Sugar industry behind EU advice on nutrition

3:16 min

In 2010 The European Food Safety Authority concluded that there is no proven link between sugar and obesity. But the conclusion was based on reports paid by the sugar industry, according to an investigation from The Swedish Radio The financial ties might have affected the conclusions in the Efsa report.

Out of the five scientific reports used by EFSA for questioning the link between high sugar consumption and weight gain, four are paid by sugar, soft drink and snack producers.

“What matters is not the status of a study – e.g. independent or industry-sponsored – but rather how well the study is designed, carried out and reported”, said a spokesperson from Efsa.

But that is not correct. It is scientifically proven that the funding of a study does matter.

“Those who had conflicts of interest have five times more probability to say that there are no association between sugared beverages and weight gain,” said Maria Bes Rastrollo professor at the University of Navarra in Spain She has compared a large number of scientific studies that examines the link between sugary drinks and obesity.

Her research findings have been confirmed in other studies.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, and several other institutions had in systematic reviews found that there was a link between weight gain and high sugar consumption.

But this was ignored by EFSA when they published their recommendations in 2010,

“We found that they disregarded all the evidence and the outcome of the scientific work, including those that WHO has done in 2002 and 2007”, said Chizuru Nishida, Coordinator of the Nutrition Policy and Scientific Advice Unit in  the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at WHO.

This is also what WHO pointed out in the public consultation prior to the final Efsa report. But the conclusions remained the same.

Why? The investigation by the Swedish Radio reveals a possible explanation.

8 of the 21 members of the panel of EFSA who wrote the sugar recommendations have financial links to companies that manufacture and sell sugar-rich Products.

It involves consulting work, Board assignments and research funding. Among the companies are Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Danisco Sugar.

“8 out of 21 That is too much that is unacceptable”, said Martin Pigeon of the organization Corporate Europe Observatory, an organization that highlights corporate lobbying in the EU. He adds that it , is not allowed by Efsas own rules.

EFSA spokesperson claims that EFSA, despite the financial linkages have not been influenced by the sugar industry.

“EFSA wholly rejects these allegations, which are false and unsubstantiated”

“It is a pity that the conclusions of EFSA  are so odd, and it is very good that you examined the experts' conflicts of interests and the financing of studies. I think this is very important and must be taken into account”, said Chizuru Nishida, director of nutrition policy at the World Health Organization.

Experts Connections to the industry:

The NDA panel at Efsa 2009 -2012 had 21 members. 8 had direct links to the Sugar industry.

Carlo Agostini

Consultancy for Soremartec Italia,

Jean Lois Bresson

Consultancy for Senoble  and Syndiafrais .

Susan Fairweather-Tait

Consultancy for Pepsico, Unilever and Danone. Received research funding Coca cola och Unilever.

Albert Flynn,
Chariman of the panel.

Member of Health board of Kraft Food (Now Mondelez) . Research Funding from Danone, Kelloggs och Masterfoods.

Seppo Salminen

Member in advisory panel of Valio. Research funding from Nestle, Danisco, Bioferme and International Dairy federation. 

Yolanda Sanz

Research funding from  Danone institute.

John Joseph Strain

Consultancy for Danone forskningsanslag från Nestle.

Inge Tetens

Research funding from Arla, Lantmännen,  Danisco, Kelloggs and  ILSI.

Reports partly financed by the Sugar Industry