Responding to a Request for Financial Disclosure

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Someone whom I do not know, Zhiqi Yin, sent this message to my Web site in two places today:

I saw this on Twitter. "I am so sick of food Nazis like Marion Nestle who makes lots of money criticizing others. Marion, disclose who is paying you and $ you make." Kindly tell your audience when can we expect to see your financial disclosure telling us how much you make from writing books critical of the food industry, money you receive from speaking and other engagements, and grant and consulting money and your sources? Thank you.

Despite its unfriendly tone, the question is an important one in an era when opinion is so easily bought and sold, and evidence so increasingly demonstrates the influence of corporate funding on the outcome of tobacco, drug, and food research.

The purpose of food company influence is of course to increase sales and profits. In contrast, the goals of public health are to improve dietary intake and other health behaviors so that people will live longer and more active and productive lives. Those of us devoted to public health, however, often find that our goals conflict with those of sales and profit.

I am paid to say what I think, not what someone else wants me to think or because what I write or say will help sell food products.

As I explained in my book, Food Politics, I am in an unusual position for an academic researcher and I take the resp0nsibility that comes with this position quite seriously. I am a tenured professor at New York University, a job that requires teaching, research, and public service (of which this blog is part). For doing these things, I receive a full, hard-money salary that allows me to remain independent of corporate influence and gives me the freedom to write and speak as I think.

I do not need grants to do my research and writing. I accept honoraria from some speaking engagements (these take substantial preparation and travel time), compensation for some writing assignments (ditto), and occasional royalties from sales of my books (which take years to research and write). To fulfill my professorial obligations, I do not need to consult for pay or accept honoraria from food companies or other for-profit enterprises.

I wish that my books were best sellers. I wish everyone would read them and think hard about what they say. And I wish that more nutrition academics and professionals could be independent of corporate influence.

I am able to take full responsibility for what I think, say, and write. I am paid to say what I think, not what someone else wants me to think or because what I write or say will help sell food products. This is indeed a privilege and I am grateful for it.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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