Influential Science Nonprofit ILSI Exposed as a Food Industry Lobby Group
By Stacy Malkan
The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit group with chapters around the world that claim to conduct "science for the public good," but documents released in a new study reveal that the influential ILSI science group is a actually a lobby group that protects the interests of the food industry, not public health.
The June 2019 paper in Globalization and Health describes internal emails that were obtained by the public interest group U.S. Right to Know via state public records laws. The documents reveal clear examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. "Researchers have labelled the International Life Sciences Institute an industry front group, after studying thousands of documents," reported the BMJ.
As one example, the paper quotes an email from Alex Malaspina, the former Coca-Cola executive who founded ILSI, lamenting the failure of ILSI Mexico to follow the industry position on soda taxes. Malaspina describes "the mess ILSI Mexico is in because they sponsored in September a sweeteners conference when the subject of soft drinks taxation was discussed. ILSI is now suspending ILSI Mexico, until they correct their ways. A real mess."
2015 email from Alex Malaspina, founder of ILSI.
Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola from 1969-2001, founded ILSI in 1978. Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI ever since. From 2009-2011, the president of ILSI was Michael Ernest Knowles, who was also Coca-Cola's VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs from 2008–2013. In 2015, ILSI's president was Rhona Applebaum, who retired from her job as Coca-Cola's chief health and science officer (and from ILSI) in 2015 after the New York Times and Associated Press reported that Coke funded the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to help shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks.
Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and reported in a 2016 study revealed that Coke proposed and financed the Global Energy Balance Network as a "weapon" in the "growing war between the pubic health community and private industry" over obesity and the obesity epidemic.
ILSI is funded by its corporate members and company supporters, including leading food and chemical companies such as Coca-Cola, BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta, Mars, McDonalds, chemical industry trade groups, and many others. In its annual report, ILSI and its branches reported $17,481,251 in expenses for 2017 but did not disclose specific donor information. A document obtained via a state freedom of information request shows corporate contributions to ILSI Global amounting to $2.4 million in 2012. The largest donations were $500,000 from Monsanto and over $500,000 from the pesticide industry trade group, Crop Life International. ILSI's draft 2013 IRS tax returns show $337,000 in donations from Coca-Cola and over $650,000 from six agrichemical companies, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi Bred and Syngenta.
ILSI Undermined Obesity Fight in China
In January 2019, two papers by Harvard Prof. Susan Greenhalgh revealed ILSI's powerful influence on the Chinese government on issues related to obesity. Prof. Geenhalgh's articles in the Journal of Public Health Policy and the BMJ document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Jan. 9 article in New York Times.
ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. Dr. Greenhalgh's papers document how Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants "helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related diseases" by operating through ILSI to cultivate key Chinese officials "in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the west," reported Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times.
ILSI Sugar Study “Right Out of the Tobacco Industry’s Playbook”
In 2016, public health experts denounced an ILSI-funded sugar study published in a prominent medical journal that presented a "scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar," reported Anahad O'Connor in The New York Times. The ILSI-funded study argued that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.
The Times story quoted Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, on the ILSI study: "This comes right out of the tobacco industry's playbook: cast doubt on the science," Nestle said. "This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It's shameful."
ILSI has also been accused of working directly on the tobacco industry playbook to thwart public safety measures to reduce smoking. A July 2000 report by an independent committee of the World Health Organization outlined a number of ways in which the tobacco industry attempted to undermine WHO tobacco control efforts, including using scientific groups to influence WHO's decision-making and to manipulate scientific debate surrounding the health effects of tobacco. ILSI played a key role in these efforts, according to a case study about ILSI from the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative. "Findings indicate that ILSI was used by certain tobacco companies to thwart tobacco control policies. Senior office bearers in ILSI were directly involved in these actions," according to the case study.
ILSI Leaders Played Key Role in Defending Glyphosate as Chairs of WHO Panel
In May 2016, ILSI was caught "in a conflict of interest row over glyphosate cancer risk," reported Arthur Neslen in the Guardian, after revelations that the vice president of ILSI Europe, Prof. Alan Boobis, was also chairman of the UN Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) panel that found Monsanto's chemical glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer risk through diet. The co-chair of the JMPR panel, Prof. Angelo Moretto, was a board member of ILSI's Health and Environment Services Institute. Neither of the chairs declared their ILSI leadership roles as conflicts of interest, despite the significant financial contributions ILSI has received from Monsanto and the pesticide industry trade group.
ILSI’s Cozy Ties at U.S. CDC
In June 2016, U.S. Right to Know reported that Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control division charged with preventing heart disease and stroke, tried to help ILSI's founder Alex Malaspina influence World Health Organization officials to back off policies to reduce sugar consumption. Bowman suggested people and groups for Malaspina to talk to, and solicited his comments on some CDC summaries of reports, the emails show. (Bowman stepped down after our first article was published reporting on these ties.)
A January 2019 study in the Milbank Quarterly describes key emails of Malaspina cozying up to Dr. Bowman.
ILSI Influence in India
ILSI has close ties to some Indian government officials and, as in China, the nonprofit has pushed similar messaging and policy proposals as Coca-Cola — downplaying the role of sugar and diet as a cause of obesity, and promoting increased physical activity as the solution, according to the India Resource Center. Members of ILSI India's board of trustees include Coca-Cola India's director of regulatory affairs and representatives from Nestlé and Ajinomoto, a food additive company, along with government officials who serve on scientific panels that are tasked with deciding about food safety issues.
Longstanding Concerns About ILSI
ILSI insists it is not an industry lobby group, but concerns and complaints are longstanding about the group's pro-industry stances and conflicts of interest among the organization's leaders.
In 2010, Nature reported on concerns about conflicts of interest between ILSI and the European Food Safety Authority, and noted that the industry ties may taint the reputation of the European regulatory body.
A 2019 book by Dr. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros, Real Food on Trial (Columbus Publishing), recounts the "unprecedented prosecution" of Dr. Noakes "in a multimillion rand case that stretched over more than four years. All for a single tweet giving his opinion on nutrition." Russ Greene reported on the controversy in a 2017 article for Keep Fitness Legal. "The Food Industry is attempting to use Dr. Noakes in order to set an example to anyone who dares challenge its authority in nutrition," Greene wrote.
Stacy Malkan is co-director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative research group focused on the food industry. She is author of the book, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry" (New Society 2007).
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.
<div id="a420d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5369c498a5855fe2143b86fa07e23dff"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1364300806988652548" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨🚨🚨 Bernie Sanders voted against Tom Vilsack's nomination. It's great to see the Senator stick to his principles a… https://t.co/u4XNU4viNC</div> — RootsAction (@RootsAction)<a href="https://twitter.com/Roots_Action/statuses/1364300806988652548">1614109634.0</a></blockquote></div>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Beverly Law and William Moomaw
Protecting forests is an essential strategy in the fight against climate change that has not received the attention it deserves. Trees capture and store massive amounts of carbon. And unlike some strategies for cooling the climate, they don't require costly and complicated technology.
The U.S. has more than 800 million acres of natural and planted forests and woodlands, of which nearly 60% are privately owned. USDA / USFS
- Bipartisan Climate Bill Highlights Forest Restoration, Conservation ... ›
- New Forests Planted Near Rivers Could Use up All the Water, Study ... ›
- Restoring Tropical Forests Isn't Meaningful if Those Forests Only ... ›
- Family Forests Are Key to Fighting Climate Change. - EcoWatch ›
- Earth's Intact Forests Are Invaluable, and in Danger - EcoWatch ›
By Matt Casale
There were many lessons to be learned from Texas' prolonged periods of lost power during its cold snap, which saw temperatures drop into the single digits. But one many people may not recognize is that electric vehicles, or EVs, can be part of a smart resiliency plan — not only in the case of outages triggered by the cold but in other scenarios caused by extreme weather events, from fire-related blackouts in California to hurricane-hit power losses in Puerto Rico.
A car driving in the snow in Dallas, Feb. 2021. Matthew Rader / CC BY-SA 4.0<p>Experts recognize that electric vehicles are a central climate solution for their role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But EVs are also essentially batteries on wheels. You can store energy in those batteries, and if EVs are equipped with something called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle-to-grid" target="_blank">vehicle-to-grid</a> or vehicle-to-building technology, they can also be used to keep the lights on in emergencies. The technology allows the energy being stored in an EV battery to be pushed back into the grid or into buildings to provide power.</p><p>There are hurdles: The technology is still <a href="https://www.greenbiz.com/article/vehicle-grid-technology-revving" target="_blank">developing</a>, the vast majority of EVs currently on the road do not have this capability, and utilities would need regulatory approval before bringing it to scale. But done right it could be a great opportunity.</p><p>Electric car batteries can hold approximately <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/11/how-california-can-use-electric-vehicles-keep-lights" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">60 kilowatt hours (kWh)</a> of energy, enough to provide back-up power to an average U.S. household for two days. Larger electric vehicles like buses and trucks have even bigger batteries and can provide more power. The American company Proterra produces electric buses that can store <a href="https://www.proterra.com/press-release/proterra-launches-zx5-electric-bus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 660 kWh of energy</a>. Electric <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/electric-trash-trucks-are-coming-quietly-to-your-town-11602098620#:~:text=Electric%20trash%20truck%20love%20is%20in%20the%20air.&text=A's%20program%20to%20reduce%20carbon,being%20primarily%20electric%20by%202023." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">garbage trucks</a> and even <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/business/electric-semi-trucks-big-rigs.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big-rigs</a>, with bigger batteries, are becoming a reality too.</p>
MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann / CC BY 2.0<p>If equipped with vehicle-to-grid or vehicle-to-building technology, those cars, buses and trucks could prove invaluable during future blackouts. People could rely on their cars to power their houses. Municipalities, transit agencies and school districts could send out their fleets to the areas most in need. We could power homes, shelters and emergency response centers — and could keep people warm, healthy and comfortable until power could be restored.</p><p>But to add this great resiliency tool to our arsenal in times of extreme weather, we must significantly increase the number of EVs on the road. In 2019 electric cars accounted for only about <a href="https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/articles/fotw-1136-june-1-2020-plug-vehicle-sales-accounted-about-2-all-light-duty" target="_blank">2%</a> of all light-duty vehicle sales in the country. Electric buses and trucks are becoming more common in the United States, but still only represent a tiny fraction of the fleet. As it stands now, the EVs currently on the road, even if equipped with vehicle-to-grid technology, would do little to help a broad swath of the population in need of power.</p>
A line of electric cars at charging stations. Andrew Bone / CC BY 2.0
With lockdowns in place and budgets slashed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many environmental protections vanished this past year, leaving some of the world's most vulnerable species and habitats at risk. But conservationists at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation were faced with an entirely different threat.
Annapolis, Maryland, is suing 26 oil and gas companies for deceiving the public about their products' role in causing climate change. The city is among two dozen state and local governments to file such a lawsuit.
- Charleston, SC Becomes First City in U.S. South to Sue Big Oil for ... ›
- 'Fossil Fuel Companies Knew': Honolulu Files Lawsuit Over Climate ... ›