Corporate agribusinesses depend on favorable science—often in the form of published research in academic journals—to gain legitimacy, regulatory approval, and market acceptance of products such as new animal drugs.
But a new report from Food & Water Watch charges the industry with playing an enormous and hard-to-track role in the production of such studies.
"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."
—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch
"Deep-pocketed corporations financially support academic journals where they publish their research, or they support the academic societies that oversee these journals," reads Corporate Control in Animal Science Research (pdf), released Wednesday. "Industry representatives also claim positions on editorial boards of some prominent journals, potentially giving them influence over what kinds of studies are and are not published."
Furthermore, the report states, "Corporate agribusinesses also author, fund and likely ghostwrite an enormous number of peer-reviewed studies, overwhelming the literature in some places with favorable research about their products and practices."
Food & Water Watch charges some academic journals with "weak oversight" that enables agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies to exercise undisclosed, difficult-to-monitor influence over scientific articles, on which the public depends for allegedly independent review.
"[S]ome animal science journals have failed to enforce even the most basic and obvious measures of transparency, such as requiring journal authors to publicly disclose their sources of research funding and whether or not they have financial conflicts of interest," the report reads.
At some high-profile journals published by the Federation of Animal Science Societies, like the Journal of Animal Science and Journal of Dairy Science, for example, "corporate agribusinesses and drug companies act as sponsors, directors, editors, and frequent authors."
In particular, the non-profit watchdog examines 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.
In the case of Zilmax, a growth-promoter that was removed from the marketplace in 2013 due to animal safety concerns, the Food & Water Watch report found that there had been virtually no independent, peer-reviewed studies into the safety of the drug for cattle.
In fact, 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.
"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.
Calling for increased transparency from academic journals, as well as for the federal Food and Drug Administration to dramatically revamp its animal drug approval process to be based primarily on independent science, Hauter added: "It's time that we put an end to the damaging and pervasive industry bias that exists throughout agricultural research."