The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit organization founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola who worked for the company from 1969 until 2001. ILSI claims on its website to bring together scientists from industry, government and academia to “provide science that improves public health.” However, evidence suggests that ILSI Global and its branches operate as fronts to influence science and policies in ways that benefit corporate interests over public health.
ILSI is funded by the food and agrichemical industries, according to internal documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know.
U.S. Right to Know has also reported just how far the influence of ILSI and its top operatives extends. In 2016, Carey Gillam reported that ILSI’s founder, Alex Malaspina, was able to ask for and receive input and guidance from a top official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to address actions by the World Health Organization that were hurting the food and beverage industry.
The emails, obtained via state freedom of information requests, reveal that Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of a CDC division charged with preventing heart disease and stroke, tried to help Malaspina find inroads to influence WHO officials to back off anti-sugar talk. 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 articles were published reporting on these ties.)
Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI ever since Malaspina founded the group. In 2015, ILSI’s president was Rhona Applebaum, Coke’s chief health and science officer. Applebaum retired from Coke in November 2015 after revelations that the company funded a group called the Global Energy Balance Network to spin the obesity story. Coca-Cola has gone to great lengths to try to shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks. For more on Coke’s obesity spin campaign, see articles from the New York Times and Associated Press.
ILSI soda controversy in China
Two papers published in January 2019 document how Coca-Cola and other corporations used ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
On Jan. 9, 2019, The New York Times reported on the two new studies showing 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.”
ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, the researchers reported. See:
- “Making China safe for Coke: how Coca-Cola shaped obesity science and policy in China,” by Susan Greenhalgh in BMJ, and Greenhalgh’s study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy (1.9.2019).
- “The hidden power of corporations: A lesson from China,” by Martin McKee, Sarah Steele, David Stuckler, BMJ (1.9.2019)
- “Food giants undermined obesity fight, scholar says,” by Candace Choi, Associated Press (1.10.2019)
- “Study: Coca-Cola Shaped China’s Efforts To Fight Obesity,” by Jonathan Lambert, NPR (1.10.2019)
ILSI glyphosate controversy
In May 2016, ILSI came under scrutiny after revelations that the chair of ILSI’s board of trustees, Alan Boobis, was at the same time the chairman of a UN panel that found Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate unlikely to pose a cancer risk through diet.
ILSI has received at least $500,000 in donations from Monsanto, in addition to significant contributions from other chemical industry sources. Monsanto draws roughly a third of its $15 billion annual revenues from its Roundup branded glyphosate-based herbicide products.
The story and corporate funding of ILSI was first reported by Carey Gillam for U.S. Right to Know. The Guardian, Die Zeit, ARD and Horticulture Week have also covered the conflict of interest involving ILSI and the glyphosate review by the UN’s Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues.
More on ILSI:
International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) 2012 major donor list
“UCSD Hires Coke-Funded Researcher,” by Morgan Cook, San Diego Union-Tribune (9.29.2016)
“What is Going on at the CDC? Health Agency Ethics Need Scrutiny,” by Carey Gillam, The Hill (8.27.2016)
“More Coca-Cola Ties Seen Inside U.S. Centers for Disease Control,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (8.1.2016)
“CDC Official Exits Agency After Coca-Cola Connections Come to Light,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (12.6.2017)
“Beverage Industry Finds Friend Inside U.S. Health Agency,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (6.28.2016)
“Conflict of Interest Concerns Cloud Glyphosate Review,” by Carey Gillam, U.S. Right to Know (5.12.2016)
“UN/WHO Panel in Conflict of Interest Row over Glyphosate Cancer Risk,” by Arthur Neslen, The Guardian (5.17.2016)