Today ScienceBlogs launched a new sponsored blog, Food Frontiers. The sponsor is PepsiCo. Here’s the description of what the blog is going to be about from its inaugural post by Sb overlord Evan Lerner:
On behalf of the team here at ScienceBlogs, I’d like to welcome you to Food Frontiers, a new project presented by PepsiCo.
As part of this partnership, we’ll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.
In June, I had the pleasure of meeting Pekka Puska, president of the World Heart Federation — we’ll be hearing from him on this blog, as well as other global leaders in nutrition research, in every context ranging from government, to academia, to industry. PepsiCo’s research team draws from all of those branches: Dr. Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo’s Chief Scientific Officer, served as the director of the Mayo’s Clinic’s endocrinology and nutrition clinical trial unit, and Dr. George Mensah, PepsiCo’s Vice President of Global Nutrition, was the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Cardiovascular Health Program for almost a decade.
We have some exciting things planned for this project, including a video series that will begin with a look at the role the food industry plays in health issues, and how industry research into chemistry, physiology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, medicine, and nutrition can improve health outcomes around the world.
Meanwhile, the description in the blog’s Profile in the left sidebar says:
PepsiCo’s R&D Leadership Team discusses the science behind the food industry’s role in addressing global public health challenges. This is an extension of PepsiCo’s own Food Frontiers blog. All editorial content on the blog is overseen by ScienceBlogs editors.
Immediate reaction to this blog launch indicates that the reception will not be warm.
While the various bloggers under the ScienceBlogs banner are independent of Sb and of each other, there is certainly a penumbra of association. We all may benefit from good publicity, and we may be harmed by bad publicity, even if it comes from other blogs in the network. Given that we may benefit from good publicity generated by the network, it could be argued that we bear some responsibility when we don’t speak out against bad practices on the network. …
PepsiCo’s PR flacks basically own a the center column content on one of our blogs. This is not only a fundamental conflict of interest, it’s also deceptive. If PepsiCo is providing the content, it should, in my opinion, be clearly labelled as advertising. It could be argued that since it is clearly announced that the content is PepsiCo’s, that transparency is maintained, but it’s not. Readers of the other 70-odd blogs at Sb expect independent content in the center column. What’s more, Sb is indexed by Google News. As a news outlet, we should be held to a high standard. If the SEED management can’t see what’s wrong with this, this may be an insoluble problem.
While it looks to me like it’s actually PepsiCo’s R&D scientists who will be providing the content rather than their PR flacks (and my moment’s Google-ing did not turn up any obvious affiliation between Pekka Puska and PepsiCo), I share PalMD’s concerns. And, I have no earthly idea what “All editorial content on the blog is overseen by ScienceBlogs editors” means in this particular instance.
Look, I’m sure that the scientist employed to to R&D for PepsiCo are perfectly lovely people, committed to doing sound science for their corporate overlords, but I will bet the farm that none of them will be posting on the Food Frontiers blog to tell us that the healthiest thing you could do with Pepsi-Cola is to pour out a twenty for your fallen homies. (Frankly, I’m not sure I’d even want to do that to my arable land.)
As committed as they might be to scientific integrity, they are working for a corporation that has an interest in selling you stuff. So, they may have lots of ideas about how to make that stuff better for human health, less wasteful of scarce natural resources, less likely to release toxic waste into our environment … but the problem-space they’ve been employed to explore does not include the option of “Tell the people that they don’t need the stuff we’re selling, or that there’s no way to indulge in it without killing the planet at least a little.”
The PepsiCo R&D scientists who will be blogging about these exciting issues have a conflict of interest. Their relationship with the entity cutting them a paycheck is bound to compromise their objectivity, even if this clouding is unconscious.
If you have strong feelings about the (temporary) addition of Food Frontiers to the ScienceBlogs stable, you might want to send an email to Seed Media Group to share those feelings. You could also try leaving a comment on the Food Frontiers blog (as Chris Clarke did).