Follow the science, not the money, By Dr. Christine Alvarado

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Food and politics seem to be tightly linked. Food brings out the commercial interest of many political groups, and it kind of drives me nuts. There are always huge debates on dietary advice: eat meat, don’t eat meat, drink green tea or don’t, take or don’t take supplements, etc. In addition, the regulatory interests of our food supply change based on which political power is in office. Science should guide the food system, not politics. However, it has become a complex system to navigate.

Food is a political issue, even though I don’t agree that it should be. Let’s look at the The Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Societal Role of Livestock (Dublin Declaration) and on The Societal Role of Meat which was just published in Animal Frontiers. I was at ICOMST last week and we discussed this Declaration and the Societal Role of Meat. One of the speakers asked the audience if they would sign the Declaration. The majority of the audience said yes, a few indicated they would abstain, and a handful said no. It was interesting to me that there would be several “no” responses in a room full of scientists. I was assuming that some of them had not read the Declaration. But it turns out that some of them viewed the Declaration as a political statement which they felt would bias themselves if signed.

Further discussions with other scientists revealed that some people view the 1000+ scientists that signed this Declaration as “too tied” to the agricultural industry since industry has funded their research or they work for the industry.  “Follow the money” is the most common way to discount science and politicize the food industry. Having worked in academia for 20 years, I did quite a lot of research which was funded by industry with contractual agreements. There is a reason why these contracts are so important. Industry needs to have commercially viable research conducted by a third party, regardless of the outcome of the research. Many times, the product or equipment or process tested didn’t work and didn’t improve what was being tested: sustainability, food safety, meat quality etc. Sometimes it did. Either way, science was the same.

Science is the ability to test a hypothesis using the scientific method. It doesn’t matter what is being tested, the scientific method doesn’t change. Using the excuse that my data (or another scientist’s data) isn’t to be trusted because I received funding from industry is incompetent. Using the excuse that the Dublin Declaration is one-sided because negators followed the money is also incompetent. Data derived from the scientific method is trustworthy. If you don’t like it, I understand, but don’t negate the research just because you don’t like the results. If you don’t agree with it, then don’t, but don’t use funding as an excuse to negate the scientific method. This is where opinion becomes politics in the food industry.

I don’t know why science is taking such a hit these days. It may be because people rely on the 280 character limit to convey science, or it may be that people have more opinions than facts. What I do know is that if you are going to negate the science, then use something other than funding and “follow the money.”  Read the science and discuss the concerns, but don’t reach for things to complain about. I am not a “bad, not trust worthy” scientist because I did research for industry. Actually, you should be thanking me and the rest of us scientists for doing the research, as we have progressed in areas of food safety, quality and sustainability by leaps and bounds. Follow the science — not the money — and stop relying on opinions to politicize food.