Food Industry: Doubt Is Our Product

In this video, Dr. Greger says that the food industry has taken lessons from the tobacco industry. The best way to promote a product that is associated with harm? Instill doubt. (The most recent example is this study that purports to exonerate saturated fat – which was paid for by the Dairy Institute, the Beef Institute, the Egg Nutrition Center, and the Atkins Foundation.)

That first study of his:
Profits And Pandemics: Prevention Of Harmful Effects Of Tobacco, Alcohol, And Ultra-Processed Food And Drink Industries, The Lancet, February 2013

However, through the sale and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink (unhealthy commodities), transnational corporations are major drivers of global epidemics of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries use similar strategies to the tobacco industry to undermine effective public health policies and programmes.

The first strategy is to bias research findings. For example, Philip Morris International implemented the Whitecoat project to hire doctors to publish ghostwritten confounder studies purporting to negate links between environmental tobacco smoke and harm. The tobacco companies created quasi-independent organizations to published biased and partial scientific reports, deny harm, and suppress health information. Similarly, funding from transnational food and beverage corporations biases research. A meta-analysis of research publications showed systematic bias from industry funding, with article sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies four-times to eight-times more likely to have conclusions favorable to the financial interests of the sponsoring company than those that were not sponsored by food and drinks companies.

Manufactured Uncertainty, Protecting Public Health in the Age of Contested Science and Product Defense, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, October 2006

The approach is now so common that it is unusual for the science not to be challenged by an industry facing regulation. Manufacturing uncertainty has become a business in itself; numerous technical consulting firms provide a service often called “product defense” or “litigation support.” As these names imply, the usual objective of these activities is not to generate knowledge to protect public health but to protect a corporation whose products are alleged to have toxic properties.

The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?, The Milbank Quarterly, March 2009

“Every tobacco company executive in the public eye was told to learn the script backwards and forwards, no deviation was allowed.. … Not proven, not proven, not proven – this would be stated insistently and repeatedly. Inject a thin wedge of doubt, create controversy, never deviate from the prepared line. It was a simple plan and it worked.” -Kessler 2001

Instilling doubt is also a product of the biotech industry. Recall that the first published, peer-reviewed, long-term (2-year) animal study of GM corn, the one that found worse health in rats fed GMOs …

Long Term Toxicity Of A Roundup Herbicide And A Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Maize, Food and Chemical Toxicology (FTC), 19 September 2012.

… Was retracted after the publisher was hounded by Monsanto and other biotechnology supporters. The grounds for retraction was merely that the study was inconclusive, not that it was incorrect:

“Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. … Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.”

The study was since republished, after undergoing a third round of peer review. Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London said that “few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists.”

Republished Study: Long-Term Toxicity Of A Roundup Herbicide And A Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Maize, Environmental Sciences Europe, 24 June 2014

GMO supporters continue to cite the “no harm” studies funded by biotechnology corporations (instead of independent studies which do show harm) without apparent appreciation for those studies’ intentional bias.

2 thoughts on “Food Industry: Doubt Is Our Product

  1. Bix Post author

    “Flawed.” “The study is flawed.” That word is a dead giveaway that the person (or institution) using it is afraid of the results of the study and would like to bury it or make it go away. A scientist is curious, not afraid. “Inconclusive” is another of that type.

    Why do I say this? Because every study is flawed. No study is 100% perfect. You can’t even define a perfect study because studies are relative. And so … you can always, always, always find something about a study that doesn’t meet someone’s definition of perfection. Be wary when you hear this word … flawed. Think about what the person using it stands to lose, if even just face.

  2. Bix Post author

    The drug industry also uses the doubt-instilling technique. e.g. Vioxx, an NSAID, continued to make money for Merck before they finally withdrew it for known safety reasons.


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