Washington, D.C.— The peer-reviewed, scientific research on controversial drugs used in livestock and poultry production is very heavily influenced by corporate drug companies, finds a new report released today by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. Through a review of the scientific literature surrounding several animal drugs, Corporate Control in Animal Science Research documents the great extent to which drug companies and corporate agribusinesses author and fund scientific research while also sponsoring and editing influential scientific journals.
“It’s not terribly surprising to learn that the animal drug industry operates like the human pharmaceutical industry does, using its immense resources to capture and control the scientific research about its products,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Companies like Merck have been able to dominate and skew the scientific discourse around controversial animal drugs like Zilmax, helping to allow this growth-promoter to enjoy years of commercial success despite obvious animal safety concerns.”
Key findings in the report include:
- When the growth-promoter Zilmax was removed from the marketplace in 2013 due to animal safety concerns, there had been virtually no independent, peer-reviewed studies into the safety of the drug for cattle. Most of the available research examined commercial dimensions of Zilmax (such as the drug’s impact on beef quality) and more than three-quarters of the 78 peer-reviewed studies Food & Water Watch examined were authored and/or funded by industry groups – almost all of which were published in scientific journals sponsored and edited by industry groups.
- A top destination for peer-reviewed studies authored and funded by animal science companies are the high-profile journals published by the Federation of Animal Science Societies, like the Journal of Animal Science and Journal of Dairy Science, where corporate agribusinesses and drug companies act as sponsors, directors, editors and frequent authors.
- Many academic journals have failed to establish or enforce rules requiring scientists to publicly disclose financial conflicts of interest or the funding sources of their research, which has allowed deeply conflicted research to distort the scientific discourse.
“As this report shows, powerful business interests exercise the same level of influence over the scientific discourse as they do the political discourse,” said Hauter. “It’s time that we put an end to the damaging and pervasive industry bias that exists throughout agricultural research.”
In 2012, Food & Water Watch’s report Public Research, Private Gain documented the millions of dollars industry groups are pouring into public universities, which distorts and biases scientific research. Corporate Control in Animal Science Research builds on this research by investigating industry influence over scientific publications, examining the science surrounding three animal drugs: Zilmax, used in beef cattle production; arsenic-based drugs, used in poultry production; and rBGH, an artificial growth hormone used in dairy production. Just last week, the FDA announced that the last arsenic-based drug would be removed from the marketplace by the end of the year—following decades of widespread use by the poultry industry.
To address the outsized corporate influence over animal science research, Food & Water Watch recommends:
- Congress should instruct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dramatically revamp its animal drug approval process to be based primarily on independent science, instead of depending entirely on research furnished by drug sponsors.
- Congress should also instruct the FDA to issue a ban on the use of all beta-agonists, including Zilmax, given the evidence of animal welfare issues.
- Every agricultural journal should require authors to publicly disclose all of their research funding sources and all financial ties that authors have to industry.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot).org