For several months now, we’ve alerted you to food industry front groups like the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), both of which have fairly close ties to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (at the Academy’s annual conference, ILSI and/or IFICsponsor or co-sponsor at least one educational session, and IFIC hosts a well-attended evening reception for dietitians, too).
We have also mentioned that these groups are funded by the likes of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and General Mills (who are also current Academy sponsors), and mainly serve as a way to disguise damage control/public relations as “objective science”.
With all that in mind, here is a Mother Jones investigation of a similar front group — the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), which ” bills itself as an independent research and advocacy organization devoted to debunking junk science.”
As is expected from these sorts of groups, any research findings that go against what their donors espouse is classified as “junk science”:
“Elizabeth Whelan, a Harvard-trained public-health scientist, founded ACSH in 1978 as a counterweight to environmental groups and Ralph Nader’s consumer advocacy movement. “ACSH protects consumer freedom from a variety of unscientifically based activist organizations—such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Environmental Working Group—that use ‘junk science’ and hyperbole about risk to promote fears about our food, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, and other environmental and lifestyle factors,” ACSH says on its website. “Their agenda is to limit or dismantle many technological achievements that contribute to consumer choice and good health.”
One of ACSH’s current hot topics it fervently defends? Fracking:
“Lately, ACSH has become a vocal player in the debate over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” In February, the council posted an outline of a “systematic, objective review” it intends to publish on the scientific literature covering the potential health effects of fracking. In an April op-ed for the conservative Daily Caller website, Whelan criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) for dithering on whether to allow fracking in New York State and asserted that “publicity savvy activists posing as public health experts are spearheading a disingenuous crusade to prevent the exploitation of the vast quantities of natural gas.” Fracking, Whelan wrote, “doesn’t pollute water or air.”
Despite front groups’ insistence that who they get funding form in no way influences their messaging, it is certainly legitimate to connect the most basic of dots and realize that, in most cases, all donors have one goal in common — protect their interests and put up a united front against any policies, laws, or messaging that may affect their bottom line.
We encourage all nutrition professionals to familiarize themselves with front groups, especially when attending conferences and conducting research on controversial nutrition topics.