International Life Sciences Institute

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a Washington-D.C. based lobby group funded by food, chemical and drug companies. Primarily it acts on behalf of the global food manufacturing industry, but it also includes operations involved with agriculture and genetic modification; pesticides and pharmaceuticals; confectionery; and even with such dubious consumables as cigarettes.

On its website the ILSI states that it works "to further the understanding of scientific issues relating to nutrition, food safety, toxicology, risk assessment, and the environment by bringing together scientists from academia, government, and industry." In particular it states that four "key issues" that it addresses are "overweight/obesity", "food biotechnology", "functional foods" and "risk assessment". It also states that "these initiatives are in addition to ongoing efforts to provide new knowledge on: the role of nutrition in human health; the alleviation of worldwide micronutrient deficiency; the safety of food ingredients and additives; and evaluation of water purification methodologies and standards."[1]

However, its private agenda has often been designed to thwart attempts to regulate or reduce public exposure to many dangerous or environmentally-damaging substances. Its private interests are focussed on the financial benefits of its major backers – the larger food companies and their trade associations.

This imbalance led, eventually, to the World Health Organization banning the organisation from direct involvement in WHO (and related agencies) activities.[2]

The ILSI certainly has sponsored genuine research, run real educational workshops around the world, and held many genuine conferences. It has done this both under its own name, and also under the auspices of the seemingly-independent Toxicology Forum which it runs (or perhaps 'guides') in parallel … using the same staff and venues … yet without any obvious connections.[3] The Toxicology Forum also seems to have extremely close ties to the Society of Toxicology (they share a fax number) and both the International Association of Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Societies (IAEMGS) and the American College of Toxicology (ACT), with which it shares an address in Reston VA.

The Toxicology Forum is three years older than the ILSI (established in 1975) and wider in that it draws its membership from petroleum industries as well as from the ILSI's traditional sources in food, chemical, and drug companies.[4] It's President until recently has been Phillippe Schubik[5] [6][7] of the Eppley Institute at the University of Nebraska, and its Administrative Vice President is ILSI President/Coca-Cola VP Alex Malaspina.

Activities

Today the ILSI specialises in lobbying national and international agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Its membership consists of 400 of 'the world’s leading manufacturers of food and food ingredients, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other consumer products', and the list it publishes includes the names of Burger King, Cargill, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Heinz, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, Masterfoods (Mars), Monsanto, Nabisco, Nestlé, NutraSweet, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Red Bull and Tate & Lyle. [8]

There are also strong links between the ILSI, alcoholic beverage associations, and confectionery-industry lobby groups such as the US Sugar Association, the UK Sugar Bureau, and the World Sugar Research Organisation (WSRO).[9]

The WSRO and the ILSI both make claims that sugar is good for you, and in 2004 they were charged with paying off the Expert Consultation on Carbohydrates in Human Nutrition, effectively botching the WHO's research on sugar and its health effects. The BBC's Panorama program also says they affected the removal of the WHO's director of the International Obesity Task Force, Derek Yach (who, famously, also ran the Tobacco Free Initiative program at WHO and was an architect of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).[10]

The US Sugar Association (whose members include Coca-Cola, Pepsi and General Foods) has recently lobbied Congress to withdraw $406 million of WHO funding because of its promotion of low-sugar intake to counter obesity.[11] However the ILSI is even-handed; see how it caved in to G.D.Searle over Nutrasweet trials, and how it rejected two grant proposals in 1985 when a researcher raised questions about the sweetener’s effects on children.[12] The researcher later commented that; "There’s an internal conflict of interest, when a company, which has profit at the bottom line, is charged with finding out the true safety of its product."

The ILSI also lobbies to promote the acceptance of genetic modification of foodstuffs, which is not particularly surprising since both Monsanto and Syngenta are on ILSI's governing board of trustees, and play a substantial role on many committees.[13]

Foundation

Since it was first established in the 1978 by Coca-Cola, Heinz, Kraft, General Foods, and Procter & Gamble, the overall direction of the ILSI has been largely under the control of the Coca-Cola Company, although, as the organisation grew, the control has become more diffuse.[14]

Alex Malaspina, a Vice President at Coca Cola, took on the role of President (between 1978 and 1991) and he set about building a global empire. Coca-Cola also provided the initial secretarial staff, and it used the organisation as a way to build self-funding coalitions of like-minded corporation to further its aims of deregulation and small-government.[15][16]

ILSI Europe was founded in 1986, and other regional operations followed. Now the organisation has branches in Argentina, Australasia, Brazil, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, North Africa and the Gulf Region, North America, North Andean, South Africa, South Andean, Southeast Asia, Thailand and China.[17]

From 1979 it also published the scientific journal Nutrition Review in English, while each national organisation also publishes scientific monographs and journals in its own language.

The ILSI has also cooperated with, and sometimes absorbed, other closely-related industry associations.[18] However it has always been keen to preserve a 'clean' image by not openly associating with industries like that of tobacco. However food and tobacco are inextricably linked through their share of retail outlets as well as group ownership structures.

In the USA, the food and tobacco industries were dominated by multi-industry corporate structures such as that of Kraft General Foods / Millers Beer / Philip Morris; and Nabisco / Kentucky Fried Chicken / Del Monte / RJ Reynolds Tobacco. In Australia, AMATIL held the Coca Cola franchise (and had other foods interests), while still controlling HD Wills & Company, the local manufacturer and distributor of British American Tobacco (BAT) cigarettes. The structural linkage of soft-drink, alcoholic beverage, and tobacco companies is common in other countries also.

Hidden links

During the 1980s, many food-related companies felt threatened by the emerging public health, nutrition and environmental concerns, and they were reluctant to associate with the pariah tobacco industry. So Kraft and Nabisco became the corporate sponsors of the ILSI Research Foundation, not Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds Tobacco.[19] However the ILSI continued to provide special services to the cigarette companies behind the scene.[20]

More recently, the interests of food, pharmaceutical, tobacco, energy, and other industries have become even more entwined. They have learned to cooperate (rather than blaming each other for the cancer epidemic) and they now form coalitions to fight health and environmental regulations. It is notable that they generally employ the same lawyers, lobbyists and PR companies, and use essentially the same tactics.[21]

It should also be remembered that tobacco and the food/beverage industries shared a concern with additives, preservatives, flavourings and pesticide residues. There is also a shared determination to ensure that the threat of such regulations can't impact their bottom line.

However, by keeping tobacco publicly at arms length (thus preserving its apparent virginal purity), the ILSI was able to convince US government health organisations and those of the United Nations, to accept it as a genuine science-based (almost philanthropic) association intent only on advancing the science of nutrition and food technology. However, sometimes the potential exposure of the real behind-the-scene links to tobacco became, itself, a risk-factor to their status. (See page 4 Philip Morris report – Jim Tozzi – a tobacco lobbyist.[22]

Maintaining distance from the tobacco industry while taking its money was comparatively easy for ILSI to do for the first years, since a large part of their early activities were genuine, and most of its scientist-members were well-intentioned. As a result, they were soon widely accepted around the world in government regulatory and WHO conferences and other activities.[23]

Expansion

Right from the start, with the backing of large food corporations, the ILSI was soon in a position to expand its operations and it set about creating a number of subsidiary-divisions then later, foundations, which were often independently funded and controlled. The earliest and most prominent of these was the Nutrition Foundation (based in the USA), which by 1986 was being characterised by Nabisco executives as continuing "along a wreakless (sic) path of unrestrained growth without visible payback".[24] President Alex Malaspina was seen as the person to blame.

Dissatisfaction with the ILSI in 1987 led to RJ Reynolds and its associated food companies establishing their own Center for Excellence in Toxicology as a pseudo-International scientific organisation.[25] But nothing much came of it.

In 1985 the ILSI sloughed off the Nutrition Foundation's Risk Assessment Committee as a separate ILSI Risk Sciences Institute. The aim appears to be one of raising $40 million at a time when risk characterisation had become the new fashion in anti-regulatory rhetoric,[26] and this new Institute would help them get on this funding-bandwagon. They sought direct (but hidden) tobacco industry funding also.

Carol Henry from Microbiological Associates was brought in to manage the new Institute in August of that year. She had been in charge of a major animal inhalation study contracted by the Council for Tobacco Research, and was seen as a risk-expert. This gave the new Institute a focus on the problems of tobacco smoke.[27]

In July 1987 the ILSI held a meeting to discuss the potential impacts of Proposition 65 in California, [28] which lead to the USA's first major strict health and environmental law, and the tobacco industry took a lead position (along with Carol Henry and ILSI) because it featured prohibitions on "second-hand smoke" (called 'Environmental Tobacco Smoke, or ETS') and closed many loopholes in cigarette labeling laws.[29][30]

Henry must have impressed Californian Governor Pete Wilson, because a few years later, when he became governor, he persuaded her to head the state's EPA's Health Hazards Risk Assessment division. Wilson and Henry then began taking a strong position against the strict health, environmental and warning-label regulations created by Proposition 65.[31]

But after two years of battling the environmentalists, Henry left the Californian EPA for the calmer Washington DC climate of the U.S. Department of Energy and then the American Petroleum Institute, the energy industries two main lobby forces in the Federal capital. [32] This effectively took her full circle since the petroleum companies were now key funders of the ILSI.

In 1989 Malaspina had created the ILSI Health & Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI)[33] to encourage funding and membership by non-food companies. The organisation emphasised its 'global-independent' image, and NGO (at WHO) status. These were good reasons, it said, why the chemical, petroleum and pharmaceutical companies should join for their mutual benefit – and even tobacco - provided this wasn't publicised.[34]

Legal and structural coordination

In all of its political battles and the proliferation of divisions, committees, institutes and the like, the ILSI had the faithful support of Washington DC lawyer/lobbyist Roger D Middlekauff, (of McKenna, Conner & Cuneo,). His name appears everywhere and it gives you some idea of the hidden reach of the ILSI's influence.

He represented the ILSI when it was seeking tax-exempt status for its foundation (1983) from the IRS, and pledged to the tax authorities that the organization "does not have any plans to engage in commercially sponsored scientific research." Under IRS rules, it is not permitted to engage in any form of political lobbying,

Middlekauff said that the ILSI would "direct the research toward benefiting the public" and would release all research results. [12] He was also closely associated in the Toxicology Forum with Alex Malaspina and Carol Henry, [35][36] and with Phillippe Shubrik.[33]

Then in February 1988 he was involved in the incorporation (by the ILSI) of the International Food Biotechnology Council (IFBC) [37][38] which was specifically set up to counter California's Proposition 65. He also figures in the documents as a driving force in the Chemical Sources Association (CSA) and the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association FEMA.

Middlekauff's name often appears in the cc lists or letterhead of many chemical/food related organisations:[35] [39][40] The International Technical Caramel Association was also favoured by his legal and chemical knowledge[41] He is now deceased, but The American Chemical Association has a Roger Middlekauff Award for 'Chemistry and The Law' subsidiary.

Dealing with Tobacco

In 1989 the ILSI created a Division of Environmental Sciences which "provided a mechanism for companies from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries to become members of the ILSI while preserving ILSI-NF's concentration on issues of importance to the food industry."

The tobacco industry's interest in the ILSI had been boosted in 1985 when, after attending the Brighton UK, International Congress on Nutrition, a long-term tobacco consultant Dr. Francis J. C. Roe reported to Philip Morris that "Many of the audience were surprised at the scale and breadth of ILSI activities" following a 35 minute promotional speech by Coca-Cola's Malaspina.[42]

At about this time, the tobacco industry must have established some links to ILSI (probably via Kraft), because the following year Roe was asked to help organise an ILSI symposium on 'Inhalation Studies' (eg. the problems of second-hand tobacco smoke in everything but name) to be held in Germany during March 1987.[43]

Roe suggested to the organiser (Dr Mohr from ILSI Germany) that they eliminate clinical or epidemiological studies from the discussion, thus removing anything related to humans. He wanted the symposium to focus entirely on toxicology, which is almost entirely studies on animals. This is much safer territory for tobacco science, since claim can always then be made that 'mice aren't men'.

Between 1983 and 1998 the ILSI provided assistance to the tobacco industry in its attempts to subvert many attempts at legislative control over the industry's activities. It was effective, because it represented itself as an independent and unbiased scientific body, with international (including World Health Organization) credentials. It was only interested in maintaining scientific standards in the debate over questions of smoking and health, it claimed.

In fact, by various surreptitious means, it was being financed liberally by the tobacco industry, and it was linked through various administrative channels to tobacco companies and PR organisations.

Moreover, the tobacco industry was ruthless in using their food company subsidiaries, when required, to further tobacco company influence. For instance, when John D. Graham of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis organised a $20,000 'grant' from Philip Morris[44], and then discovered that such payments were against Harvard University rules against tobacco industry involvement (a token of academic ethics half-heartedly promoted by the university), the Philip Morris check was returned, and an acceptable new one issued by Kraft.

Between 1987 and 1989 Alex Malaspina assiduously cultivated the links he had built with the tobacco industry. He signed a personal contract with R.J. Reynolds to act as a go-between in organising Emory University and the tobacco company for research into Eclipse (the tobacco-less cigarette under development), and approached Thomas J. Borelli, an executive scientific lobbyist at Philip Morris, to discuss closer cooperation.[45]

Good Work

It is important to appreciate that the ILSI was not, in itself, an organisation totally subservient to its sponsors interests (it wouldn't have been effective if it was), nor were most of its staff compromised by the hidden funding and controls organised at the highest level. The membership included many genuine scientists involved in many genuine committees, working on behalf of many honest food and beverage companies.

As with all effective PR operation, the misinformation and lobbying aspects (prohibited under IRS rules) were hidden beneath the camouflage cloak of a genuine scientific organisation with scientist members. The underground work can then be done by only a few people in the top management and policy committees. ILSI is structured in a way which ensures that the funding corporations have majority membership in all its major decision-making committees.

Genuine research is also supported and conducted by the ILSI when the problem is shared by a number of companies, although it is by no means certain that negative findings were always published or circulated to the wider public.[46]

WHO's NGO status

The ILSI enjoyed non-government organisation (NGO) status within the World Health Organization (WHO) and a special consultative status with the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In addition, the ILSI worked for many years closely with the International Agency on Research into Cancer (IARC) and the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS).

These associations and the levels of formal accreditation allowed key members of the ILSI to sit in on, and become involved with, many international conferences on nutrition safety and health; chemical safety; food production; and also on trade issues. The granting of this status was, of course, provided as a position of trust. It was a mechanism designed to allow genuine indigenous, industry and activist organisations to make real contributions to formal UN-accredited discussions of vital importance on global economic and health initiatives.

Examination of the tobacco industry documents now show that ILSI was not trustworthy.

A British Medical Journal website says "The ILSI has criticised WHO's draft report on nutrition. In its official response, the institute says that no scientific justification for the limitation of sugar intake (<10% of calories) is provided. It is also critical of WHO's focus on diet and has tried to shift the blame for obesity to physical inactivity. [ ] The ILSI is funded by the food industry; its sponsors including Mars, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. Despite this, Eileen Kennedy, the ILSI's global executive director, claims that the institute regarded itself as an independent body."[47]

Alex Malaspina managed to get seconded on to the Pan-American Health Organisation (an arm of WHO) alongside Paul Dietrich, a long-term tobacco industry lawyer-lobbyist who ran the Institutute for International Health and Development.[48])

In July 2000 a group of experts for the WHO reported on the role of ILSI in promoting the tobacco industry.[49]

The ILSI now gives its key "Future Leader Award of $30,000" in honor of "Dr. Alex Malaspina, ILSI’s founding President, who retired in 2000." However his leadership services are not entirely lost, since he "continues to be involved in ILSI’s work through the ILSI Research Foundation."

ILSI's status with WHO Downgraded Following Protests

In late January 2006 the World Health Organization decided that ILSI "can no longer take part in WHO activities setting microbiological or chemical standards for food and water, the U.N. health agency's executive board decided Friday in Geneva, Switzerland."[50] However, it remains one of the NGOs with accreditation as an observer at WHO meetings.

The downgrading of ILSI's status followed a letter protesting ILSI's role in setting standards from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Working Group, United Steelworkers of America and a coalition of other groups.

Funding

Approximately sixty percent of the institute's funding originates from its member companies, with the remainder split between foundations, government agencies and sales.

Member companies

The ILSI has over 400 companies as members, but institute's main member companies (those that can influence directions) include:

Contact Details

One Thomas Circle, NW
9th Floor
Washington, DC 20005-5802
USA
Phone: 202-659-0074
Fax: 202-659-3859
Email: ilsi AT ilsi.org
Website: http://www.ilsi.org/

Articles and Resources

Sources

  1. International Life Sciences Institute, "About ILSI", accessed March 2008.
  2. "Corporate no-no", Currents, New Internationalist, Issue 388 , April 2006.
  3. "The Toxicology Forum", The Toxicology Forum, accessed March 2008.
  4. "The Toxicology Forum", 1992. Bates No. 2028402242.
  5. "Smoking Committee Chairman Blasts Cancer Advisory Board, Federal Govt for 'Apathy'", Drug Research Reports, June 27, 1993. Bates No 680230494.
  6. "Occupational and Environmental Health Risks: Management and Communication", October 31, 1994. Bates No. 202476526.
  7. "Philippe Shubik", undated but approx 1970. Bates No 2023102098.
  8. International Life Sciences Institute, "Members of ILSI", January 2007.
  9. Kath Dalmeny (The Food Commission), "Supplementary Memorandum by The Food Commission (OB 27A)", Select Committee on Health (UK), June 14 2004.
  10. "The trouble with sugar", Panorama, BBC, October 4, 2004.
  11. Sarah Boseley, "Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO", The Guardian, April 21 2003.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Gregory Gordon, "NutraSweet: Questions Swirl", UPI, 1987.
  13. International Life Sciences Institute, "ILSI 2006 Board of Trustees", undated, 2006.
  14. Sarah Boseley, "Are Fizzy Drinks Doing This to Our Children?", Guardian (UK), January 9th, 2003.
  15. International Life Sciences Institute, "About ILSI", accessed March 2008.
  16. The Coca-Cola Company, "Our Partners", December 31, 2006.
  17. International Life Sciences Institute, "About ILSI", accessed March 2008.
  18. Alfred E. Goosens, "Report of the B.E.S.T. - I.L.S.I. Liaison Committee", undated but approx 1984. Bates No. 503843512.
  19. Steve Parrish, "Steve Parrish Briefing to the Board, Sea Island", April 29, 1995, page 24.
  20. Tom Borelli, "ETS Issues", Philip Morris, November 27, 1989.
  21. Sarah Boseley, "WHO 'infiltrated by food industry'", Guardian (UK), January 9 2003.
  22. "Science", undated but approx 1992/1993. Bates No 2025498651.
  23. International Life Sciences Institute, "Joint Meeting of the ILSO and ILSI North America Assembly of Members", ILSI, Minutes, January 24, 1993.
  24. Dr. Paul Bruns, "Minutes - Stratggic Issues Committee - Meeting of November 24, 1986", December 3, 1986.
  25. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, "Subject: Weekly Highlights - Scientific Affairs For Week of July 20, 1987", July 29, 1987.
  26. "Joint Meeting of the ILSI and ALSI-NF Board of Members: Minutes", January 21, 1989, page 4.
  27. Scott R. Baker, "Health Risks to Airliner Occupants: Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Other Pollutants", Sponsored by ILSI Risk Science Institute, Brookings Institution and Society for Risk Analysis, June 14, 1990.
  28. Alex Malaspina, "Memorandum", International Life Sciences Institute-Nutrition Foundation, July 10, 1987.
  29. Richard C. Paddock, "Groundwork laid for Prop. 65 Warnings on Secondhand Smoke", Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1988, Part 1, page 3.
  30. W.G. Champion Mitchell, Prop 65. - California and Beyond", R.J. Reynolds, April 7, 1986.
  31. California Environmental Protection Agency, "The History of the California Environmental Protection Agency: The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment", January 19, 2006.
  32. "Setting Priorities for Drinking Water Contaminants", National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1999.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Roger D. Middlekauff and Philippe Shubik (eds), "International Food Regulation Handbook", Covington & Burling, 1989. Bates No 2072675955.
  34. Alex Malaspina, Letter to Dr. Thomas J. Borelli (Philip Morris), April 20, 1989. Bates No. 2021595961.
  35. 35.0 35.1 International Life Sciences Institute, "Meeting of ILSI-NF Members on California's Proposition 65: Agenda", September 18, 1987. Bates No. 509908625.
  36. Roger D Middlekauff, To: Members of Toxicology Forum", May 22, 1987. Bates No 2029060456.
  37. 'ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee (IFBiC)", accessed March 2008.
  38. Bernadene Magnuson, "International Food Biotechnology Council", Summer 1997.
  39. Chemical Sources Association, "Members 2005-2006", accessed March 2008.
  40. "Flavor Firms warmed Not to be Lulled By TSCA Exemption", Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News, May 11, 1977, page 5.
  41. Roger D Middlekauff, Letter to Ms. Carol Lincoln, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp", International Technical Caramel Association, November 25, 1987.
  42. Dr. F.J.C. Roe, "XIII International Congress of Nutrition, Brighton, U.K.: 18-23 August 1985 : Brief report on proceedings on 19 and 20 August", August 21, 1985. Bates No 2001219827.
  43. Dr. Francis J. C. Roe, "Letter to Prof. Dr. Ulrich Mohr: ILSI, International Symposium on,Design, Conduct and Interpretation of International Studies March 23-27, 1987", November 15, 1985. Bates No 2001219985.
  44. R.A. Pages, "Comment on Letter from John Graham", October 21, 1991. Bates No. 2023545707.
  45. Tom Borelli, "Independent Research Institutes", May 2, 1989. Bates No. 2021595960.
  46. P.L. Kraft, To Saccharin Technical Committee: Memo to Research Proposal on the Effects of Saccharin on the Neonate", Pepsico, June 26, 1984. Bares No 504200790.
  47. Vittal Katikireddi, "Food scam", Student BMJ, March 2003.
  48. World Health Organization, "Public Hearings on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control", October 12-13, 200.
  49. Tobacco Free Initiative, World Health Organization, The Tobacco Industry and Scientific Groups ILSI: A Case Study", Tobacco Control, 2001.
  50. John Heilperin, "WHO to Rely Less on U.S. Research", Associated Press, January 27, 2006.

Related SourceWatch Articles

External links

  • WHO report on ILSI's links to tobacco [1]
  • RJ Reynolds plans to involve itself with ILSI (and other) activities [2]
  • 1993 Discussion about Risk Assessment (EPA and ILSI) [3]
  • ILSI Bermuda meeting [4]
  • Proposition 65 [5]
  • Prop 65 and second-hand smoke [6]
  • ILSI meeting notes re Prop 65 [7]
  • Consumer alert article [8]
  • WHO ban [9]
  • The Guardian "WHO infiltrated" article [10]
  • The Ecologist Sugar article [11]
  • John Helperin, WHO to Rely Less on U.S. Research", Washington Post, January 27, 2006. (This is an Associated Press story).
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