Government experts drawing up plans for a crackdown on sugar have angrily attacked criticism of their links with the food and drink industry.
Members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which is weeks away from publishing a report expected to call for daily sugar intake guidelines to be halved, said they had been confronted by false claims and innuendo. They urged the government to stop them being singled out for criticism of bias.
Dr Ann Prentice, chair of the committee and a director at MRC Human Nutrition Research, cited the BMJ, which has featured a series of articles slamming the relationship between the government and the food industry. An article in February claimed to uncover evidence of the “extraordinary extent” to which key public health experts were involved with the sugar industry, with MRC one of those “named and shamed” for receiving research funding from companies including Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Sainsbury’s. Scientists on SACN were also criticised for receiving consultancy fees, as well as sitting on advisory boards.
“Although the interests mentioned in the articles are mostly factually correct (and a matter of public record),” say minutes from the latest SACN meeting published last week, “the tone and the implications were not”.
Members on the committee said the media coverage was being driven by “innuendo” and also slammed the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine programme which, also in February, accused carbohydrates working group chair Professor Ian Macdonald of leaking the SACN draft recommendations on sugar ahead of the public consultation.
The committee vehemently denied this as well as the show’s claim that the sugar recommendation was only strengthened due to pressure from the health lobby.