Study: IFIC misleads the public on diet, health, ultra-processed foods and added sugars

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Press release

For immediate release: Sunday, October 30, 2022

For more information, contact: Gary Ruskin, [email protected], +1 415 944 7350; Daniel Zaltz, [email protected], +1 914 843 6738; Connie Hoe, [email protected], +49 6221 565344

The International Food Information Council ‘promotes agribusiness interests and undermines the accurate dissemination of scientific evidence related to food and health’, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Globalization and health. IFIC is widely cited in the media as a source of information on consumer sentiment and food and health issues.

The study was produced by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and US Right to Know, a nonprofit public health investigative group. US Right to Know obtained nearly 30,000 pages of documents for the study through federal and state public records requests.

The study found that IFIC often engages in consumer “preference shaping,” which “includes the use of key opinion leaders and multimedia communications to promote narratives favorable to commercial interests.” The group is also involved in “doubt manufacturing,” which uses “specific evidence and rhetoric to create doubt about the negative health effects of specific foods or food groups.”

“IFIC leads product advocacy and scientific denial for the ultra-processed food industry,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of US Right to Know and one of the study’s co-authors. “It works to protect food industry profits, not your health.”

The study concludes that “IFIC uses the media to preemptively counter reports of the negative health effects of added sugars and ultra-processed foods…IFIC and its affiliates disseminate a select subset nutrition and health information aligned with corporate interests and contrary to public health policies associated with improving the health of the population.

“Based on our review of scientific evidence presented to mainstream media by academic researchers on behalf of IFIC, there is reason to consider IFIC a purveyor of nutrition-based misinformation,” the study states.

IFIC often appears as a source in the media. For example, over the past year, IFIC has been quoted in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, Huff Post, Martha Stewart Living, SHAPE, and Men’s Health. , among others. .

As part of its media relations, IFIC produces consumer surveys. The study reports that IFIC, its consumer surveys, and IFIC-supported academic researchers “consistently focus on individual or ‘person-level’ changes in diet and health. This individualistic narrative is consistent with those promoted by other unhealthy industries such as the tobacco and alcohol industries…”

IFIC was created to work closely with food industry front group International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a group founded by former Coca-Cola senior vice president Alex Malaspina. Malaspina described how the groups work together: “IFIC is sort of a sister entity to ILSI. ILSI generates the scientific facts and IFIC communicates them to the media and the public.

Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the cancer unit of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), described IFIC as a “partner of the ‘industry’ in its efforts to defend the reputation of Roundup weed killer against cancer concerns.

IFIC is based in Washington, DC, and sometimes works closely with federal agencies. IFIC says its current partners include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; and four programs within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“It’s not the role of federal agencies like the CDC and FDA to legitimize front groups, especially not those who promote products that harm our health,” Ruskin said.

Other IFIC partners include the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM); World Health Organization (WHO); and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

IFIC also has “Public Liaisons” – federal agency personnel who have “agreed to represent their organization and serve as advisors and subject matter experts.” Currently, IFIC has “public liaisons” with three federal agencies: USDA, CDC, and FDA.

The study in Globalization and health is entitled “How independent is the International Food Information Council from the food industry? A content analysis of internal industry documents.

The study was co-authored by Daniel Zaltz, doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH); Lauren Bisi, research associate at JHSPH; Gary Ruskin, executive director of US Right to Know; and Connie H. Hoe, assistant professor at JHSPH.

Earlier this year, USRTK’s Gary Ruskin co-authored another study on IFIC, also published in Globalization and health, titled “Confronting Potential Food Industry ‘Front Groups’: A Case Study of International Food Information Council Nutrition Communications Using the UCSF Food Industry Document Archive.” He concluded that “IFIC’s promotion of evidence for the food industry should be interpreted as a marketing strategy for these funders”.

US Right to Know’s fact sheet on IFIC is available here.

US Right to Know is a nonprofit investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health. For more information on US Right to Know, see our academic articles at https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For more general information, see usrtk.org.

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