Has the British Medical Journal been taken over by a coalition of its enemies? It seems to be on a mission to destroy its credibility this week. A day after it publishes a shonky study and a woeful editorial about moderate drinking, up pops self-styled 'investigative journalist' Jonathan Gornall again. Last year he was bitching about me and anybody else who opposes minimum pricing in some articles that were so bad the EU ripped up his cheque. This time he's taking on 'Big Food'.
Gornall's series of articles about minimum pricing were lame, shifty and intellectually dishonest, but his new series about sugar is just dull. A theme is emerging in his hatchet jobs. First, he takes a policy which is controversial with the public but which has legitimate arguments for and against. He then treats the policy as a no-brainer which could only possibly be opposed by vested interests. He then looks for any kind of funding from business to civil society and the public sector; if he cannot find any he implies that it exists. Finally, he pads out his articles with quotes from activists and presents their failure to persuade government to bring in the controversial policy as being the result of 'webs of influence'.
Last year it was minimum pricing with the Alcohol Health Alliance. This time it's food reformulation with Action on Sugar. Action on Sugar have only been around for a year and their plan to reduce sugar in the food supply by 40 per cent is an arbitrary, unrealistic fantasy, but that doesn't stop Gornall presenting it as if it would have been a fait accompli had it not been for the pesky food industry.
It is clear that this ad hominem addict is either desperate for material or is totally unfamiliar with the people he is writing about. Laughably, he puts Prof. Susan Jebb at the heart of his story on the pretext she is funded by Coca-Cola. In fact, she does not personally profit from the food industry at all. She is part of a long-standing collaboration between food companies and government scientists which has led to the kind of product reformulation that Action on Sugar wants.
More to the point, Jebb is a supporter of sugar taxes, bans on confectionery at supermarket tills, mandatory product reformulation and various other nanny state policies. I disagree with her views - and have said so - but it is quite obvious that those views are her own, not those of Coca-Cola and Mars.
Despite the best efforts of Gornall and Action on Sugar, the McCarthyism that increasingly surrounds alcohol has not yet engulfed food and a number of scientists - including Jebb herself - have taken Gornall to task for his tabloid muck-raking. It's worth reading all of them, but this is my favourite, from Catherine Collins of the British Dietetic Association...
Well said. I also liked this, from Prof. Tom Sanders, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, King’s College London:
“The implied alternative in the BMJ article is to have a committee made up of members who are not tainted by connection to the food industry. In my experience such individuals lack the required experience and expertise and are likely to be incompetent."