Author of Salt Article has Close Ties to Industry

Frito-Lay Memo Divulges Industry Strategy


In the current issue of Science, David McCarron, a hypertension researcher at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, criticizes the link between salt and high blood pressure. Not fully disclosed, though, are McCarron’s extensive ties to the food and salt industries. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), McCarron has:

  • submitted proposals asking snack food giant Frito-Lay, Inc., to fund studies that the company would use as part of a “Calcium Antihypertension” campaign that, according to a 1982 internal Frito-Lay memo, would “release the pressure on sodium”;
  • received numerous grants from the National Dairy Council;
  • been a paid advisor to the Salt Institute; and
  • served as director of the Calcium Information Center, a joint project of the Oregon Health Sciences Center, New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center that is funded in part by SmithKline Beecham, maker of Tums calcium supplements.

     The internal Frito-Lay memo recommends that the company fund McCarron’s proposals on calcium to divert attention from the link between sodium and high blood pressure. We should “provide Dr. McCarron with scientific assistance to enhance his credibility, and promote his visibility,” it states. The memo’s author, apparently a Frito-Lay scientist, states that “I don’t believe proper [calcium] intake can prevent/ameliorate most types of primary hypertension. So even if the ‘Calcium Theory’ campaign is successful, the [sodium] issue will come back in the long run.” He cites “scientific defects” in McCarron’s proposals, but concludes that “as far as we can show that proper [calcium] intake does prevent/ameliorate at least certain types of hypertension...our primary goal would be achieved.”

     “McCarron’s arguments are filled with half-truths and misleading statements,” said Bonnie Liebman, Director of Nutrition at CSPI. “The public should know that his work is part of an orchestrated effort by the food and salt industries to discredit the evidence linking salt and hypertension. It is unfortunate thatScience chose not to fully reveal McCarron’s industry connections.”