Can nutrition experts be independent if they get $25,000 per annum from Nestle?

NEW DELHI: The question of conflict of interest among academics who serve on various boards or councils of private corporations is in focus yet again with Nestle admitting that it does offer to pay members of its Creating Shared Value (CSV) Council $25,000 per annum. This has also raised question about the effectiveness of the conflict of interest policy of the medical journal Lancet, given that two of the lead authors of its series on Maternal and Child Nutrition were members of Nestle’s Creating Shared Value Advisory Committee. Neither of them declared any conflict of interest to the journal.

The two lead authors of the Lancet series who are also members of Nestle’s CSV council are Dr Robert E Black of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Dr Venkatesh Mannar, former president of Micronutrient Initiative. Neither Prof Black nor Dr Mannar responded to emails asking if they accepted remuneration given by Nestle or opted not to take it.

Nestle’s Public Affairs Manager, Marie Chantal Messier in response to a letter from Mike Brady of Baby Milk Action said that Nestle’s CSV council charter stipulated that “if so desired, Council members may receive compensation for time spent devoted to the Council at a rate of CHF 25,000 per annum, assuming participation in a minimum of one meeting per year”. However, Messier’s letter added that some council members donated their fee to a deserving organization of their choice, and others opted to forgo the fee. Baby Milk Action is a non-profit which works within a global network to strengthen independent, transparent and effective controls on the marketing of the baby feeding industry.

Rema Nagarajan, TNN |

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