Saturday, March 21, 2015

How trustworthy are food scientists? A vexed question"

Who is a scientist? Simple answer is the one who practices science. But what does science mean to many people who have neither a science qualification nor any idea about it? Science is nothing but pursuing truth and scientists are therefore pursuers of truth in thoughts and deeds. Unfortunately what we see to day is a perversion of science taking place across the world with many scientists sacrificing truth at the altar of materialistic gains. Though it is admitted that between truth and a lie there is a grey area where there could be differences in interpretation of scientific results. In most application studies scientists use basic methodologies to generate a set of results and when these results are to be interpreted, one has to do it again based on scientific principles. There can be honest differences which need to be confined within the scientific community without using them for commercial gains. Can any one justify when a scientist comes on the Television screen on behalf of some business entities and say that fast foods offered by his "client" is really healthy and flaunts his scientific credentials to convince the poor consumer? This issue is becoming a talking point among scientists and experts most of whom can be considered as honest and ethical not prepared to sell themselves for a few bucks. Here is a take on this controversial issue . 

"Who wants kale chips and coconut water when you can down a mini Coke and a few Kraft singles? After all, they're all health foods, right? Some nutrition experts seem to think so. Last month, in honor of American Heart Month, several fitness and nutrition experts wrote posts, which appeared on major newspaper sites and nutritional blogs, recommending a mini-can of Coke or other small soda for a snack, The Associated Press reports. Coca-Cola is one of many big food companies that pay experts to mention or endorse their products in online posts or other media outlets. Coke spokesman Ben Sheidler told the AP it's a common food industry practice, though he declined to disclose how much his company pays "experts." "We have a network of dietitians we work with. Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent," he said. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which represents 75,000 registered dietitians and other nutrition professionals, recently gave Kraft Singles (the bright yellow processed cheese slices) a thumbs up to use its new "Kids Eat Right" nutrition label, The New York Times said. It's the first product to bear the seal, and the first time the academy has endorsed a product. Kraft Singles is an interesting choice, especially considering "Kraft is a frequent target of advocates for better children's nutrition, who contend that many of its products are overprocessed, with too much fat, sodium, sugar, artificial dyes and preservatives," the Times reports. The academy told the Times that the label is not an endorsement of the processed cheese product. Academy executive director Mary Beth Whalen said in an email statement: "The Kids Eat Right logo on Kraft Singles packaging identifies the brand as a proud supporter of Kids Eat Right. It also serves to drive broader visibility to, a trusted educational resource for consumers," she wrote. Nutrition experts recommending Coke as a healthy snack and endorsing Kraft Singles in an eating right campaign aimed at young people has left many people questioning whether health experts are selling out to the food industry. It's why the Dietitians for Professional Integrity was formed. The organization said it does "not support the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' current sponsorship model." "We believe these sponsorships pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization and harm dietetics professionals' credential and reputations," it went on to explain. Marion Nestle, Ph.d, M.P.H., a professor with the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU, recently expressed her dismay at Kraft earning the Kids Eat Right logoon her Food Politics blog: Kraft is well-known as a sponsor of [the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]. Such seals are usually money-raising gimmicks. I'm wondering if "proud supporter of" means that Kraft pays AND for use of this seal. If so, I'd like to know what the seal costs. Clearly, some food companies are paying nutrition experts to endorse their products. It's smart marketing for them. I think the bigger issue is that the academy, a trusted organization of nutrition experts, is taking part, potentially misleading many consumers into thinking not-so-healthy food products are good for you"

There are many cases where benefit of doubt can be given regarding such instances though according to established jurisprudence they are guilty of misusing their scientific status to influence the minds of common consumers in making buying decisions which may turn out to be wrong. In India there are a number of instances of patently false claims being made on the electronic media by a few scientists with some academic credentials promoting products which are patently placebos with no health benefits! Products are routinely promoted using scientists to support ridiculous claims such as helping enlarge the brain, improving memory, making the kids tall, addressing special problems of women etc Unfortunately no one in the country seems to be too much bothered about such dishonest practices.


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