Conflict of Interest
THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear Friends and colleagues,
RE: Conflict of Interest and Results of Studies on GMOs
A study published in the journal Food Policy concludes that financial or professional conflict of interest influences the outcome of articles published in peer-reviewed journals that report on health risks or nutritional value of genetically modified food products.
It shows that studies where such conflict of interest exists are more likely to produce conclusions in favor of product commercialization, as opposed to studies which are free from such affiliations.
The study also noted that articles without declaration of funding tend to relate to a favorable outcome, and they have one or more authors affiliated to industry.
These results support the overall view that scientific publications on the risk analysis of GM products should clearly declare all affiliations, both financial and professional, as the existence of such conflicts of interest are likely to be linked to study outcomes.
The full paper is available at: http://www2.grist.org/pdf/gmo_conflict.pdf
With best wishes,
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
Website: www.biosafety-info.net and www.twnside.org.sg To subscribe to other TWN information mailing lists: www.twnnews.net
Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products.
Diels, J., M. Cunha, et al. (2011). Food Policy 36: 197–203.
Since the first commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops in 1994, the rapidly expanding market of genetically modified seeds has given rise to a multibillion dollar industry. This fast growth, fueled by high expectations towards this new commercial technology and shareholder trust in the involved industry, has provided strong incentives for further research and development of new genetically modified plant varieties.
Considering, however, the high financial stakes involved, concerns are raised over the influence that conflicts of interest may place upon articles published in peer-reviewed journals that report on health risks or nutritional value of genetically modified food products. In a study involving 94 articles selected through objective criteria, it was found that the existence of either financial or professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favorable light (p = 0.005). While financial conflict of interest alone did not correlate with research results (p = 0.631), a strong association was found between author affiliation to industry (professional conflict of interest) and study outcome (p < 0.001). We discuss these results by comparing them to similar studies on conflicts of interest in other areas, such as biomedical sciences, and hypothesize on dynamics that may help explain such connections.
The presence of COI (conflicts of interest) in scientific research does not imply actual behavior of study authors. But it does present a risk that the study outcome may be improperly influenced. This study has focused on how commercial interests may interfere with outcomes of risk and nutrition analysis studies of products derived from GM plants. This is a choice justified by the high financial stakes involved in the development of such products and the increasing weight of private funding in research in recent years.
Through statistical analysis of a selected population of studies in the described area, it could be shown that a combined analysis of COIs through professional affiliations or direct research funding are likely to influence the final outcome of such studies in the commercial interest of the involved industry. Our results partially confirm those observed in biomedical sciences, tobacco, alcohol and nutrition research.
Various hypothesis could be identified that may explain the observed association between study outcome and presence of financial COI:
publication restrictions imposed by industry funders; contractual agreements of authors with industry; industry bias favoring friendly research; and researchers that are sensitive to the financial interests of their industrial sponsors or employers.
Apart from the observed relations, it was considered that types of funding other than industry, such as governments and NGOs may also condition investigation. Additionally, values held by scientists may influence research outcomes as well.
Our data reinforce the need to that all affiliations whether financial or professional should be openly declared in scientific publications. In situations where health risk assessments or nutritional evaluation studies of GM products serve to inform decisionmakers, procedures could be developed to minimize the risk of decisions being taken based on study outcomes that have been influenced by conflicts of interest. This may best be achieved by giving preference towards peer-reviewed studies where no COI can be observed.