The United Kingdom’s prestigious Sunday Times reports today that “one of the country’s leading nutritional experts, tasked by the government with proposing new limits for the nation’s sugar consumption, is working as a paid adviser to Coca-Cola and Mars.”
Nottingham University Professor Ian Macdonald currently chairs a government panel that examines the effects of sugar consumption on overall health, and, understandably, there are concerns. In fact, the disclosure of these ties has “prompted demands that Macdonald should resign from the chairmanship of the panel because of the “unacceptable” conflict of interests.” Interestingly enough, the article states that Macdonald is “skeptical” about claims made by “anti-sugar” advocates.
Simon Capewell, a Liverpool University professor and founding member of the Action on Sugar campaign, found the news disturbing:
“I am shocked. This is a scandal for public health. It’s like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank. It’s clearly an outrageous conflict of interest.”
Meanwhile, “a spokesman for Public Health England said: “Professor Ian Macdonald has fully declared his interests in accordance with the code of practice for scientific advisory committees guidance.”
We do not think stating conflicts of interest is not sufficient. Transparency is undoubtedly important, but someone who has been tapped to work on establishing recommendations about added sugar should not be given the greenlight to do simply because they state they work for a soda company. There need to be stricter guidelines that would prevent anyone with ties to Big Soda from being part of a taskforce on added sugars. It would be rather naive to believe his decision-making would not, in some way, be colored by the interests of the company he receives a paycheck from.