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We sequentially present the three main domains of potential influence:

Domain 1: evidence generation or summation

We found evidence that IFIC seeks to disseminate research, knowledge, or guidance, widely and to diverse audiences, in alignment with the objectives of both IFIC and its Foundation [19, 20]. However, in 41% of the documents (not= 31) this process of summation appeared to be exposed to attempted influenced by industry leaders and in ways that would be favorable to industry.

To give a few examples, in one email Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at TCCC, forwards an email from Michael Ernest Knowles, a former TCCC vice president of global scientific and regulatory affairs, and former president of ILSI, to Clyde Tuggle, former Senior Vice President and Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer at TCCC, condemning a study on artificial sweeteners, which were being attacked widely in the press for negative impacts on health. Malaspina notes IFIC’s role in supporting industry to counter the unfavorable press, stating:

Dear Clyde: Every one (sic) I asked including some top experts in the field believe that the Israeli study is full of holes, is not reproducible. And no respectable scientist considers it valid. In summery,(sic) it has nothing to do with human consumption of non-caloric sweeteners. How it got so much publicity is an indication of the extensive animosity that exists against our industry, which, as I have been advocating to Don, we must seriously attempt to change. The IFIC document is excellent.

This email suggests that IFIC’s summation of evidence may have been used to counter or respond to scientific communications which were perceived as unfavorable to industry positions.

It is clear that some industry partners believed IFIC could play a role in producing ‘friendly’ evidence. Here is one example of an exchange between Malaspina and Herve Nordmann, Director Regulatory & Scientific Affairs at Ajinomoto Inc., reveals how industry approaches IFIC directly to undertake such a role:

Dear Herve: By all means you can mention my strong endorsement to ISA and IFIC EUROPE. I will check with my Coke Friends if they can ask IFIC or the Calorie Control Council to undertake the task of translating and publishing it. Maybe you can give me a call at home… [21].

In another example, IFIC was involved in efforts to respond to concerns about the health risks of artificial sweeteners is set out in other emails:

Dear Alex, First of all, thank you for your suggestion to contact IFIC/EUFIC [European Food Information Council]. If my memory is good, they both have been one more of your good initiatives when aspartame first become under attack from activists and consequently the press. … [22].

These exchanges, which have ific.org email addresses frequently in the recipient lists, notably make clear the science communications function of IFIC is viewed by influential persons and past and present industry executives as part of public relations and product defense efforts around sweeteners.

We also find that IFIC does this by agreeing to a relevant network of experts. This is expressed in one email about media conference call from 2015:

This morning we had 40+ journalists participate in our DGAC [Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee] report conference call (see resulting media coverage and bulleted overview below). Participants included the Associated Press, Politico, WBEZ-Chicago, Capitol Press, and trade press as well as nutrition columnists and bloggers. The former DGAC panelists included Dr. Cheryl Achterberg, Dr. Joanne Lupton, Dr. Linda Van Horn, Dr. Theresa Nicklas, Dr. Connie Weaver and Dr. Roger Clemens. This hour-long webcast was recorded and has been posted to our website. We also live tweeted and heavily promoted our new Dietary Guidelines Infographic during the call. Today’s combined Dietary Guidelines communication activities have resulted in more than 393,500 total impressions. In addition to the media call, we have compiled a list of 20+ experts with content-specific expertise in DGAC “hot-button” issues (Added Sugars, Aspartame, Caffeine, Sustainability, Cholesterol, Red vs. Lean meat, etc.) who have agreed to be available for media inquiries [23]..

In another email chain, Malaspina states:

I think that IFIC should follow with further media calls on the key issues raised with again former panel members but reinforced with recognized experts in the subject of the call – for us it would be a call on aspartame to scrap the aspartame allegations [24].

What we see is that, to summate and disseminate information, IFIC appears to play a role in convening networks of persons with scientific or nutrition expertise who it views as espouse positions favorable to industry or product defence, and to place these persons into relevant communications endeavors when needed.

Domain 2: influence over public health bodies and organizations

Just over half of the documents (52%, not= 39) detailed IFIC collaborations with other bodies and organizations. As noted in several cases, although there was evidence that IFIC partnered with prominent public health organizations, these could not be established as favorable or unfavorable to industry positions. For example, IFIC worked with the National Institutes of Health to co-author and co-sponsor public diet and health advisory pamphlets, including “A Teenager’s Guide to Better Health.” [25] It also was included on one study from the Mayo Clinic titles ‘Moderate Cardiorespiratory Fitness is Positively Associated With Resting Metabolic Rate in Young Adults.’ [26]

However, the documents reveal that industry leaders viewed IFIC as playing a strategic role in media communications on science, as expressed in another email from Malaspina to John C Peters, a researcher at the University of Colorado, in which Malaspina summarizes the purpose of IFIC as follows:

… IFIC is kind of a sister entity to ILSI. ILSI generates the scientific facts and IFIC communicates them to the media and public… [27].

Consistent with this view, we observed a frequent pattern of coupling of IFIC with ILSI. In on set, David B. Schmidt, then IFIC and IFIC Foundation president and CEO, emails several recipients recognizing that not only do ILSI and IFIC share the same founding industry leader, Dr. Alex Malaspina, referring to ‘his vision’, as follows :

Dr. Malaspina made possible in founding both ILSI and IFIC and how his vision is being carried out today [28].

These email chains reveal that IFIC’s formation and conduct is intended to be grounded in joint endeavor with other industry allies including ILSI. One such instance occurred in a set of meeting minutes from 1990, which suggests that ILSI should:

…[l]iaise with IFIC regarding the development of a manual on risk communication for the food industry [similar to the manual published by the Chemical Manufacturers Association, (CMA)]. Following publication of this manual, sponsor workshops on risk communication, using the manual as a guide for industry, regulators, and possibly journalists. This would also be done in conjunction with IFIC.

4. Monitor the activities of the Residue Committee with regard to the release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on pesticide exposure in the diets of infants and children to ensure that sufficient and appropriate action is planned before and at the time of its release. Ensure involvement of IFIC in the communications aspects of this effort.

These minutes indicate that ILSI and IFIC work in collaboration, although as noted we could not verify whether or not these collaborations were realized as intended since such documents were not publicly available.

There is also evidence that IFIC played a role in the now-defunct and discredited TCCC front group, the GEBN, when a network of collaborative bodies who often work together is set out and IFIC’s role in addressing proposals around obesity is detailed [6, 29]. One email between Alex Malaspina and Michael Ernest Knowles turns to how to address “issues hitting the industry”:

As to the generation of credible, consensus science on the issues hitting the industry – obesity and causative factors, sugar, low/no calories sweetener safety – in particular we have to use external organizations in addition to any work we directly commission (and that needs to be very carefully reviewed in fight of the BMY article I); examples are: ILSI…Scientific Societies…Medical Associations…National Academies of Science…EU/Gov’t, Research… [24].

Of note, there was special attention to also include ‘external organizations’ beyond IFIC. The discussion emphasizes IFIC’s role and partnerships with ILSI:

… The ‘One ILSI’ strategy currently being developed should do this but it’s too slow these issues need to be addressed now in the traditional manner of ILSI -in a transparent manner with the best international experts and the full proceedings published and further publicized by IFIC …

We will look to establish partnerships with global organizations including, but not limited to, the American Society for Nutrition, ACSM, ECSS, The Obesity Society, ILSI, IFIC, IFT and others that would be sympathetic and supportive of our initiative and would highlight our message [24].

The emails suggest that a broad network of bodies act together in a supportive manner, including IFIC, sometimes to promote agreed messaging around “energy balance” and obesity and in product defense more generally. This supports prior research which identified a constellation of non-profit bodies that are partially or fully industry funded work together and function in partnerships, with past financial records uncovered showing significant funding from bodies across the food and beverage sectors supporting ILSI and GEBN, for example [6, 9, 18].

For example, we identified an instance where Malaspina strongly endorses the then newly formed GEBN to IFIC’s and IFIC Foundation’s then-president, David Schmidt, suggesting that they could support and promote it to members:

I am enclosing an email I just sent to ILSI Europe so that I do not repeat myself and inform you that I am very impressed with the Global Energy Balance Network, or GEBN. This program was developed at the University of Colorado by our friends John Peters and Jim Hill. GEBN is a very serious project to combat obesity, which is such a critical problem for the food and beverage companies. By copy of this email I am asking John to provide you with more details about GEBN. I do hope that your IFIC members become more cognizant and supportive of this most exciting project. Warmest personal regards. Alex [30].

IFIC is clearly set out in the emails as a critical partner organization for GEBN. This suggests that IFIC takes a broader role in supporting other organizations from their inception to working on day-to-day matters with them once founded, as expressed in the vision for IFIC as a communications vehicle for industry and ILSI. We therefore move, considering this networking role, to understand the cultivation of relationships that translate these networks into influence.

Domain 3: the cultivation of relationships with policymakers and opinion leaders

IFIC’s “Form 990” filings to the Internal Revenue Service for both the parent entity and the Foundation suggest communicating with “government officials” is part of its core activities [19, 20]. However, we were only able to identify one email showing direct attempts at influencing policymakers. In this email we see discussion of an IFIC media call, where former ILSI President Michael Ernest Knowles states to Malaspina that IFIC’s call:

… hopefully will also demonstrate to governments that they must have credible scientists in their advisory committee, or else they risk being made to took [SIC] foolish [23].

Although there was no evidence in the document set of direct attempts to use IFIC to influence policymakers, it is possible IFIC sought to achieve indirect influence by communicating media and evidence favorable to industry positions.

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