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Dietary panel industry ties { August 25 2003 }

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Diet Panel Nominees Questioned
Groups Say Some Named Have Too Close Ties to Food, Drug Industries

By Sally Squires
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 25, 2003; Page A15

A new federal committee nominated recently to begin reviewing the U.S. dietary guidelines -- the cornerstone of key federal nutrition programs and policies from the food guide pyramid to the school lunch program -- has come under fire from consumer groups for having close industry ties.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged that seven of the nominees to the 13-member committee be replaced because of their "tight affiliations" with the food, drug and dietary supplement industries. Such ties "cast doubt on their ability to provide the government (and the public) with the best unbiased advice," wrote CSPI Director Michael F. Jacobson.

Compounding the potential bias, Jacobson said, is that HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which jointly oversee review of the guidelines every five years, did not disclose any of the nominees' corporate affiliations.

CSPI objects most to Fergus M. Clydesdale, who heads the Food Science Department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and who CSPI says has held stock in and has consulted for several food-related companies. Clydesdale has also worked closely with the industry-supported American Council on Science and Health and chairs the board of trustees of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is also largely industry-funded.

Clydesdale referred all questions to HHS. William Pierce, a spokesman for HHS, said the agency is handling media inquiries to the nominees.

"Everybody will be subject to the same conflict-of-interest review that everyone in government gets," Pierce said. "If a conflict is found, there are many different ways to address that. People always have the choice of not serving."

Although they are not subject to Senate confirmation, the panel appointees are nominees until they are cleared by the conflict-of-interest review. The panel is expected to begin meeting next month and make its recommendations on dietary guidelines in June.

Cutberto Garza, chairman of the 2000 Dietary Guidelines Committee, said he served with Clydesdale on a committee of the Institute of Medicine and found him to be unbiased. "I think that his perspective will be useful to the committee," said Garza, former director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University.

CSPI also objects to Vay Liang W. Go, co-director of the Center for Human Nutrition and director of the Center for Dietary Supplements at the University of California at Los Angeles, because, it says, he received funding from numerous drug companies.

Others CSPI would like replaced are Penny M. Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, who has served on an American Egg Board advisory panel and received research funding from Abbott Laboratories and Campbell Soup Co.; Theresa A. Nicklas, professor of pediatrics at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, who has received research funding from the Sugar Association and Kellogg Co.; and Russell R. Pate, associate dean of the School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, who received a $200,000 grant from ILSI.

CSPI also objects to F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, a Columbia University professor who directs the school's Obesity Research Center and is chief of endocrinology, diabetes and nutrition at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, who has been a paid consultant to drug companies and received research support from Campbell Soup and pharmaceutical company Warner Lambert, and Connie M. Weaver, head of the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University, who has conducted research for the National Dairy Council and Procter & Gamble.

"It's not to say that these are bad scientists," Jacobson said. "It's their right to take research funding from whoever they want. . . . But when it comes to setting up a committee that will be qualified and not biased, they should not be on the committee. It invites problems."

The nominees have also drawn criticism from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which said it was weighing what action to take. PCRM successfully sued the government in 2000 for not disclosing financial ties of the last committee.

"It is outrageous to have again chosen a committee that has several of its members with serious financial ties to the drug and food industries," said Amy Lanou, PCRM nutrition director. Two hundred people were nominated from academia, industry and consumer groups to be on the committee.

"We nominated three industry experts," said Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "None were selected, but as far as we can see, the makeup of the committee seems very balanced. . . . Between them, they represent a spectrum of health and nutrition."

The nominees also won praise from the Food and Nutrition Science Alliance, a group of leading nutritional science organizations that includes the American Society for Clinical Nutrition and the American Dietetic Association.

Other panel nominees are Lawrence J. Appel, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Yvonne Bronner, director of the graduate program in public health at Morgan State University; Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Carlos Arturo Camargo Jr., assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard University; Janet C. King, senior scientist at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in Oakland, Calif.; and Joanne R. Lupton, professor of animal science, food science and technology and nutritional sciences, at Texas A&M University.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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