The New York Times
A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World
When the Indian government bowed to powerful food companies last year and postponed its decision to put red warning labels on unhealthy packaged food, officials also sought to placate critics of the delay by creating an expert panel to review the proposed labeling system, which would have gone far beyond what other countries have done in the battle to combat soaring obesity rates.
But the man chosen to head the three-person committee, Dr. Boindala Sesikeran, a veteran nutritionist and former adviser to Nestle, only further enraged health advocates.
That’s because Dr. Sesikeran is a trustee of the International Life Sciences Institute, an American nonprofit with an innocuous sounding name that has been quietly infiltrating government health and nutrition bodies around the world.
Created four decades ago by a top Coca-Cola executive, the institute now has branches in 17 countries. It is almost entirely funded by Goliaths of the agribusiness, food and pharmaceutical industries.
The organization, which championed tobacco interests during the 1980s and 1990s in Europe and the United States, has more recently expanded its activities in Asia and Latin America, regions that provide a growing share of food company profits. It has been especially active in China, India and Brazil, the world’s first, second and sixth most populous nations.
In China, the institute shares both staff and office space with the agency responsible for combating the country’s epidemic of obesity-related illness. In Brazil, ILSI representatives occupy seats on a number of food and nutrition panels that were previously reserved for university researchers.
But the organization has a long history of championing corporate interests. In 2001, a W.H.O. report criticized the group for its role in financing studies that cast doubt on the dangers of smoking, and in 2006, the agency barred ILSI from activities involving the setting of standards for food and water after its stealth efforts to sway policy in favor of industry came to light.
Over the past decade, ILSI has received more than $2 million from chemical companies, among them Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer last year. In 2016, ILSI came under withering criticism after a U.N. committee issued a ruling that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, was “probably not carcinogenic,” contradicting an earlier report by the W.H.O.’s cancer agency. The committee, it turned out, was led by two ILSI officials, one of them Alan Boobis, the vice president of ILSI-Europe who has done consulting work for the chemical sector.