Corporate agribusinesses depend on favorable science to gain regulatory approval or market acceptance of products such as new animal drugs, and they depend on academic journals to deliver this science. To secure favorable scientific reviews, industry groups play an enormous role in the production of scientific literature, authoring journal articles, funding academic research and also serving as editors, sponsors or directors of scientific journals where much of their research is published.
Deep-pocketed corporations often have no counterpoint in the scientific literature. No group of scientists or science funders is, for example, aggressively investigating the safety or efficacy of new animal drugs, or examining alternatives. The influence that industry now wields over every aspect of the scientific discourse has allowed companies to commercialize potentially unsafe animal drugs with virtually no independent scrutiny.
An analysis by Food & Water Watch of several controversial drugs used in food animal production reveals:
- 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 qualify, and more than three-quarters of the studies 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, where corporate agribusinesses 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, which has allowed deeply conflicted research to distort the scientific discourse.
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 the industry.
- Every agricultural journal should publish the full names and affiliations of all editors and advisors that it utilizes.