The Corporate European Observatory (CEO) has published a report accusing European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) food-additive experts of concealing conflicts of interest and industry ties. CEO claims that 11 out of 20 experts on EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources in Food (ANS) “have a conflict of interest, as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” which states that such conflicts arise when an individual or corporation “is in position to exploit his or their own professional or official capacity in some way for personal or corporate benefit,” whether or not an unethical or improper act results. The report also alleges that four ANS members have “failed to declare active collaborations with the food-industry funded think-tank and lobby group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).”
In particular, CEO faults EFSA for failing to adopt a “red list” similar to the one used by the European Medicines Agency that bars consultants with specific industry ties from serving as experts. The group also criticizes EFSA’s expert nomination process for favoring those with food company connections, and argues that the ANS panel’s reliance on unpublished, industry-sponsored studies has undermined public confidence in its recommendations. “Stricter rules on conflicts of interest and fundamental changes in the way EFSA opinions are shaped are urgently needed… New, efficient EFSA rules on conflicts of interest should outlaw any consultancy and advisory work, paid or unpaid, not only for individual companies, but also for industry associations and think tanks predominately funded by the food industry,” the report concludes.
In a related development, a June 21, 2011, ABA News report also examines the purported influence of food interests on the science of nutrition, citing several U.S. researchers critical of industry-funded studies and projects. The article follows the career of David Allison, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s National Obesity Research Center, who was forced to resign as incoming president of the Obesity Society after receiving payment from the New York Restaurant Association to file an affidavit in its case against New York City’s menu-labeling laws. It also notes that large institutions, such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and American Association of Family Physicians, have received funds from soft drink companies.
“Critics say Allison is part of a concerted effort by big food to co-opt scientists not only by funding their research but by offering them lucrative speaking and consulting deals, in an effort to confuse U.S. families about the health effects of popular food products,” the article claims. “Such tactics, critics say, are similar to those once used by Big Tobacco.”