The American Association of University Professors has published the November-December 2010 issue of its flagship journal, Academe, which features an interview with New York University Professor Marion Nestle about “conflicts of interest between food companies and academics, the difference between food products and food, and the problem with pomegranates.” According to Nestle, conflicts of interest in the food sciences “are rampant but rarely recognized as such,” with many universities “actively” seeking support from food and beverage companies.
“Most food advocates have no idea what kind of teaching or sponsorship occurs in colleges of agriculture, nutrition departments, or science departments focused on biotechnology,” notes Nestle, who warns that industry ties could have “classic chilling effects on critical thinking about conflicts of interest.” She also claims that“[s]ponsorship almost invariably predicts the results of research,” citing industry-sponsored studies that “almost never” find a link between “habitual consumption of soft drinks and obesity.”
“In food research, as in research on drugs or cigarettes, results are highly likely to favor the sponsor’s interest,” concludes Nestle. “The companies are not buying the results, although it sometimes seems that way. Instead, it seems to me that researchers who are willing to accept grants from food companies tend to be less critical about the way they design their studies. I often notice that sponsored studies lack appropriately rigorous controls. One way to understand this is to suggest that scientists who accept corporate sponsorship have internalized the values of the sponsor so thoroughly that they think themselves independent.”