Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Sugar

Sugar: spinning a web of influence

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 11 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h231

Re: Sugar: spinning a web of influence

The BMJ is quite wrong to suggest that research funded through industry collaborations and professional bodies can’t be trusted. Research institutions already have in place processes to achieve transparency and robust independent review in addition to the individual code of ethics followed by the professional scientists who are either commissioning or undertaking the research.

The UK needs to be doing much more research. Society faces some very challenging issues of which obesity is one. Many of us are working to increase the amount of research being undertaken so as to improve the evidence base on which individuals, governments, regulators, industry and society can base their decisions.

The tax payer cannot afford to fund all the research that is needed to improve and expand our evidence base. It is absolutely right that industries should be partners in finding the solutions we need so we should be encouraging them to contribute more to the overall research activity in their fields of interest – not less. It’s worth noting also that the research outcomes will be public and may be more widely applicable beyond reducing sugar giving us a deeper understanding of other sources of minerals for improving nutrition and food quality.

It’s troubling that the BMJ takes this stand on food related research but not on other issues of public concern. For the most part the BMJ calls for the pharmaceutical and bio-tech sectors to be making a greater investment in UK science rather than taking their R&D overseas.

It is society as a whole that sets out its concerns and the agenda of improvements and change that they want to see – such as tackling obesity. The industries then come under pressure from their own shareholders, consumers and the wider public to respond to those concerns and it’s clearly right that they should seek a sound research and evidence base on which to move forward. How can they change their products otherwise?

Society as a whole calls for energy companies to be doing more in terms of funding research to enable all of us to reduce our carbon foot print. Society encourages and welcomes the aeronautical industries' funding of research that improves air travel safety, noise reduction and pollution. Transport sectors are expected to invest in research that reduces dependence on fossil fuels and increases safety. The BMJ welcomes with open arms (and makes some of its own profit from) medical and health research that was in part funded directly or indirectly from pharmaceutical companies and other vested interests. Those same people also advise government on health issues , drive forward changes in health policy and campaign to support more research in their own areas of interest. Why is the BMJ calling for different standards for food research?

Competing interests: No competing interests

16 February 2015
Diana A Garnham
Chief Executive
Science Council
Hodgkin Huxley House, 30 Farringdon Lane, London EC1R 3AW