One of the country’s leading nutrition experts hired by the government to head up a task force looking into national sugar consumption works for Coca Cola and Mars, according to Channel 4s Dispatches.
Revelations were made in a programme titled: Are you Addicted to Sugar? regarding conflicts of interest with members of the food industry and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). The programme claimed that 5 out of 8 members of the committee have disclosed and undisclosed links to the food industry and to Sugar Nutrition UK (previously known as Sugar Bureau UK), whose aim is to protect the sugar producing industry.
“It has been shown in a systematic review of sugar sweetened soft drinks and weight gain, that financial conflicts of interest are more likely to lead to biased conclusions,” according to Action on Sugar – a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health.
“As such, the SACN report on carbohydrates, which includes sugar, when it eventually comes out after 5 years of 'deliberation' will be profoundly compromised,” the group said in a statement.
It added that if the report's final recommendations are any different to the recent call for the WHO to reduce energy from added sugar to less than 5% (current recommendation is 10%), they should be viewed with great scepticism and ignored in favour of genuine, unbiased evidence from non-conflicted sources.
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar, said: "These revelations are shocking. Added sugar is an unnecessary source of calories with no nutritional benefit whatsoever.
“The huge amounts that the food and drink industry add to our food can easily be reduced by 30-40% over the next four years with slow, incremental reductions. This will result in a reduction of around 100kcal per person per day, which has been predicted as enough to prevent children and adults becoming obese.
"Action on Sugar is calling on the government, the Department of Health and the food and soft drink industry to start reducing the added sugar content of all products now, and not to continue to dither whilst we become ever more obese."
Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist and Science Director of Action on Sugar said: "It is well known that the food industry spends billions in junk food and sugary drink advertising, targeting the most vulnerable members of society, including children. Now it has been revealed they spend money to influence research too. It is up to our government to ensure that its nutrition advisers are acting in the best interests of the public, not of their own wallets"
Professor Ian Macdonald chairs the government panel examining sugar consumption and will recommend later this year what level of sugar in our diet is healthy, helping to frame the national guidance.
But the scientist also provides monthly advice to Mars and Coca-Cola on diet, obesity and exercise. He said the annual payment of £6,100 from Coca-Cola went into his personal income while the larger payment from Mars helped to fund his university research. MacDonald said he believed it was important to have a dialogue with the food industry. He added that he never discussed any aspect of his government work on sugar with Coca-Cola and Mars.