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Shifting the Focus from Pharma to Food

Industry Sponsorship and Partnership in Health-Related Food Research, Nutrition Policy, Education, and Practice

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A Collaborative Research Project with the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University through its Lab on Institutional Corruption

This project explores the practical impact and ethical implications of industry-sponsorship on health related food research and on nutrition education and practice. Issues of concern include:

  • the focus on research exploring the health benefits of foods and food components, neglecting the potential adverse effects of consuming those foods or components for their purported health benefits (this might be characterized as a corruption of health-related food and nutrition research);
  • the regulatory framework governing the use of claims about purported health benefits in labeling and advertising to promote foods, including the implications of the limited regulation of structure/function claims on food labeling in the United States.

The project will explore a variety of potential policy solutions currently under discussion (as well as proposing new ones) including:

  • the development of new funding streams for nutrition research,
  • building institutional structures to generate and reinforce reputations based on public interest research in food and nutrition, and
  • the development of improved regulatory oversight, drawing on lessons from comparative regulation in Europe and elsewhere.

The project is also collecting and developing tools to assist the leaders of academic institutions who wish to address industry-related conflicts of interest in a principled manner.

Jonathan Marks, Director of the Bioethics Program, leads this research collaboration, which he launched with Donald B. Thompson, emeritus professor of food science at Penn State.  They have benefited from the assistance of former postdoctoral fellow Christopher Mayes, and current fellow, Bryan Cwik.