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An interesting article appeared in the May issue of Nutrition Reviews (Vol. 67, Nr 5, p. 264-272) that addresses a significant issue facing science and scientists: the influence of funding sources on the veracity and completeness of scientific reporting. The International Life Science Institute-North America (ILSI-NA) commissioned a Working Group on Guiding Principles to consider this vexing issue, and the Working Group authored a paper entitled “Funding Food Science and Research: Financial Conflicts and Scientific Integrity.” The group of 16 authors included well known and respected scientists from the private and academic sectors. What they had to say is well worth reading and sharing. Hence this editorial will be devoted to that issue.

There are those who question the scientific integrity of all research that is conducted with support from the sector or industries deemed to benefit from the research. Clearly one can even challenge the integrity of this report, since they openly declare that partial funding for this study came from 10 leading food companies. But before we dismiss the paper simply based on the sponsors, it would be good to consider the content.

In the Introduction of the paper, the authors point out the importance of private sector research or research sponsored by the private sector in improving the healthfulness and safety of the food supply. They correctly argue that since the food industry is responsible to federal regulatory agencies for the truthfulness of their claims, the industry sponsors conduct research or contract for research to validate such claims. Clearly in some instances the research has shown that the claims are not legitimate and consequently the product claims cannot be made. The paper contains an interesting section on the definition of “conflict” and “bias.” In the discussion of the various methods by which bias in research is detected, they specifically identify scientific peer-review; manuscript review procedures within the academy; peer pressure at conferences, workshops, and scientific meetings; and finally governmental oversight structures from the funding agencies themselves.

Out of this discussion, the Working Group developed 8 principles to guide researchers in their interaction with all funding sources. In my opinion, IFT should adopt these principles as a part of the Code of Ethics for Food Science and Technology professionals. The principles are:

“In the conduct of public/private research relationships, all relevant parties shall:

  • 1
    conduct or sponsor research that is factual, transparent, and designed objectively; according to accepted principles of scientific inquiry, the research design will generate an appropriately phrased hypothesis and the research will answer the appropriate questions, rather than favor a particular outcome;
  • 2
    require control of both study design and research itself to remain with scientific investigators;
  • 3
    not offer or accept remuneration geared to the outcome of a research project;
  • 4
    prior to the commencement of studies, ensure that there is a written agreement that the investigative team has the freedom and obligation to attempt to publish the findings within some specified time-frame;
  • 5
    require, in publications and conference presentations, full signed disclosure of all financial interests;
  • 6
    not participate in undisclosed paid authorship arrangements in industry-sponsored publications or presentations;
  • 7
    guarantee accessibility to all data and control of statistical analysis by investigators and appropriate auditors/reviewers; and
  • 8
    require that academic researchers, when they work in contract research organizations (CRO) or act as contract researchers, make clear statements of their affiliation; require that such researchers publish only under the auspices of the CRO.”

The authors point out that one of the most significant prerequisites for implementing these guidelines is a strong peer-review system coupled with open declaration of research sponsorship by all parties. Interestingly, the Work Group also identified biases that were not considered within the context of this paper: foundation-funded research; government-funded research; serving on government advisory panels, granting agency panels, and non-governmental panels; and volunteering on behalf of professional societies. The bottom line is that elimination of bias is a responsibility of everyone, regardless of whether it is in research or other endeavors. Adherence to these guidelines can be a first step to ensuring that we are really getting at truth. I compliment ILSI-NA for bringing forth this issue with such clarity and reasonableness.