Monday, April 14, 2008

Institute of Medicine (IOM)...independent scientists?

I read the DHA/ARA Report by the Cornucopia Institute when it came out a few months ago. I was somewhat astounded to read that they believe that a "panel of independent scientists was convened by the Institute of Medicine to take a critical look at tests performed for new ingredients in infant formula." Certainly, they convened a committee to "evaluate the addition of ingredients new to infant formula." In fact this was back in early 2002. I wrote the Institute of Medicine to complain about their selection of committee members. I stated in my letter, "Should the decision of safety of infant formula be given to people from the very industries and universities that will benefit from the decision?" My letter was 4 pages long with 14 references to the connections between the committee members and the new industries that would gain from the inclusion of new or novel ingredients. The committee members were changed, but the chairman of the committee stayed the same. Dr. Richard Deckelbaum was the chairman and had been funded over the years by Nestle, Mead Johnson, and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board. Many of the new committee members had associations with Mead Johnson (they funded alot of the original DHA research). In fact one committee member, George L. Baker, was the retired Vice president of Mead Johnson. William C. Franke, another committee member, was employed by Unilever at that time. Unilever at that time had Loder's infant formula (Europe) and they were working on a human milk fat replacer similiar to Betapol.

Representatives of Monsanto and major pharmaceutical companies have been on the IOM Board over the years. How do these representatives of these industries make "independent" policy decisions regarding issues that impact the companies they represent? Currently the Food Forum participants at the IOM are from Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Kellogg, Ross Products (infant formula company), McDonalds, General Mills, Mead Johnson, Cargill, Monsanto, Kraft, and Mars. Scattered among these participants are some people representing universities and government (FDA, NIH)...about 5 representatives.

I would think in regard to safety issues regarding products that effect our most vulnerable populations, like infants, there would be a stricter definition of the word "independent." But such is life in the USA. By the way Martek, recently announced that they had just hired Dr. Norman Salem, Jr. as vp and chief scientific officer. Dr. Salem worked at the NIH for 30 years as the government expert on DHA and the function of polyunsaturated fatty acids and lipids.
Some people call this the "revolving door" of employment between government researchers and industry. Why would we begrudge scientists the chance to make more money? And yet, there is something troubling about this situation.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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