An apparently independent non-profit research organisation is in fact funded by major food and beverage multinational corporations and lobbies for policy outcomes favourable to its backer, research has revealed.
Writing in the journal Globalization and Health, researchers led by Sarah Steele from the UK’s University of Cambridge take aim at an influential non-profit organisation called the International Life Science Institute (ILSI), which comprises 18 divisions defined either by topic or region.
On its website, ILSI describes itself as “a nonprofit, worldwide organisation whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment”.
It maintains that it is dedicated to catalysing collaborations between “scientists from industry, government, academia and other sectors of society” in order to develop “sound science”.
Steele and colleagues, however, trawled through more than 170,000 pages of emails – obtained through Freedom of Information requests – covering the years 2015 to 2018, and found that the organisation had received funding from corporations including Nestle, General Mills, Mars Inc, Monsanto, and Coca-Cola.
Indeed, the organisation was founded in 1978, by a former Coca-Cola senior vice president called Alex Malaspina.
Although the ILSI publicly states that it does not engage in lobbying activities, the emails reveal numerous instances in which its office-holders openly discussed tactics to influence policy around regulation of sugar and artificial sweetness.
Steele and colleagues present one email in which Malaspina described proposed new US guidelines around restricting sugar intake as a “real disaster”.
“It has been previously suggested that the International Life Sciences Institute is little more than a pseudo-scientific front group for some of the biggest multinational food and drink corporations globally,” says Steele.
“Our findings add to the evidence that this non-profit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies.
“We contend that the International Life Sciences Institute should be regarded as an industry group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.”
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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