We just came across this study published in BioMed Central Public Health in August of 2016 that touches on potential conflicts of interest surrounding academic experts who advise government and charities on dietary policies.
- “A conflict of interest (CoI) may occur when professional judgment or decisions concerning a primary interest may be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”
- “CoI can arise in different contexts and thus can be defined in different ways. CoI relate to financial interests, when an individual’s personal finances may be affected by a decision that he or she has a role in making. Alternatively, non-financial issues—such as personal relationships, business associations, and membership in political or other groups—might make it difficult for an individual to consider policy questions objectively.”
- “A conflicted expert will not necessarily be less objective than a non-conflicted counterpart. However, logical concerns are supported by extensive psychological research plus empirical data from the tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Reviews, including a recent Cochrane meta-analysis show that an individual with financial or other links to a company will likely favour that corporation, consciously or subconsciously.”
- “Applying the CoI label does not imply that the conflicted expert is necessarily guilty of collusion or corruption. However, current or past financial or personal associations with interested parties make it difficult to distinguish subtle, unconscious bias from deliberately concealed impropriety.”
- “Being ‘conflicted’ thus also means ‘potentially conflicted’, as the term can be applied before key events, such as decision-making or research publication. Perceived CoI are also important, potentially tarnishing the reputation of scientists, organisations or corporations. This then offers scope for preventive measures.”
- “Public health policy in England comes mainly from the Department of Health (DH). The DH has successfully implemented strategies on tobacco control, alcohol, physical activity and food. Currently, high rates of obesity and diabetes in adults and children in the UK have recently fuelled increasing concern about sugar intake. Government food policy is now under increasing scrutiny.”
- “However, any regulation or tax on sugar would potentially threaten transnational corporations’ sales and profits. Industry opposition might therefore be predicted using a variety of denialism tactics, including influencing scientific researchers, and hence the expert advice given to policy makers.”
- “Gornell uncovered a “tangled web” of connections between the sugar industry and UK government advisory bodies with key public health experts involved with the sugar industry and related companies responsible for many of the products blamed for the obesity crisis through research grants, consultancy fees, and other forms of funding.”
- “By influencing the academic evidence base and subsequent discussion in policy making groups, powerful corporations with vested interests and considerable public, political and media influence are well positioned to lobby governments. This can cause governments to base policy not on nutrition and public health effects of their products but on wealth creation and the financial and employment potential of their companies.”
- “Conflicts of interest are unavoidable but potentially manageable. Government organisations responsible for policy development and implementation must institutionalize an approach to identify (disclose) and manage (mitigate or eliminate) perceived and actual CoI to improve public confidence in government decision-making relevant to food policy.