Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Food Industry/Public Health Partnership I Could Support

A few weeks ago I at a talk I was giving in Halifax I was asked by my colleague Dr. Geoff Ball if I was still diametrically opposed to partnerships between public health organizations and the food industry.

My answer was, "Yes".

That said, over the past few years of my very vocal opposition to such partnerships I've been regularly challenged to come up with a mechanism that I could in fact stand behind.

So for what it's worth, here's what I've been considering.

What if there were a nutritional research fund that was financially supported by the pooled resources of the food industry, but governed by academics?

Where the various food industry players who want to be "a part of the solution", put their money where their mouths were - with unrestricted grants to this hypothetical fund?

Those monies would then be distributed on the basis of merit and need to nutritional research projects by means of academics with no industry ties.

The food industry folks could still talk of their being part of the solution by means of corporate social responsibility reports that would highlight the money they're sinking selflessly into the fund, while researchers wouldn't be beholden to the food industry, nor would projects be chosen on the basis of what the food industry believed would result in product favourable outcomes. Keeping the food industry at arms length would also preclude industry's use of health organization's logos or specific researcher's good names to sell their products and healthwash their brands.

It's not a perfect system as the industry players could still use their involvement in the fund as proof of their playing ball and might leverage that involvement into political gains and deflecting industry unfriendly legislation, but compared with the mess that currently exists consequent to these partnerships - I'd call an arrangement like this one as close to a win-win that I could imagine.

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  1. Here's the rub: an academic is required to procure both a certain amount of grant money (which is given directly to the institution for which he is working, though used to fund his research) and a certain amount of institutional and personal income through industry consultation. Under those conditions of employment and reimbursement, I strongly doubt that there can be an academic without ties to the food industry.

  2. Wow, you are a freaking genius, I love this post because it is the best we can do right now and I am fully behind DOING something rather than just talking and talking and talking and talking about it.

  3. One of my colleagues is on a study section in Italy that uses drug company money pooled this way (albeit not voluntarily) to do studies of drug efficacy. They limited the potential conflicts of interest by requiring that the reviewers must be academics who do not accept drug industry money and who are from outside Italy, while grantees must be Italian academics who do not accept drug industry money. It's such a great model!

  4. A model for the pharmaceutical industry as well.

  5. Kapil Khatter5:05 pm

    Not bad. I could support this as well. But there would likely be a tendency toward not criticizing industry as harshly to avoid hurting the flow of money. One sees it all the time with organizations/institutions that get funding from one government level or another.

  6. Anonymous8:36 pm

    academics can be bribed just as easily as regulators and politicians. your solution doesn't address the corruption driven by corporate competition.