A prominent food industry critic recently slammed the American Society for Nutrition over its ties to large food companies, while ASN officials defended the group's research efforts and disclosure practices.
On Monday, Michele Simon — a California attorney who founded the watchdog group Eat Drink Politics — issued a report alleging that ASN "sustaining partners" pay at least $10,000 annually in exchange for exposure in publications and other benefits.
Simon argued the ASN model effectively allows industry leaders "to purchase cozy relationships with the nation’s top nutrition researchers" and alleged it could impact the society's scientific research and policy recommendations.
The list of ASN partners ranges from industry trade groups to agribusiness giants Monsanto and Cargill to McDonald's and Coca-Cola.
"In order to bolster its credibility, reflect objective science that has the public’s best interest in mind, and hold the food industry more accountable, it is paramount that ASN reconsider its financial ties to the junk food industry," Simon wrote.
ASN countered that it is transparent about the role of the food industry in its research efforts and said the private sector, government and scientific organizations each play an important role in nutrition science.
The group also said that public confidence is essential to its mission and that it maintains strong standards for addressing potential conflicts of interest. The group issued a series of principles for its public-private partnerships on Wednesday, which included securing enough partners "to mitigate influence by any single member."
"ASN does not have small goals, and therefore we cannot work in a vacuum," wrote ASN Executive Officer John Courtney. "We believe that scientists in academia, government, and industry can partner to solve the world's nutrition challenges."