The latest conflicts-of-interest controversy revolves around the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s (NASEM) twenty invited committee members who wrote the 2016 report on genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Tufts University’s Sheldon Krimsky — of the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning — and Food and Water Watch’s Tim Schwab published their findings in Public Libraries of Science (PLos).
* “The Academies receive hundreds of millions of dollars in annual contributions from private and public sources, and it has long maintained close ties to industry that have raised conflicts-of-interest allegations—at times directed at the committees of invited scientists that author its reports. A 1970 committee examining the health effects of lead came under scrutiny because several committee members were employed by companies producing lead additives.”
* “In amendments made in 1997, specific COI requirements were laid out for committees of the NASEM, at that time called the National Academy of Sciences . Congress noted that federal agencies could not utilize the scientific advice of the Academy unless the following instructions were heeded:
1) no individual appointed to serve on the committee has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed, unless such conflict is promptly and publicly disclosed and the Academy determines that the conflict is unavoidable,
2) the committee membership is fairly balanced as determined by the Academy to be appropriate for the functions to be performed.”
* “The NASEM 2016 report discusses its finding that no committee members had financial conflicts of interest. The report stated, without qualification, that the NASEM “did not identify” any conflicts of interest among the twenty panel members.”
* “By contrast, our inquiry found that six out of twenty committee members had financial COIs. Five individuals received research funding from for-profit companies related to the subject matter of the report and five had patents or patent applications on the subject matter of GE crops. Four panel members had two financial COIs. In total there were ten financial COIs among the six committee members, and it would appear that most of these conflicts meet the NASEM’s own standards for financial COIs.”
* “Five of the six committee members with financial COIs had patents or industry research funding during the time that they served on the NASEM2016 study, which would appear to meet the NASEM’s standard for “current” financial COIs. In all cases, the financial COIs concerned private interests that have a financial interest in the promotion of genetic engineering, not in opposition to it.”
* “Disclosure is a first, critical step toward addressing the potential bias stemming from financial COIs. Removing potential bias from research also requires management of conflicts of interest, a topic that Congress partially addresses by requiring the NASEM to form “fairly balanced” committees of experts. While this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, it is noteworthy that every financial COI and institutional COI we identified in this analysis concerns financial interests related to private interests that favor the use of agricultural biotechnology, not companies with a financial interest in restricting the use of agricultural biotechnology.”
Read the full research study here.
Read NASEM ‘s response to the study here.
Here is what Dr. Marion Nestle — currently writing a book on conflicts of interest in nutrition research — has to say via her blog:
“My translation [of the National Academies’ in-denial response to the paper]: “we did everything right and this is a witch hunt.” No you did not do everything right. Disclosure should be rigorous, given the level of passion involved in views of GMOs and the need for trust in Academy reports. And no, this is not a witch hunt. This is a call for full disclosure.”