As much as the food industry tries to play them down, the similarities between Big Tobacco and Big Food are undeniable.
In this article from 2010, Allan M. Brandt, historian and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, touches on how “by accepting research funding from the tobacco industry, universities risk their integrity, values, and public trust,” which is applicable to research funding from Big Food.
While many prominent hospitals, medical schools, and schools of public health have banned tobacco-industry research fundings, others argue that “academic freedom supports the right of faculty members to take funding from any “legitimate” source, even those in political disfavor [and that] banning a particular industry because it is held in low public esteem creates a “slippery slope” that threatens to subject universities to continuous debate about whether particular funders are appropriate and legitimate. According to this argument, bans on tobacco-industry funding will leave universities in a perilous position, subject to political correctness and the whimsy of ideological bias.”
However, Brandt contends — and rightly so — that “as a strong advocate for academic freedom and a historian who has devoted many years to studying the history of the tobacco industry and cigarette smoking, I find these arguments and policies deeply flawed. My own position is that academic institutions can discern tobacco companies’ motivation for funding research and can make considered judgments about whether to accept or reject the industry’s money. Making such judgments is at the heart of the academy’s collective responsibilities. Those responsibilities include affirming our values, maintaining public trust, and serving the public good.”
The below passage is very reminiscent of what the food industry relies on these days — co-opting science and creating front groups to mask PR with an academic veneer:
“Historically, the tobacco industry took advantage of university-industry connections in a complex scheme to undermine and distort scientific knowledge of tobacco’s harms. This is not the controversial claim of a single historian. Rather, it is based upon extensive access to the companies’ massive internal archives, which were made public as a result of industry whistle-blowers and litigation against the companies. Universities and their faculties cannot, of course, know everything they might like to know about donors, corporate sponsors, or other supporters of academic research. At the same time, we cannot ignore what we do know. In the case of tobacco-industry research funding, we have extensive knowledge of how tobacco companies behave.”
We certainly have extensive knowledge of how Big Food operates, and contributing money to the likes of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is one way in which they ingratiate themselves and buy themselves allies (as we’ve always pointed out, the Academy is not the only one involved; it is, however, the focus of our efforts since it is the organization that represents us).