Mars Inc., which makes M&M’s candy and Wrigley’s gum, on January 5 published its policies on conducting and funding scientific studies for the first time, as it plans to break ties with an industry-backed organization.
Mars, a private company in a particularly secretive industry, has become increasingly outspoken in recent years as consumer distrust emerges as a growing concern for Big Food. The company said it wanted to boost transparency amid an increasing need for research around health, sustainability, and food safety and security.
Large food makers are struggling with stagnating sales growth of their core products as consumers say they want healthier, simpler ingredients.
McLean, Virginia-based Mars, which also makes pet food, broke ranks with the industry in 2016, when it publicly supported nutrition recommendations to limit added sugar consumption.
The candy maker also plans to leave the International Life Sciences Institute, or ILSI, by the end of 2018 and to publicize its standards for scientific research on its website, said Matthias Berninger, vice president of public affairs.
“We do not want to be involved in advocacy-led studies that so often, and mostly for the right reasons, have been criticized,” Berninger said.
ILSI’s December 2016 report questioned the science behind nutritionists’ recommendations to limit added sugars. Mars criticized the study but remained a member of the group.
The company said it would not tie research funding to specific outcomes, among its commitments. It will disclose sponsorship and support studies that can be freely published regardless of results.
“We’re living in times when we need scientific leadership examples,” said Harold Schmitz, chief science officer. “When we collaborate, we are going to publish the results, no matter what.”
Guidelines for publishing complete data and disclosing conflicts of interest are fairly standard practices for pharmaceutical research but less widespread for food, said Peter Lurie, a former U.S. FDA official who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Criticism of bias in scientific research has been mounting, with studies coming under attack for touting health benefits of products like chocolate milk. Last year, a University of Colorado researcher had to resign from the school’s health and wellness center for accepting funds from Coca-Cola Co.
Separately, Mars has left the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based lobbying group that has represented large food companies on issues including labeling of genetically engineered ingredients.
With the move, Mars joins the ranks of companies including Nestle SA and Campbell Soup Co.