Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. She is an infamous critic of the “food industry,” and has based her career on the conspiracy theory that soda and junk food are responsible for the obesity epidemic. She is also a prominent figure in the organic movement.
Nestle: On Big Organic’s “A Team”
Like Mother Jones food writer Tom Philpott, Nestle is a member of “The ‘A’ Team of Commentators, Strategists, and Influencers” the organic industry relies on to give their political crusade against biotechnology a veneer of scientific credibility.
Though she denies any direct financial ties to the organic industry, Nestle aggressively advertises press releases from their industry trade groups and repeats their talking points on her website, and then they pay her to give “talks” for organic food corporations and said trade groups. She gets industry money, they simply launder their corporate funding through non-profits groups for her. And she does her job promoting anti-science woo. As far back as 2007, she promoted the long-debunked claim that organic produce is more “nutritious” than conventional counterparts, referencing a study produced by the Organic Center, which is funded by the organic industry.
Citing the activist litigation outfit Environmental Working Group, she also claims that the agriculture industry is working “hand-in-glove” to hide data on pesticide safety from consumers. She also recommends that people buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure, which is a talking point manufactured by organic industry front groups. Everyone in farming or in food academia knows that organic produce is treated with pesticides such as copper-based fungicides, some of which are quite toxic by the USDA’s safety standards. On her first charge, she is also a conspiracy theorist. The agrochemical industry has to cooperate with regulators who study their products or they won’t get a registration.
Yet Nestle pretends to be evidence-based. Despite that pretense, she has shown support for recent efforts to ban glyphosate, though every science body has found it safe, except the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). When IARC activist Chris Portier was found to be blocking out safety data and earned six figures by signing a contract with a prominent environmental trial lawyer group just before the IARC report was released, she had no criticism of him at all. She has also manufactured claims about soil health and weed resistance.
Nestle Joins in Attacks Against Dr. Kevin Folta
In August 2015, a pair of organic industry friendly former journalists, Charles Seife and Paul Thacker, wrote a blog post in a science journal accusing University of Florida horticulturalist Kevin Folta of being on Monsanto’s payroll. The two organic industry bloggers were heavily criticized by the science community for getting the basic facts wrong and fabricating a conspiracy for unknown purposes. The science journal then took down the posting.
Nestle joined the choir of Folta critics and defended Seife’s and Thacker’s sloppy attempts at activist journalism– even after their blog post was retracted. What’s more, Nestle refused to correct errors in her own coverage of the pretend scandal, despite the fact that Folta contacted her directly. She dismissed his request and instead instructed him to comment on her blog post, as elites in academia do to those they regard as peasants – the science community.
Questionable Claims: Nestle Warns About The Danger of “Food Chemicals”
Though sometimes more restrained than her less thoughtful allies in the organic lobby, Nestle is a proponent of several pseudo-scientific claims about food safety and toxicology. She will often accurately summarize what the science says about food safety, and then make a recommendation to her readers that runs counter to what the science she claims to support showed.
She acknowledges, for example, that science doesn’t support claims that BPA or sugar-free sweeteners are harmful, because we can’t be exposed to high enough doses of them. She nonetheless encourages her readers to avoid these substances, frequently claiming that more research is needed, the favored riposte of every anti-science activist whose beliefs don’t conform to the data.
She makes sure to cater to her organic industry funders, even if it means debunking herself. When she appeared in the “Food Evolution” documentary stating that concern about GMOs was overstated, she later told the organic community not to believe their own eyes and ears, that was she said on camera was taken out of context and that they really should be concerned about the things no one in science is concerned about.
Nestle’s “Food Industry” Conspiracy Theory
Nestle is a prominent advocate of the conspiracy theory that food companies are the major culprits in the obesity epidemic, and that they buy off researchers and suppress inconvenient evidence. To that end, she is not shy about labeling anyone she disagrees with a shill for the “food industry,” whether or not there is evidence to back up her accusations.
Her role in the ongoing debate over food policy in America has little to do with educating the public and more with promoting draconian restrictions on personal choice. She is an advocate for sin taxes on soda and snack food, what she gleefully refers to as the “twinkie tax,” and she frequently praises the work of those who defend the efficacy of higher costs on food, despite their impact on the poor.
Nestle, sadly, can’t formulate a real response to expert criticisms of her preferred policies, which are extensive. When she deigns to address the commoners in science lined up against her, it’s just to call them industry apologists, because in the narrative she creates, anyone who has been funded at any time by food companies is unethical, whereas if a food company donates to a non-profit which then pays her to give a talk, her conscience is clear.
Strangely, Nestle does not apply the same ethical standards to her activist friends, all of whom profit from their advocacy work and have a vested interest in swaying public opinion. Some are even litigation groups whose primary source of income is suing food companies. To Nestle, scientists are unethical but trial lawyers are just fine – as long as money somehow makes its way to her.