18 September, 2019
On behalf of the scientists who contribute to and reference the work of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), we take exception to the mischaracterization in the article written by Mr. Andrew Jacobs, titled “A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World,” and published in The New York Times.
ILSI is a global federation of nonprofit entities whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment. ILSI was formed in 1978 in Washington DC, and over the last 40 years ILSI has established entities worldwide to foster public-private scientific partnerships and address knowledge gaps to benefit public good. All ILSI entities balance industry involvement in their activities with major input from volunteer academic and/or government scientists who collaborate with a wide range of experts from different fields and sectors. As a result, ILSI is able to conduct research, host events, author peer-reviewed articles, and create opportunities for capacity building that have far reaching impact around the world.
As noted in Mr. Jacobs’s article, ILSI’s Mandatory Policies permit ILSI entities to provide regulators “information relating to factual matters within ILSI’s scientific expertise.” However, the same sentence of the policies (omitted by Mr. Jacobs) states that “they may not directly or indirectly propose public policy solutions or advocate the commercial interests of their member companies or other parties.”
While ILSI has always been governed by a board of equal numbers of public and private sector trustees, in November 2018, ILSI strengthened its governance by re-defining its membership to reflect this balance of public and private participation. With the support of its public-private balanced Board of Trustees and the ILSI Entities’ Executive Directors, ILSI will continue to raise the level of excellence through compliance with ILSI’s Mandatory Policies and Principles for Scientific Integrity. Living up to this standard means pursuing objectivity, clarity, and reproducibility in order to ensure the utility of our scientific and scholarly activities and assessments.
Mr. Jacobs’s article wrongly insinuates that scientists who have engaged in activities with ILSI afterwards act as “ILSI representatives” whenever they perform other, unrelated public service, such as sitting on scientific advisory panels. We do fully expect scientists who serve on ILSI entity boards or in other volunteer positions to disclose those positions in other contexts. The implication in the article that such scientists act for or on behalf of ILSI or the funders of ILSI when they engage in non-ILSI professional activities is false.
ILSI is fortunate to count upon the collaboration of some of the world’s most prestigious, most knowledgeable, and most ethical experts in the life sciences. Those who serve on ILSI entity boards do so as volunteers and receive no compensation for their work with us to advance public health. We should all be grateful for their selfless efforts in support of the public interest, and ILSI rejects unsupported attacks on their integrity.
Mr. Jacobs’s article also mentions an email sent in 2015 by Dr. Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola executive who founded ILSI 41 years ago. Dr. Malaspina ceased to be an ILSI Trustee, Officer, or representative of any kind in 2001. Any comments Dr. Malaspina has made subsequently have been as a retired private citizen with no authority to direct or influence ILSI’s actions.