International Life Sciences Institute
International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a multi-faceted, Washington DC-based global network of think-tanks, scientific societies and institutes. The organization contains legitimate scientific associations alongside groups creating corporate PR and science-corruption executives who provide funders with global lobbying services.
ILSI self-describes as "a nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment." Critics have called it "a food industry lobby group" and "a shadowy industry group".
The organization was "founded in 1978 by Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, General Foods, Kraft (owned by Philip Morris tobacco) and Procter & Gamble. Until 1991, it was led by Coca-Cola vice-president Alex Malaspina, who negotiated a position for ILSI as an NGO 'in official relations' with the WHO and a specialised [sic] consultative status with the FAO..."
Since 2012, ISLI has received at least $100,000 from many corporations related to the food and agricultural industries, including BASF, Bayer CropScience, Campbell Soup, Cargill, Coca-Cola, CropLife International, Dow Agrisciences, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, Mars, Mondelez, Monsanto, Nestlé, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Starbucks Coffee, Syngenta, and Unilever.
Scientists tend not to be involved in the political side of their professions and often leave this role to a few administration-inclined and status-seeking individuals. Public relations organizations understand this reluctance very well, and exploit it. Their absence of oversight allows the legitimate associations to be used as a front for political and lobbying activities. The ILSI grew very quickly into a powerful force, and began to also lobby for agriculture and genetic modification; pesticides and pharmaceuticals; confectionery; and eventually, even for such unhealthy consumable products such as cigarettes.
|Toxicology Forum & Society of Toxicology|
|ILSI & Tox.Forum (Doc Index) (Timeline)|
|Nutrition Foundation & ILSI-NF|
|ILSI Risk Sciences Institute & Society for Risk Analysis|
|American College of Toxicology|
|Health & Environmental Science Institute|
|Center for Excellence in Toxicology|
|Alex Malaspina & Roger D Middlekauff|
|CLOSELY CONNECTED ORGANISATIONS|
|Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT)|
|British Industrial Biological Research Assoc. (BIBRA)|
- 1 News and Controversies
- 2 Non-Industry Research
- 3 Toxicology Forum
- 4 ILSI divisions
- 5 Activities
- 6 Foundation
- 7 Hidden links
- 8 Legal and structural coordination
- 9 Dealing with Tobacco
- 10 Good Work
- 11 WHO's NGO status
- 12 ILSI's status with WHO Downgraded Following Protests
- 13 Funding
- 14 Core Financials
- 15 Member companies
- 16 Contact Information
- 17 Articles and Resources
- 18 References
News and Controversies
Major Former Corporate Backers Left the Organization
Influenced Chinese Science and Public Policy on Obesity and Diet-Related Illnesses
Two papers by Harvard professor Susan Greenhalgh "document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension." The New York Times reported that Coca-Cola and other large food corporations used ILSI to "cultivate key Chinese officials in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the West." Additionally, ILSA's "China affiliate helped shape anti-obesity education campaigns that stressed physical activity over dietary changes, a strategy long espoused by Coca-Cola that critics say was designed to protect corporate profits."
Members of the International Life Sciences Institute have served on panels in India related to food science and nutritional health. The country decided to postpone putting warning labels on unhealthy food in 2018 and instead create a panel led by a ISLI member to review the decision. Another member "sits on two scientific food panels: one considering the safety of pesticide residues, and another on additives in processed foods." ISLI-India's executive director "briefly served on a government nutrition panel along with [the ISLI member chosen to head the health labels panel], but both were removed after they failed to declare their relationship with ILSI as a conflict of interest."
Attempted to Cast Doubt on Science Around Tobacco and Sugar
ISLI has attempted to discredit global health advice to use less sugar, which a New York University nutrition research professor called "a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion."
A 2000 report by an independent World Health Organization review found that ISLI "played a key role" in the efforts of tobacco industry groups to "undermine WHO tobacco control efforts, including using scientific groups to influence WHO’s decision-making and to manipulate scientific debate surrounding the health effects of tobacco."
The WHO banned ISLI from its "activities setting microbiological or chemical standards for food and water" in 2006.
World Health Organization
On its website the ILSI states that it is global in scope and that it works "to further the understanding of scientific issues relating to nutrition, food safety, toxicology, risk assessment, and the environment by bringing together scientists from academia, government, and industry."
In particular it says that the four "key issues" that it addresses are "overweight/obesity", "food biotechnology", "functional foods" and "risk assessment", and that "these initiatives are in addition to ongoing efforts to provide new knowledge on: the role of nutrition in human health; the alleviation of worldwide micronutrient deficiency; the safety of food ingredients and additives; and evaluation of water purification methodologies and standards."
These claims are all reasonable and certainly legitimate ... provided you only examine the scientific society surface components of the ILSI. The problems lie beneath ... also in the way the size, scope and funding of this ILSI and its network of subsidiaries and related units allow the back-room controllers to exert their political influence.
Their puff-piece says that the ILSI was founded in 1978 as a nonprofit, worldwide foundation that "seeks to improve the well-being of the general public through the advancement of science. Its goal is to further the understanding of scientific issues relating to nutrition, food safety, toxicology, risk assessment, and the environment by bringing together scientists from academia, government, and industry."
However, its private agenda has often been designed to thwart attempts to regulate or reduce public exposure to many dangerous or environmentally-damaging substances. The orgnisation's fundemental interests are focussed on the financial benefits of its major backers – the larger food companies and their trade associations.
In addition to research favorable to the food industry, ILSI has run educational workshops and scientific conferences around the world. It has done this both under its own name and also through various subdivisions and external organizations including:
- The Toxicology Forum which it operates in parallel (using the same staff and venues, yet without any obvious connections).
- The Society of Toxicology which shares a fax number with the Toxicology Forum and appears closely connected
- The International Association of Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Societies (IAEMGS)
- The American College of Toxicology (ACT)
- Health & Environmental Science Institute, an organization which consists only of corporation executives
- Center for Excellence in Toxicology
At various times all of the above have shared the same address, fax numbers, etc. in Reston VA.
The Toxicology Forum is three years older than the ILSI (established in 1975) and wider in that it draws its membership from petroleum industries as well as from the ILSI's traditional sources in food, chemical, and drug companies. It's President until recently has been Philippe Shubik (aka Phillip/Phillippe Schubik)  of the Eppley Institute at the University of Nebraska, and its Administrative Vice President is ILSI President/Coca-Cola VP Alex Malaspina.
ILSI-Nutrition Foundation (ILSI-NF)
- The ILSI-Nutrition Foundation was created in 1985 by a merger between the ILSI and the Nutrition Foundation Inc. to form the ILSI-NF
ILSI Risk Science Institute (RSI)
- The ILSI-RSI. The Nutrition Foundation's risk committee was split off from the ILSI-NF and reborn as the Risk Science Institute, which was originally known as the ILSI Risk Science Institute
ILSI Research Foundation (LSRO)
- The ILSI also has a subdivision known as the Research Foundation, which is probably the same as the Life Sciences Research Organization (LSRO) today.
The ILSI has specialized in lobbying national and international agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Its membership consists of 400 of 'the world’s leading manufacturers of food and food ingredients, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other consumer products', and the list it publishes includes the names of Burger King, Cargill, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Heinz, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Masterfoods (Mars), Monsanto, Nabisco, Nestlé, NutraSweet, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Red Bull and Tate & Lyle. 
There are also strong links between the ILSI, alcoholic beverage associations, and confectionery-industry lobby groups such as the US Sugar Association, the UK Sugar Bureau, and the World Sugar Research Organization (WSRO).
The WSRO and the ILSI both make claims that sugar is healthy. In 2004, they were charged with paying off the Expert Consultation on Carbohydrates in Human Nutrition, effectively botching the WHO's research on sugar and its health effects. The BBC's Panorama program also says they affected the removal of the WHO's director of the International Obesity Task Force, Derek Yach (who, famously, also ran the Tobacco Free Initiative program at WHO and was an architect of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).
The US Sugar Association (whose members include Coca-Cola, Pepsi and General Foods) has recently lobbied Congress to withdraw $406 million of WHO funding because of its promotion of low-sugar intake to counter obesity. However the ILSI is even-handed; see how it caved in to G.D.Searle over Nutrasweet trials, and how it rejected two grant proposals in 1985 when a researcher raised questions about the sweetener’s effects on children. The researcher later commented that; "There’s an internal conflict of interest, when a company, which has profit at the bottom line, is charged with finding out the true safety of its product."
The ILSI also lobbies to promote the acceptance of genetic modification of foodstuffs, which is not particularly surprising since both Monsanto and Syngenta are on ILSI's governing board of trustees, and play a substantial role on many committees.
Since it was first established in the 1978 by Coca-Cola, Heinz, Kraft, General Foods, and Procter & Gamble, the overall direction of the ILSI has been largely under the control of the Coca-Cola Company, although, as the organization grew, the control has become more diffuse.
Alex Malaspina, a Vice President at Coca Cola, took on the role of President (between 1978 and 1991) and he set about building a global empire with the guidance of lawyer Roger Middlekauff who appears to work full-time for the organization. Coca-Cola also provided the initial secretarial staff, and it used the core of ILSI as a way to build self-funding coalitions of like-minded corporation to further its aims of deregulation and small-government.
ILSI Europe was founded in 1986, and other regional operations followed. Now the organization has branches in Argentina, Australasia, Brazil, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, North Africa and the Gulf Region, North America, North Andean, South Africa, South Andean, Southeast Asia, Thailand and China.
From 1979 it also published the scientific journal Nutrition Review in English, while each national organization also publishes scientific monographs and journals in its own language.
The ILSI has also cooperated with, and sometimes absorbed, other closely-related industry associations. However it has always been keen to preserve a 'clean' image by not openly associating with industries like that of tobacco. However food and tobacco are inextricably linked through their share of retail outlets as well as group ownership structures.
In the USA, the food and tobacco industries were dominated by multi-industry corporate structures such as that of Kraft General Foods / Millers Beer / Philip Morris; and Nabisco / Kentucky Fried Chicken / Del Monte / RJ Reynolds Tobacco. In Australia, AMATIL held the Coca Cola franchise (and had other foods interests), while still controlling HD Wills & Company, the local manufacturer and distributor of British American Tobacco (BAT) cigarettes. The structural linkage of soft-drink, alcoholic beverage, and tobacco companies is common in other countries also.
During the 1980s, many food-related companies felt threatened by the emerging public health, nutrition and environmental concerns, and they were reluctant to associate with the pariah tobacco industry. So Kraft and Nabisco became the corporate sponsors of the ILSI Research Foundation, not Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds Tobacco. However the ILSI continued to provide special services to the cigarette companies behind the scene.
More recently, the interests of food, pharmaceutical, tobacco, energy, and other industries have become even more entwined. They have learned to cooperate (rather than blaming each other for the cancer epidemic) and they now form coalitions to fight health and environmental regulations. It is notable that they generally employ the same lawyers, lobbyists and PR companies, and use essentially the same tactics.
It should also be remembered that tobacco and the food/beverage industries shared a concern with additives, preservatives, flavourings and pesticide residues. There is also a shared determination to ensure that the threat of such regulations can't impact their bottom line.
However, by keeping tobacco publicly at arms length (thus preserving its apparent virginal purity), the ILSI was able to convince US government health organizations and those of the United Nations, to accept it as a genuine science-based (almost philanthropic) association intent only on advancing the science of nutrition and food technology. However, sometimes the potential exposure of the real behind-the-scene links to tobacco became, itself, a risk-factor to their status. (See page 4 Philip Morris report – Jim Tozzi – a tobacco lobbyist.
Maintaining distance from the tobacco industry while taking its money was comparatively easy for ILSI to do for the first years, since a large part of their early activities were genuine, and most of its scientist-members were well-intentioned. As a result, they were soon widely accepted around the world in government regulatory and WHO conferences and other activities.
Merger with Nutrition Foundation Inc. (ILSI-NF)
Right from the start, with the backing of large food corporations, the ILSI was soon in a position to expand its operations and it set about creating a number of subsidiary-divisions then later, foundations, which were often independently funded and controlled. The earliest and most prominent of these was the merger in 1985 with the Nutrition Foundation Inc., which came to be known by the abbreviation ILSI-NF.
By 1986 the ILSI-NF was being characterized by Nabisco executives as continuing "along a wreakless [sic] path of unrestrained growth without visible payback". President Alex Malaspina was seen as the person to blame.
Dissatisfaction with the ILSI (and ILSI-NF) in 1987 led to RJ Reynolds and its associated food companies establishing their own Center for Excellence in Toxicology as a pseudo-international scientific organization.
ILSI Risk Sciences Institute
In 1985 the ILSI also sloughed off what had been the Nutrition Foundation's Risk Assessment Committee. This became the ILSI Risk Sciences Institute. The aim appears to be one of raising $40 million at a time when risk characterisation had become the new fashion in anti-regulatory rhetoric, and this new Institute would help them get on this funding-bandwagon. They sought direct (but hidden) tobacco industry funding also.
Carol Henry from Microbiological Associates was brought in to manage the new Institute in August of that year. She had been in charge of a major animal inhalation study contracted by the Council for Tobacco Research, and was seen as a risk-expert. This gave the new Institute a focus on the problems of tobacco smoke.
In July 1987 the ILSI held a meeting to discuss the potential impacts of Proposition 65 in California,  which lead to the USA's first major strict health and environmental law, and the tobacco industry took a lead position (along with Carol Henry and ILSI) because it featured prohibitions on "second-hand smoke" (called 'Environmental Tobacco Smoke, or ETS') and closed many loopholes in cigarette labeling laws.
Henry must have impressed Californian Governor Pete Wilson, because a few years later, when he became governor, he persuaded her to head the state's EPA's Health Hazards Risk Assessment division. Wilson and Henry then began taking a strong position against the strict health, environmental and warning-label regulations created by Proposition 65.
But after two years of battling the environmentalists, Henry left the Californian EPA for the calmer Washington DC climate of the U.S. Department of Energy and then the American Petroleum Institute, the energy industries two main lobby forces in the Federal capital.  This effectively took her full circle since the petroleum companies were now key funders of the ILSI.
In 1989 Malaspina had created the ILSI Health & Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) to encourage funding and membership by non-food companies. The organization emphasized its 'global-independent' image, and NGO (at WHO) status. These were good reasons, it said, why the chemical, petroleum and pharmaceutical companies should join for their mutual benefit – and even tobacco - provided this wasn't publicized.
Legal and structural coordination
In all of its political battles and the proliferation of divisions, committees, institutes and the like, the ILSI had the faithful support of Washington DC lawyer/lobbyist Roger D Middlekauff, (of McKenna, Conner & Cuneo,). His name appears everywhere and it gives you some idea of the hidden reach of the ILSI's influence.
He represented the ILSI when it was seeking tax-exempt status for its foundation (1983) from the IRS, and pledged to the tax authorities that the organization "does not have any plans to engage in commercially sponsored scientific research." Under IRS rules, it is not permitted to engage in any form of political lobbying,
Middlekauff said that the ILSI would "direct the research toward benefiting the public" and would release all research results.  He was also closely associated in the Toxicology Forum with Alex Malaspina and Carol Henry,  and with Phillippe Shubrik.
Then in February 1988 he was involved in the incorporation (by the ILSI) of the International Food Biotechnology Council (IFBC)  which was specifically set up to counter California's Proposition 65. He also figures in the documents as a driving force in the Chemical Sources Association (CSA) and the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA).
Middlekauff's name often appears in the cc lists or letterhead of many chemical/food related organizations:  The International Technical Caramel Association was also favored by his legal and chemical knowledge He is now deceased, but The American Chemical Association has a Roger Middlekauff Award for 'Chemistry and The Law' subsidiary.
Dealing with Tobacco
In 1989 the ILSI created a Division of Environmental Sciences which "provided a mechanism for companies from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries to become members of the ILSI while preserving ILSI-NF's concentration on issues of importance to the food industry."
The tobacco industry's interest in the ILSI had been boosted in 1985 when, after attending the Brighton UK, International Congress on Nutrition, a long-term tobacco consultant Dr. Francis J. C. Roe reported to Philip Morris that "Many of the audience were surprised at the scale and breadth of ILSI activities" following a 35 minute promotional speech by Coca-Cola's Malaspina.
At about this time, the tobacco industry must have established some links to ILSI (probably via Kraft), because the following year Roe was asked to help organize an ILSI symposium on 'Inhalation Studies' (eg. the problems of second-hand tobacco smoke in everything but name) to be held in Germany during March 1987.
Roe suggested to the organizer (Dr Mohr from ILSI Germany) that they eliminate clinical or epidemiological studies from the discussion, thus removing anything related to humans. He wanted the symposium to focus entirely on toxicology, which is almost entirely studies on animals. This is much safer territory for tobacco science, since claim can always then be made that 'mice aren't men'.
Between 1983 and 1998 the ILSI provided assistance to the tobacco industry in its attempts to subvert many attempts at legislative control over the industry's activities. It was effective, because it represented itself as an independent and unbiased scientific body, with international (including World Health Organization) credentials. It was only interested in maintaining scientific standards in the debate over questions of smoking and health, it claimed.
In fact, by various surreptitious means, it was being financed liberally by the tobacco industry, and it was linked through various administrative channels to tobacco companies and PR organizations.
Moreover, the tobacco industry was ruthless in using their food company subsidiaries, when required, to further tobacco company influence. For instance, when John D. Graham of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis organized a $20,000 'grant' from Philip Morris, and then discovered that such payments were against Harvard University rules against tobacco industry involvement (a token of academic ethics half-heartedly promoted by the university), the Philip Morris check was returned, and an acceptable new one issued by Kraft.
Between 1987 and 1989 Alex Malaspina assiduously cultivated the links he had built with the tobacco industry. He signed a personal contract with R.J. Reynolds to act as a go-between in organizing Emory University and the tobacco company for research into Eclipse (the tobacco-less cigarette under development), and approached Thomas J. Borelli, an executive scientific lobbyist at Philip Morris, to discuss closer cooperation.
It is important to appreciate that the ILSI was not, in itself, an organization totally subservient to its sponsors interests (it wouldn't have been effective if it was), nor were most of its staff compromised by the hidden funding and controls organised at the highest level. The membership included many genuine scientists involved in many genuine committees, working on behalf of many honest food and beverage companies.
As with all effective PR operation, the misinformation and lobbying aspects (prohibited under IRS rules) were hidden beneath the camouflage cloak of a genuine scientific organization with scientist members. The underground work can then be done by only a few people in the top management and policy committees. ILSI is structured in a way which ensures that the funding corporations have majority membership in all its major decision-making committees.
Genuine research is also supported and conducted by the ILSI when the problem is shared by a number of companies, although it is by no means certain that negative findings were always published or circulated to the wider public.
WHO's NGO status
The ILSI enjoyed non-government organization (NGO) status within the World Health Organization (WHO) and a special consultative status with the United Nations's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In addition, the ILSI worked for many years closely with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS).
These associations and the levels of formal accreditation allowed key members of the ILSI to sit in on, and become involved with, many international conferences on nutrition safety and health; chemical safety; food production; and also on trade issues. The granting of this status was, of course, provided as a position of trust. It was a mechanism designed to allow genuine indigenous, industry and activist organizations to make real contributions to formal UN-accredited discussions of vital importance on global economic and health initiatives.
Examination of the tobacco industry documents now show that ILSI was not trustworthy.
A British Medical Journal website says "The ILSI has criticised [sic] WHO's draft report on nutrition. In its official response, the institute says that no scientific justification for the limitation of sugar intake (<10% of calories) is provided. It is also critical of WHO's focus on diet and has tried to shift the blame for obesity to physical inactivity. [ ] The ILSI is funded by the food industry; its sponsors including Mars, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. Despite this, Eileen Kennedy, the ILSI's global executive director, claims that the institute regarded itself as an independent body."
Alex Malaspina managed to get seconded on to the Pan-American Health Organization (an arm of WHO) alongside Paul Dietrich, a long-term tobacco industry lawyer-lobbyist who ran the Institute for International Health and Development.)
In July 2000 a group of experts for the WHO reported on the role of ILSI in promoting the tobacco industry.
The ILSI now gives its key "Future Leader Award of $30,000" in honor of "Dr. Alex Malaspina, ILSI’s founding President, who retired in 2000." However his leadership services are not entirely lost, since he "continues to be involved in ILSI’s work through the ILSI Research Foundation."
ILSI's status with WHO Downgraded Following Protests
In late January 2006 the World Health Organization decided that ILSI "can no longer take part in WHO activities setting microbiological or chemical standards for food and water, the U.N. health agency's executive board decided Friday in Geneva, Switzerland." However, it remains one of the NGOs with accreditation as an observer at WHO meetings.
The downgrading of ILSI's status followed a letter protesting ILSI's role in setting standards from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Working Group, United Steelworkers of America and a coalition of other groups.
ILSI is "almost entirely funded by Goliaths of the agribusiness, food and pharmaceutical industries." Research from U.S. Right to Know reveals:
- Corporate contributions to ILSI Global amounting to $2.4 million in 2012. This included $528,500 from CropLife International, a $500,000 contribution from Monsanto and $163,500 from Coca-Cola.
- A draft 2013 ILSI tax return shows ILSI received $337,000 from Coca-Cola and more than $100,000 each from Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Bayer CropScience and BASF.
- A draft 2016 ILSI North America tax return shows a $317,827 contribution from PepsiCo, contributions greater than $200,000 from Mars, Coca-Cola, and Mondelez, and contributions greater than $100,000 from General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, Kraft, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Starbucks Coffee, Cargill, Unilever and Campbell Soup."
Additional known funders:
- Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta: $190,000 (2015-2016)
- Total Revenue: $2,449,457
- Total Expenses: $2,275,260
- Net Assets: $1,750,674
- Total Revenue: $2,756,012
- Total Expenses: $2,825,131
- Net Assets: $1,486,446
- Total Revenue: $2,686,241
- Total Expenses: $2,937,847
- Net Assets: $1,610,988
- Total Revenue: $2,922,946
- Total Expenses: $3,192,091
- Net Assets: $1,801,389
- Total Revenue: $3,085,801
- Total Expenses: $3,044,272
- Net Assets: $2,049,183
- Total Revenue: $3,443,079
- Total Expenses: $3,005,168
- Net Assets: $2,032,457
- Total Revenue: $3,692,732
- Total Expenses: $3,890,573
- Net Assets: $1,589,963
- Total Revenue: $3,118,753
- Total Expenses: $3,221,596
- Net Assets: $1,807,527
- Total Revenue: $3,330,503
- Total Expenses: $2,984,725
- Net Assets: $1,937,616
- Total Revenue: $3,227,477
- Total Expenses: $2,776,267
- Net Assets: $1,614,521
The ILSI has over 400 companies as members, but institute's main member companies (those that can influence directions) include:
- Bayer AG
- Dow AgroSciences
- General Mills
- Merck & Co.
- Procter & Gamble
International Life Sciences Institute>
One Thomas Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20005-5802
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
- Bayer CropScience
- Campbell Soup
- CropLife International
- Dow AgriSciences
- Dr Pepper Snapple Group
- General Mills
- New York Times
- Pioneer Hi-Bred
- Starbucks Coffee
- World Health Organization
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