ILSI is a Food Industry Front Group, New Study Suggests

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News Release

For Immediate Release: Sunday, May 17th 2020 at 8pm EDT
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin +1 415 944 7350

The influential global nonprofit group International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) says that its mission is to “improve the well-being of the general public,” but a study published today in Public Health Nutrition adds evidence that it is, in fact, a food industry front group.

The study, based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records requests, uncovered “a pattern of activity in which ILSI sought to exploit the credibility of scientists and academics to bolster industry positions and promote industry-devised content in its meetings, journal, and other activities.”

“ILSI is insidious because they say they work for health when really they defend the food industry and its profits,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a consumer and public health group. “Across the world, ILSI is central to the food industry’s product defense, to keep consumers buying the ultra-processed food, sugary beverages and other junk food that promotes obesity, type 2 diabetes and other ills.”

The study reveals how ILSI promotes the interests of the food and agrichemical industries, including:

  • ILSI’s role in defending controversial food ingredients and suppressing views that are unfavorable to industry;
  • that corporations such as Coca-Cola can earmark contributions to ILSI for specific programs; and,
  • how ILSI uses academics for their authority but allows industry hidden influence in their publications.

In the study, the co-authors “call for ILSI to be recognised as a private sector entity rather than an independent scientific non-profit.”

The study also reveals new details about which companies fund ILSI and its branches.  For example:

  • ILSI North America’s draft 2016 IRS form 990 shows a $317,827 contribution from PepsiCo, contributions greater than $200,000 from Mars, Coca-Cola and Mondelez, and contributions greater than $100,000 from General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, Kraft, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Starbucks Coffee, Cargill, Unilever and Campbell Soup.
  • ILSI’s draft 2013 Internal Revenue Service form 990 shows that it received $337,000 from Coca-Cola, and more than $100,000 each from Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Bayer Crop Science and BASF.
  • In 2012, ILSI received $528,500 in contributions from CropLife International, a $500,000 contribution from Monsanto, and $163,500 from Coca-Cola.

Recently, there has been a wave of investigative work on ILSI and its worldwide influence. Last January, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh, in the BMJ and the Journal of Public Health Policy, revealed ILSI’s influence on the Chinese government regarding issues related to obesity. Last June, the co-authors of today’s study released a previous study on ILSI in the journal Globalization and Health. Last September, the New York Times published an article about ILSI, titled A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World. In April, the nonprofit Corporate Accountability released a report on ILSI titled “Partnership for an Unhealthy Planet.”

ILSI is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, based in Washington DC.  It was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president of Coca-Cola. It has 17 branches located all over the world.

The title of the study in Public Health Nutrition is “Pushing partnerships: corporate influence on research and policy via the International Life Sciences Institute.” It was co-authored by Sarah Steele, senior research associate at Jesus College and the University of Cambridge; Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know; and, David Stuckler, professor at Bocconi University.

The documents from the study are also available in the Food Industry Documents Archive of the UCSF Industry Documents Library, in the USRTK Food Industry Collection, as well as the Chemical Industry Documents Archive, in the USRTK Agrichemical Collection.

For more information about ILSI, see the U.S. Right to Know fact sheet about it.  For more information about U.S. Right to Know, see our academic papers at https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For more general information, see usrtk.org.

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