European Food Information Council

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The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) claims to be a 'science based'[1] information source on food, but actually functions as a food industry lobby group. It is co-funded by the European Commission and works with the Commission's EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity & Health.[2] On its website the Council describes itself as:

a non-profit organisation which provides science-based information on food safety & quality and health & nutrition to the media, health and nutrition professionals, educators and opinion leaders, in a way that consumers can understand. In response to the public's increasing need for credible, science-based information on the nutritional quality and safety of foods, EUFIC's mission is to enhance the public's understanding of such issues and to raise consumers' awareness of the active role they play in safe food handling and choosing a well-balanced and healthy diet...."[3]

The main offices of the European Food Information Council are located in Brussels, Belgium, but its organisational network reaches across Europe. It is co-financed by the European Commission and the European food and drink industry, and governed by a Board of Directors which is elected from member companies.

Contents

People

Scientific advisory board

According to EUFIC:

The primary role of the Scientific Advisory Board is to ensure that EUFIC's information and communication programmes are based on reviews of scientific evidence which have the support of the scientific community at large so that the information is representative, factually correct and truthful.[4]

Members of the scientific advisory board as of March 2009[5] are:

Scientific Advisory Board 2010

Staff

John Lupien

John Lupien - chairman of the EUFIC Scientific Advisory Board and former Director of the Food and Nutrition Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He is technical advisor to the International Association for the Development of Natural Gums, an association of cooperatives and producers in the 16 sub-Sahara African countries that produce acacia gum for use in the food industry in all countries.[7]

"The primary role of the Scientific Advisory Board is to ensure that EUFIC's information and communication programmes are based on reviews of scientific evidence which have the support of the scientific community at large so that the information is representative, factually correct and truthful"[8] However, the BBC news website reported on Friday, 8 October, 2004 that "A United Nations agency has launched an investigation into claims that a key consultation into how much sugar we should be eating was secretly funded by the sugar industry.... This funding deal was agreed with the FAO's then Director of Food and Nutrition, John Lupien." The report quotes Professor Jim Mann - Professor of Human Nutrition and Medicine, University of Otago in New Zealand - who states that "it would be impossible to produce an unbiased report when the source of funding came from groups with clearly vested interests."[9]

Ronald Walker

Ronald Walker - member of EUFIC's Scientific Advisory Board. Ronald Walker spent seven years as the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) as Chairman of their Scientific Committee on Toxicology/Food Safety in Europe. ILSI is funded by amongst others, Monsanto, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola. He serves as a member of EUFIC's Scientific Advisory Committee.[10] He was formerly a "consultant for DSM Nutritional Products, a company that sold “Twinsweet” from Holland Sweetener Company which is a mixture of aspartame and acesulfame-k". Interestingly, Walker wrote a review claiming that the artificial sweetener aspartame was safe. Neither the fact that Walker received "funding from companies selling aspartame", nor that he held "official positions with associations who are supported by aspartame manufacturers and marketers", nor the fact that he had previously defended aspartame, were disclosed in this aspartame review[11]. This is somewhat controversial since it could be argued that reviews funded by manufacturers of a product under investigation could be considered biased and perhaps could misrepresent information. Aspartame has been linked in US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data with such side effects as: epileptic seizures, anxiety, blindness in one or both eyes, confusion, memory loss, and neurological symptoms.[12]

The EUFIC website, on the other hand, states in an article named "Much Ado About Nothing" that aspartame has been approved as safe for use by the general public and rubbishes claims that it could be linked to multiple sclerosis[13]. Aspartame is used in products from Coca-Cola (one of EUFIC's member companies) such as Diet Coke - "At Coca-Cola, we use aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners in our low-sugar and diet soft drinks".[14]

Josephine Wills

Josephine Wills - director general of EUFIC. Wills is a vet who also worked for Masterfoods (a division of Mars which has been a member of EUFIC) for 18 years, where she was the EU lobbyist-in-chief for the company, and latterly as European Head of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for all product categories. [15]In April 2000, The Independent (London) reported that Mars was funding research in the US claiming to show that "the cocoa beans used to make chocolate contain naturally occurring polyphenols - plant compounds whose antioxidant properties can reduce the risk of heart disease." The article adds that Mars "is patenting a manufacturing process by which polyphenols can be retained in the chocolate".[16]

Dr Josephine Wills, "head of external science and health for Mars", is quoted as saying:

Polyphenols act as antioxidants - they can combat LDL oxidation which can lead to deposits in arteries, and reduce platelet activation. They are pretty powerful antioxidants.... What we've done is preserve as much of the natural level as possible.[17]

The article quotes Food Commission spokesman Ian Tokelove as saying that he is "highly sceptical" of any Mars bar health benefits:

"Okay, there's the cocoa beans, but what about the fat and the sugar? A Mars bar is high fat, high sugar - not what you would consider a healthy product, although the odd one is not going to hurt you."[18]

This is particularly worrying given that "EUFIC is an active participant of the European Platform for Action committed to helping fight one of the most serious health challenges facing the EU today: Obesity." [19] As a result of pressure to reduce child obesity, some of these member companies of EUFIC such as Pepsi-Co, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Mars have agreed to reduce the amount of advertising and marketing they put out aimed at children under 12. However there has been speculation that companies have taken these steps to "police themselves" in order to avoid regulations being imposed on them. Their actions have been described as "half measures". [20]

Members and funding

According to EUFIC's website (March 2009):

EUFIC is co-financed by the European Commission and the European food and drink industry. It is governed by a Board of Directors which is elected from member companies. Current EUFIC members are: Barilla, Cargill, Cereal Partners, Coca-Cola HBC, Coca-Cola, DSM Nutritional Products Europe Ltd., Ferrero, Groupe Danone, Kraft Foods, McCormick Foods, Masterfoods, McDonald's, Nestlé, Novozymes, PepsiCo, Pfizer Animal Health, Procter & Gamble, Südzucker, Unilever, and Yakult.[21]

This list of EUFIC members listed on the Coolfood (a project of EUFIC) website as at February 2008[22] adds Mars to the above list.

Funder controversies

Some of the companies that are listed as funders of EUFIC have been involved in controversies which seemingly contradict EUFIC's aim (as expressed on one of its press releases) to enhance the public's understanding by providing "credible, science-based information on the nutritional quality and safety of foods".[23]

For example, according to the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Nestlé Colombia labelled powdered milk with false dates of production:

In November 2002, police ordered Nestlé Colombia to decommission 200 tons of imported powdered milk. The milk had come from Uruguay under the brand name Conaprole, but the sacks had been repackaged with labels stating they had come from a local Nestlé factory, and stamped with false production dates of 20th September and 6th October 2002. The real production dates were between August 2001 and February 2002... Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo charged Nestlé with using sub-standard, contaminated milk, “a serious attack on the health of our people, especially the children”.[24]

Nestlé again came under scrutiny when, together with Coca-Cola, it produced and marketed a soft drink called Enviga which it claimed burned more calories than it provides and hence had the effect of "negative calories". Food Watchdog group CPSI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) said that "Enviga burns money, and over the long term is more likely to result in a negative bank balance than negative calories" and threatened to sue them if they continued to market the drink "with fraudulent calorie-burning and weight loss claims".[25]

Pfizer, too, has been accused of illegal marketing. In 2008 former Pfizer marketing vice president turned whistleblower Peter Rost MD launched a lawsuit against Pfizer accusing it of marketing the growth hormone Genotropin for unapproved purposes "such as combating aging in adults and treating short stature in children" in Indiana.[26] A federal judge in Boston denied Pfizer’s motion to dismiss and allowed Rost to proceed with his allegations of false claims for pediatric uses - but not aging in adults.[27] Although it is legal for doctors to prescribe drugs for off-label uses it is illegal for companies to market them for these purposes.

Pfizer is described by Corporate Watch as the "largest and richest pharmaceutical enterprise in the world".[28] According to the Financial Times, "Pfizer has powered its way up the global ranking list to its unassailable position thanks mainly to its marketing prowess."[29]

Funding and Connections

It has become common knowledge as the awareness of healthy eating increases, that certain foods come under the category of healthy and ‘good’ for you, whilst others fall under the opposite category. As EUFIC wishes to promote healthy food it would be fair to expect that any funders of the company would come from such organisations. This however is not the case, instead current EUFIC funders include: Barilla, Cargill, Cereal Partners, Coca-Cola HBC, Coca-Cola, Danone, DSM Nutritional Products Europe Ltd., Ferrero, Kraft Foods, Louis Bonduelle Foundation, McCormick Foods, Mars, McDonald's, Nestlé, Novozymes, PepsiCo, Pfizer Animal Health, Südzucker, and Unilever.[30]It would seem then that EUFIC is facing something of a contradiction, not only is EUFIC funded by brands associated with the more unhealthy foods on the market, but these companies have also come under much criticism for an array of different controversies. This page outlines a few selected case studies of EUFIC funders and controversies that they have been linked to. These case studies draw on food and drinks industry giants such as, Kraft Foods, McDonalds, Nestlé and Coca-Cola. Although it can be expected that organisations such as EUFIC will need to receive funding from external sources this raises questions over whether EUFIC'S primary purpose is still being met or whether the influence of these giant external corporate financial powers are jeopardising their goal. As the process of globalisation continues to expand it becomes ever more difficult to find the truth behind companies and their aims.

EUFIC claims to aim 'at improving the eating habits and food information available'[31] in order to aid the general public in making the right choices when it comes to foods. However this is alongside their funding being received by some of the fast food giants such as McDonalds. Fast foods have been readily criticised for their links to the now world-wide obesity epidemic. They have been linked to the various preventable illnesses and health problems that people suffer as a result of obesity. This is explicitly put in Vigilante and Flynn's (2000) article 'The Dangers of Fast Food'. 'Fast food is almost universally dangerous and should probably carry a warning from the surgeon general. It contains meat-based carcinogens, is high in total calories and saturated fat and is a principal source of trans fat... Not only is the food dangerous, but it promotes a lifestyle and culture that are also dangerous.'[32] During the television documentary 'Super Size Me', Spurlock (2004) interviews Gene Grabowski who worked as a lobbyist at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). During the interview he admitted that fast food companies such as the ones he lobbied for were part of the problem. ‘We recognise we have a role to play... we’re part of the problem and we also are part of the solution... The lobbyist for Coke, Heinz, Smucker’s, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Kraft, Hershey’s, Sara Lee, Cadbury, General Mills, Seagram, Welch’s, Wise, Anheuser-Busch, Birds Eye, Lance, Campbell’s, Carvel, Mars, Ocean Spray, Hormel, Dannon and Pepsi said, we’re part of the problem.’ Many of the companies he was speaking on behalf of include companies which are funders of EUFIC. [33]

Funders and controversies

Each of these examples stand to represent problems for EUFIC's representation as these related companies engage in activities which appear to conflict with EUFIC and in some cases their own social corporate responsibility.

Kraft Foods

On Kraft Foods website the description they provide for their company is, ‘for more than a century, Kraft Foods has offered delicious foods and beverages that fit the way consumers live. Today, we are turning the brands that consumers have lived with for years into brands they can’t live without. Millions of times a day in more than 150 countries around the world, consumers reach for their favourite Kraft Foods brands. Our brands are among the leaders in the UK market and many are household names. Our outstanding portfolio of products falls into the core categories of cheese and dairy, chocolate, biscuits and coffee.’ [34]

According to the Organic Consumer Association Kraft Foods was called on to remove genetically engineered - also known as genetically modified(GM) - ingredients from their food supplies, Kraft Foods were found to use GM ingredients in many of their products. Research has shown that GM ingredients are suspected to pose not only a threat to human health but also the environment, this lead 'consumers in more than 250 locations [to] call on Kraft Foods to stop putting human health and the environment at risk'. [35] An article published by Kraft Foods outlines that there is a difference in opinion over GM foods between Europeans and Americans, 'While the scientific consensus is clear, consumers don’t always agree. For example, in the U.S. most people are not concerned about GM foods or ingredients and so we use them in America. On the other hand, in Europe, we know the general public doesn’t want GM ingredients and so we don’t use them there.' [36] Whilst Wannen (2010), writing from America, argues that Americans are just as worried about the health risks linked to GM ingredients. Kraft Foods have been seen as wrong for using GM foods and this has meant that 'Many consumers refuse to purchase from them due to their potential to expose consumers to new allergies. Along with this, potentially hazardous pesticides are being used on American farms to support unlabeled GMOs. On the other side of the planet Kraft has altogether stopped using genetically engineered ingredients in their European products due to public demand'. [37] He goes on to criticise Kraft Foods stating that, 'as environmentally-conscious as Kraft seems to be, their commitment to healthy food has been questioned by many organizations including the Sierra Club. Currently, Kraft has shown little effort towards reducing their use of genetically modified ingredients.' [38] Lendman picks up on Smith's (2007) argument that 'Agribusiness giants allow nothing to interfere with profits, safety is off the table, and all negative information is quashed.' [39]

McDonald's

McSpotlight [40]

McDonald's is the world's leading chain of hamburger fast food restaurants. The following statement is from chief executive Jim Skinner of McDonald's 'through our strategic focus on menu choice, food quality and value, the average number of customers served per day increased to more than 58 million in 2008.'[41] This quote was used in the article 'McDonald's Posts Sizzling 80% Profit Rise in 2008' for the Breitbart website.

The article 'What's Wrong with McDonald's' from McSpotlight discusses their great opposition to the food giant, throughout the article and their website they explicitly outline their dissatisfaction. The following quote illustrates where they feel McDonald's is failing, 'McDonald's promote their food as 'nutritious', but the reality is that it is junk food - high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in fibre and vitamins. A diet of this type is linked with a greater risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases. Their food also contains many chemical additives, some of which may cause ill-health, and hyperactivity in children. Don't forget too that meat is the cause of the majority of food poisoning incidents. In 1991 McDonald's were responsible for an outbreak of food poisoning in the UK, in which people suffered serious kidney failure. With modern intensive farming methods, other diseases - linked to chemical residues or unnatural practices - have become a danger to people too (such as BSE).' [42]

Laurance, J (2003) from the Independent discusses the dangers of fast food and how it could lead to addiction in his article 'Fast food is addictive in same way as drugs, say scientists'. According to the article 'overeating might not be a simple matter of self-control. Lovers of burgers, fries, fizzy drinks and other fast foods could be in the grip of an addiction similar to that experienced by users of hard drugs, scientists claim' [43]

The television documentary 'Super Size Me' directed by and starring Spurlock (2004) explores many of the issues associated with the now vast availability of fast foods focusing on McDonald's. ‘In the lawsuit against them, McDonald’s stated in their own defence that it’s a matter of common knowledge that any processing that its foods undergo serve to make them more harmful than unprocessed foods.’[44] Here they are directly accepting that the process their food undergoes makes them more harmful, when on their website they state that,Here they are directly accepting that the process their food undergoes makes them more harmful, when on their website they state that they 'maintain the highest possible standards in quality, safety and traceability. So our customers can enjoy the great taste of McDonald's every time they visit'[45]

Nestlé

Equalizer Post[46]

On Nestlé’s website they state that, ‘our core aim is to enhance the quality of consumers lives every day, everywhere by offering tastier and healthier food and beverage choices and encouraging a healthy lifestyle’. They go on to say that ‘we are committed to preventing accidents, injuries and illness related to work, and to protect employees, contractors and others involved along the value chain.’ [47] However the evidence gathered would seem to highly contradict this. Nestlé is a third corporation that funds EUFIC which has come under great criticism. Seven criticisms of Nestlé have been outlines in the article, ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Nestle’ posted on the Equalizer Post website in 2010. Here the issue of globalisation and multi-national corporations is discussed, ‘in a world where both business and information are globalized, big business practices deemed unacceptable – wherever they take place – are liable to unleash furious consumer reactions’ [48] Here is an example of just a few areas of criticism, ‘aggressive marketing of baby milks and foods and undermining of breastfeeding, in breach of international standards. Nestle is being slammed for sourcing milk from a Mugabe-owned farm in Zimbabwe. The multinational firm has been buying 10 to 15 per cent of the milk processed at its Zimbabwe factory from a farm that was allegedly acquired from white owners under threat of violence and given to the dictator’s wife, Grace Mugabe… failure to act on child labour and slavery in its cocoa supply chain. Exploitation of farmers, particularly in the dairy and coffee sectors. Environmental degradation, particularly of water resources. Cover-up of sex scandal and trade/distributor bullying in Nestle Philippines.’ [49]

Coca-Cola

Coca-cola provides yet another example of a giant drinks corporation being caught up in controversy. The article ‘Killer Coke Or Innocent Abroad?’ written in 2006 which can be found on the Bloomberg Businessweek website outlines the outrage Ray Rodgers, a union activist, feels surrounding Coca-Cola, ‘the reality is that the world of Coca-Cola is a world of lies, deceptions, corruption, gross human rights and environmental abuses!’ This outrage comes after, ‘eight employees of Coke bottlers in Colombia were killed and scores more were threatened or jailed on trumped-up terrorism charges over the past decade. ‘[50]

Conclusion

The previous three case studies serve to illustrate how some of the foods and drinks corporations which fund EUFIC have over the years been seen to harm the health of humans. Their practices however, have not only harmed the health of humans but also stretch to harming the environment, even more startling are the human rights criticisms in which have been raised. This directly contradicts EUFIC's aim to improve food safety and the nutritional information to the consumers. Although the exact figures of funding could not be found, the relations that come as a result of funding cannot be ignored, in many occasions this will lead to EUFIC fighting on behalf of the trans-national corporations rather than the consumers. EUFIC has strong connections with the European Commission (EC), not only does EUFIC receive funding from the European Commission but it also has close relations helping influence policy decisions. The European Commission is involved in a number of policies that the EC makes within the European Union (EU), as listed on the EC's main website. One of the policy areas that the EC plays a key role in is 'agriculture, fisheries and foods'.[51] As stated in EUFIC's website, 'the EC is the primary source of food regulations across the EU, with Member States taking the role of enforcers rather than law makers. Topics include provenance, authenticity, addition of nutrients, nutrition claims, health claims, additives and permitted ingredients.' [52]

European Commission

EUFIC has an influence on European Union (EU) policymaking and decision making, this is highlighted by Smith (2004) in his article 'Regulating food risks: rebuilding confidence in Europe's food?' in which he explores how the Commission becomes strongly influenced by EUFIC even though EUFIC has not officially gained direct influence on EU policymaking and decision making. He explains that EUFIC achieves this 'through exerting indirect influence on the policymaking process by building up good relations with key journalists. By so doing, EUFIC becomes one of the first points of contact for comment, interpretation, or elaboration on key pieces of EU food policy. The organisation's comments, be they of concern, reservation, or endorsement, can easily become a part of the public debate, which in turn influences the politico- policymaking process. This food-policy engagement via journalists takes place at the EU as well as at national levels, and in national languages.' [53] Smith illustrates just how important EUFIC has become to the EC and in turn the EU legislation process.

Conclusion

The evidence above shows that EUFIC plays a role within the European Union's governance through influencing policymaking and decision making. This is achieved through close relations with the European Commission. This however can be seen to have negative implications as EUFIC is an undemocratic as none of the key decision makers are voted in. There are also issues behind the evidence that EUFIC does not in fact work on behalf of consumers but instead the multinational foods and drinks industry giants.

Activities

Lobbying

Many corporations use lobbying as a way of furthering their interests; here we examine whether the EUFIC has been used in such activities, given that the organisation was established and is funded by corporations known to be involved in lobbying.

EUFIC and their study on food labelling

In 2007 the European Food Information Council published a study which stated the following: “The study was supported by the European Food Information Council. There are no conflicts of interest.” The study was on “Consumers' preference for front-of-pack calories labeling” but only explored the choice of labelling promoted by the industry itself. [54]By stating that it was only funded by EUFIC and neglecting to mention that the organisation itself is funded mostly by the food and drink industry, EUFIC omitted the fact that a conflict of interest actually did exist. The industry wanted labelling that showed just green for healthier options and red for those with high levels of sugar, fat and calories. The health and consumer campaigns argued for better alternatives and critiqued the industry’s option as less effective than their suggestion. A better alternative suggested by the industry’s opponents, is a 'traffic-light' labelling that shows low, medium and high levels. They argued this option was easier for the public to understand. [55] Despite the existence of alternatives, EUFIC’s study only included the labelling preferred by the industry. The result and the study may be correct but appears biased from the start. EUFIC promote themselves as a non partisan, science based organisation[56]but in this case, they have supplied the public with information beneficial for the industry and not for the consumer.

Traffic light labelling [57]
GDA labelling, preferred by the industry[58]

Lobbying for the industry

On the 16 June 2010, the MEPs of the European Parliament voted against the traffic-light labelling suggested by campaign groups and others, choosing instead the industry's preferred option.[59] This is said to be the result of a £1 billion lobbying campaign pursued by the food and drink industry. The size of the campaign was compared by Dutch socialist MEP Kartika Liotard to the amount of lobbying carried out on the subjects of REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) and CO2 emission for cars. [60]. With the industry scared that the traffic-light option of labeling would scare consumers from buying their products, they opted for their option being easier to understand through channels such as tv-commercials, prize-draws and lunchtime debates with MEPs.[61][62] By using scientific proof presented by EUFIC - indirectly sponsored by them - the industry was able to shape policymaking to agree with their cause, in tandem with a big lobbying campaign. Swedish MEP Carl Schlyter reflected on how much lobbying had affected the MEPs' decisionmaking: “In the earlier discussions people were much more open-minded. But they have been exposed to so much industry pressure that it shifted focus".

EUFIC's involvement

By looking at what the Commission discussed in 2006 and how that changed over the next four years we can see how the EUFIC has been used in lobbying for the food and drink industry’s interests. When discussion first started, the alternative traffic-light labelling system was included, but by the time the proposal was finalised in 2008, it was nowhere to be seen.[63] The focus changed to the industry’s already implemented labelling and was eventually voted for in 2010.[64]

EUFIC's creation and funding by the industry represents a conflict of interest when considering the results of the report on food labelling, which EUFIC claimed was non-biased. The organisation is not registered with the Commission’s lobby register and only two of their members mention their involvement with EUFIC in their lobbying expenditure declarations. [65] By portraying the image of EUFIC as being there for the consumer, companies can take advantage and both create an image of doing good for the public, but also use EUFIC for the sake of their own interest, without having to take responsibility.

Transparency

EUFIC has a Transparency statement, to which all members of the organisation are obliged to sign up. EUFIC is also a member of the Health On the Net organisation and have agreement over a code of conduct.[66]

Following is EUFIC’s own transparency statement:

  • - The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) has been established to provide science-based information and education material on foods and food related topics to health and nutrition professionals, educators, opinion leaders and the news media, in a form understandable to the general public.
  • - EUFIC's publications are based on peer reviewed science and will not promote views which cannot be endorsed by the scientific community at large. All publications must include references to scientific texts or experts.
  • - EUFIC will strive to publish in partnership with organisations or recognised experts, acknowledged for their credibility in their field of activity.
  • - EUFIC does not act as the spokesperson of industry and does not wish to be perceived as such.
  • - All activities must support EUFIC's mission as a credible and scientifically sound information source.
  • - EUFIC respects the specificity of each country and believes that most communication programmes can be established most effectively on a national level.
  • - EUFIC will be mindful of the need to address a balanced mix of subjects that enhance EUFIC's impact, credibility and effectiveness.
  • - EUFIC will not promote individual companies' views or brands nor any other information material, which is not based on peer reviewed science.
  • - EUFIC participates in an informal global network of Food Information Councils that share the common goal of communicating science-based information on healthy lifestyle, nutrition and food safety.[67]

Transparency: a definition and its use

The demands for transparency in corporations are largely on the rise, and one of the underlying reasons is globalisation. With more transnational affairs and the world moving from the local arena to the global by integrating people and culture, transparency is a way for people to have a bigger say. Used in the right way, transparency could have great benefits and could be seen as morally essential, if used for detecting and correcting errors. But as seen, many corporations and organisation have reason not to disclose their business. They often use the term, but not to its full potential, and is often applied for portraying the right public image. With transparency being voluntarily, the organisation itself has to provide the public with the wanted information.[68]

EUFIC and transparency

By using the term transparency, the consumer’s critical view becomes easier. But it is also crucial for the consumer that the information given is correct. EUFIC has shown lack of correct information in the past, regarding the controversies they have been involved in. With the aim of giving the consumer correct information on health and nutrition they have failed several times. With the moral dimension of transparency being that the information given; in this case to the consumer, is correct and does not have underlying interest that could affect the outcome, the consumer has a right to know why and where the information comes from. EUFIC’s actions shows how easy it is for organisation and corporations do supply information that gives the impression that it is correct. With the underlying conflict of interest between EUFIC, the food and drink industry and the consumer, it is crucial that the information given shows where this conflict lies. In EUFIC’s case they claim that by using a Scientific Advisory Board, SAB, to review if the information published, they can insure that it is correct and in line with the scientific community in large. But with members of the board involved in controversies involving food and nutrition, it does not seem like a procedure that works as it should.[69]

And even if EUFIC follows their own transparency statement to some extent, their information in some areas are still absent. Information on how much the different companies are funding EUFIC is nowhere to be seen on the webpage. Neither is any sort of disclosure on conflict of interest. In one of EUFIC’s newsletters, Food Today, from march 2006, they bring up the subject “Can I Trust the Web?”. In this letter they are giving the web user guidelines on how to be critical towards the information found online. One of the questions they say you should ask yourself is “What is their motivation?” and says that the information given could be bias. It is also mentioned that the information said to be transparent might not be so, it could instead be disguised publicity. The reader should “be alert to the so-called “advertorials” - articles with a scientific feel but a commercial intent”. A large number of the publications on EUFIC’s own webpage could be seen as not trustworthy by these criteria they present. In the letter, EUFIC points out that you should look for other signs of honesty, such as clear information on funding and endorsement, something themselves are rather vague about. [70]

Views on Food and Nutrition

Contact

Laura Smillie
European Food Information Council - EUFIC
Rue Guimard 19
1040 Brussels
Belgium
e-mail: laura.smillie@eufic.org

2010

EUFIC
Tassel House
Paul-Emile JANSON 6
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 506 89 89
www.eufic.com

Affiliations

  • European Snacks Association, member EUFIC is listed as an affiliated organisation on the European Snacks Association website. The organisation state that their mission is 'to work together to create an operating environment that helps to promote members interests, and increase consumer confidence, leading to category growth through providing a platform to facilitate cross-industry co-operation, aligned industry wide self-regulation, working with legislators and regulators and influencing key opinion formers'. [71] Listed amongst their members are Masterfoods, Kraft, Pepsico, KP and Procter and Gamble[72]
  • The EATWELL Project, which EUFIC is an affiliated partner of, claims that it's objective is to provide EU Member States policy makers with best practice guidelines with valuable insights from private sector and communication agencies to develop appropriate policy interventions that will encourage healthy eating across Europe.[73] One of it's main concerns claims to be the tackling of obesity, the main topic adressed on the 'aims and objectives' section of the website declaring -'Obesity is a major concern in Europe, with an increasing health and economic burden. Obesity has been estimated to cost the EU some €70 billion annually through health care costs and lost productivity, and additionally over-consumption of salt, sugar and saturated fats and under-consumption of fruit and vegetables cause almost 70,000 premature deaths annually in the UK alone'[74] The project claims to have a uniquely qualified resaerch consortium to achieve it's research objectives. The website claims it's team members are Europe’s finest when it comes to applying a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate and provide guidelines on the policy interventions promoting healthy eating in Europe, drawing on expertise in consumer food research, consumer behaviour, nutrition, economics, and health policy.[75] The Research Consortium has one major food industry advisor - Kraft which claims to 'provide the food industry’s views on private sector marketing effectiveness'. [76] The apparent conflict of interest is that the brands owned by Kraft are predominantly processed, high fat, sugar and salt filled snack type items. Exactly the kind of foods which contribute to obesity, the problem the EATWELL project claims to be attempting to tackle. Brands owned by Kraft include - Cadbury, Toblerone, Terry's, Milka, Mikado, Marabou, Daim and Côte d'Or - all chocolate brands, and Jacob's, Ritz and Oreo - all biscuit/snack brands. [77]

Notes

  1. "EUFIC Website - Homepage", EUFIC Website, accessed 05 October 2010
  2. EUFIC, "EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity & Health", EUFIC website, accessed March 31 2009
  3. European Food Information Council Website About EUFIC Accessed 5/2/08
  4. Eufic's scientific advisory board, EUFIC website, accessed 31 March 2009
  5. Eufic's scientific advisory board, EUFIC website, accessed 31 March 2009
  6. "About EUFIC", accessed 2 November 2010
  7. "John R. Lupien",futureof science.org accessed 18 November 2010
  8. EUFIC website EUFIC's Scientific Advisory Board Accessed 21/02/08
  9. BBC News Website UN probes sugar industry claims Accessed 12/2/08
  10. "Aspartame and Manufacturer-Funded Scientific Reviews ", accessed 2 November 2010
  11. Aspartame and Manufacturer-Funded Scientific Reviews, Aspartame (NutraSweet) Toxicity Information Center website, accessed 31 March 2009
  12. "Aspartame Symptoms Submitted to the FDA", archived at sweetpoison.com website, accessed 31 March 2009
  13. EUFIC website Much Ado About Nothing - Aspartame? accessed 31 March 2009
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