CSPI calls for replacement of members with tightest corporate ties

Several members of the newly appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) have major financial and organizational connections to the food, drug, and dietary supplement industries—industries that may have much to lose or gain when the panel rewrites the federal government’s dietary advice for Americans. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today called on Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to replace several committee members and to disclose fully all members’ corporate affiliations.

“You can’t tell the players without a scorecard,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “And the scorecard reveals that several committee members have received substantial funding from the sugar, egg, chocolate, dairy, and other food-related industries, as well as from drug companies. At a time of great concern over obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases, the extent of those biases should have disqualified them from membership on such an important committee. Few people, after all, want to bite the hands that feed them.”

The DGAC reviews the scientific literature on nutrition and health and advises HHS and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) about revisions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—the government’s basic nutrition advice. Changes in the guidelines may affect government policies and Americans’ eating habits—which in turn can affect food company profits. CSPI is particularly concerned about the following members of the 13-person committee:

Fergus M. Clydesdale has held stock in and consulted for several food-related companies. His pilot food plant at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst receives corporate support. He has worked closely with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), an industry-supported group that downplays practically every food-related health concern, including trans fat. He is chairman of the board of directors of the industry-funded International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and been a director of the industry-funded International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Vay Liang W. Go is an associate director of a University of California at Los Angeles nutrition center that has received funding from numerous drug companies.

Penny M. Kris-Etherton has consulted for Campbell Soup and Procter & Gamble, served on an American Egg Board advisory committee, and received research funding from the American Cocoa Research Institute, the Peanut Institute, Abbott Laboratories, and the Campbell Soup Company.

Theresa A. Nicklas has conducted research funded by the Sugar Association (the trade association for the cane and beet sugar industry) and the Kellogg Company. She has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not to list refined sugars on food labels.

Russell Pate has received at least $200,000 from ILSI and is an advisor to an IFIC project.

Xavier Pi-Sunyer, of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has been a paid consultant or advisor to numerous drug companies and received research support from Campbell Soup and Warner-Lambert.

Connie M. Weaver has conducted research for the National Dairy Council, National Dairy Board, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Mead-Johnson Company, and Procter & Gamble. She was a “Kraft Research Fellow” in 1998. Weaver has also served on the ILSI board of directors.

In HHS’ official news release announcing the committee’s appointment, none of the members connections to any industry group is disclosed.

“Regardless of what the committee advises, its advice will be received skeptically by the public, which has little tolerance for conflicts of interest, especially secret ones,” Jacobson said. “HHS should replace the most industry-funded members with objective public-health advocates.”

Jacobson noted that the appointment of industry-oriented researchers is similar to several controversial previous HHS committees concerning lead poisoning and other environmental and health issues. Recently, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee, issued a report charging that the Administration misuses science and manipulates the scientific advisory committee process on a wide range of issues, ranging from birth control to missile defense.

Earlier this summer, CSPI urged the consideration of six scientists for the DGAC. One of them, Carlos Arturo Camargo, Jr., an expert on the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption, was selected.