Policy and Science,” finds that the Coca-Cola funded International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) has ties to over half of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee (DGAC) and is involved in publishing leading nutritional research.
“Since its founding, ILSI has proven critical to the junk food industry’s growth and global expansion,” Ashka Naik, Research Director at Corporate Accountability, tells Food Tank. “In this time, the fortunes of these corporations have grown in leaps and bounds…on a similar trajectory to global rates of diet-related disease. The correlation is no coincidence.”
ILSI was founded in 1978 by a former Coca-Cola executive as an industry-sponsored organization. It claims to bring together researchers from both public and private sectors to provide scientific research that improves human health and well-being. Though ILSI does not identify itself as a lobbying group, the report finds its direct influence over government policy is significant.
“Partnership for an Unhealthy Planet” details ways that ILSI produces misleading science. This, in turn, affects policy making bodies and influences nutrition guidelines worldwide.
In the United States, the federal government issues the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) every five years–a process Corporate Accountability finds to be heavily skewed by ILSI influence. The DGA is intended to be a primary resource for nutritional advice, serving as the basis of federal food and nutrition education programs and shaping how Americans perceive a healthy diet.
These guidelines should reflect the latest nutritional research. But the report found that Nutritional Review, ILSI’s nutritional science publication, as well as almost 40 percent of ILSI North America’s publications did not disclose financial relationships or conflicts of interests. The report also finds 15 of the 20 2020 DGAC members have direct food and beverage industry ties. Nine of the 20 members were also nominated by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), which is made up of 32 transnational food and beverage corporations.
This experience is not unique to the U.S. The report also details the connections between ILSI leaders in Mexico, India, Argentina, and Taiwan with transnational food and beverage companies. The report suggests these leaders are also pushing for changes that benefit the industry at the expense of public health.
In the past several years, some corporations already severed ties with ILSI. Mars renounced its relationship with ILSI in 2018 and Nestlé followed suit in early 2020. Consumers now hope to see this trend continue.
Within three weeks of the report’s release, over 70,000 people demanded Coca-Cola and its peers break ties with ILSI, and more than 40 international civil society organizations demanded other food and beverage corporations to do the same, Naik tells Food Tank. Corporate Accountability recommends that ILSI and its backers no longer have any role in the formation of nutrition policy. They also ask that corporations cease political and charitable giving to ILSI.
Corporate Accountability hopes the public will understand the implications of ILSI influence on nutritional guidelines and push to eliminate corporate influence in the future. Naik believes that the appointed members of nutrition policy making committees should better reflect the needs of a country’s population, not the interests of the food and beverage industry.
“The public’s health, the growing call for health equity now, and our democracy demands far better than national nutrition policy recommendations written by industry lobbyists, on the advice of industry-connected scientists, who were nominated by industry trade groups,” Naik tells Food Tank.