Johns Hopkins??? et tu Brutus?

Science is not dying, it died decades ago….only option is for us to become smart consumers of all information, fiercely defend individual and collective rights and liberties.

This article is a document of my thoughts and observations after reading other articles or news items that cross my path. I am not even sure how I chanced upon this article, but I did. This article is actually a ‘letter to the editor’ published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. It was published in 2020 (amidst the covid chaos).

Here is the link to the letter, titled, “Joint study led by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) puts meat-eating women’s lives at risk”

This letter is a scathing review of a study conducted by well (endowed) respected and well known institutions of the world including International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Family Health International (FHI), Johns Hopkins (JH), and funded by (no surprise!) the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF – like a bad penny, this Gates guy shows up everywhere!).

Even before the study was peer reviewed and okayed for publication, the study team tweeted out from the IFPRI Twitter handle on 4th of June, 2020 along with a graph, stating:

 ‘Vegetarian women more likely to have probability of nutrient adequacy and diet diversity during pregnancy than non-vegetarian women.” 

A next tweet claims that this study ‘is a finalist for the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Award.”

The authors of this ‘letter to the editor’ are Dr. Sylvia Karpagam (Public health doctor) and Dr. Veena Shatrugna (retired deputy director, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India).

When Dr. Karpagam and Dr. Veena Shatrugna criticized the tweet for its blatant lack of scientific validity, IFPRI tweeted an amendment that said, “Vegetarian women were more likely to have probability of nutrient adequacy and diet diversity during pregnancy than non-vegetarian women, but these differences are likely confounded by socio-economic and caste status”.

In their letter, the doctors lay out a scathing review of the tweets and the premise of this study which led to a written exchange between these doctors and IFPRI.

(As you read these doctors’ scathing review, you will wonder as to how this study was ever chosen as a finalist for any award?)

I encourage everyone to read this letter and the exchange between Dr Shaturgna and IFPRI, in its entirety. It can be found here:

Essentially, the good doctors point out that:

  1. Classification of diet as vegetarian or non-vegetarian has no scientific validity.
  2. They point out the inadequacy of self reported data in general and especially due to the current political climate in India.
  3. Lack of measurement of nutrient density in the diets consumed.
  4. Biochemical tests to look for nutritional deficiencies and the impact of the diets on nutrient levels in the blood of test subjects was not done.
  5. Socio-economic-cultural background of the study subjects was not considered.

The authors conclude with this:

“We are shocked by the fact that results of studies with potential large impact on women, especially pregnant women, are put out on Twitter like slogans or sensational headlines.  Sharing teasers on social media while withholding the full study wouldn’t fall into the category of serious or ethical research…

….This is made worse by the growing global push towards predominantly plant based diets through multilateral agencies like the Eat Lancet Commission and promoted by Indian counterparts, inspite of global criticism. This ‘study’ is therefore not innocent.

It is alarming that IFPRI, John Hopkins, FHI and BMGF are coming together to put out the message on social media that vegetarian food is superior – a pre-existing casteist and anti-minority myth in India. That this study is a finalist for the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science award, is probably the icing on this vegetarian cake.”

IFPRI responded to this letter with platitudes and empty reassurances to which Dr Veena Shatrugna responded brilliantly.

As I read through this exchange, I was deeply saddened to clearly see the reach of corruption of global corporations like BMGF. Yes, I am calling BMGF a corporation. BMGF is not a philanthropic organization. It is not even philanthro-capitalism – a euphemistic term to hide the true nature of such entities.

BMGF is a front for a major corporation whose sole purpose is to create profits and new markets. Given Bill Gates love for GMO agriculture, mono crops (soy and corn), pesticides, GMO fake meats, vegetarianism (pseudo-vegetarianism, I think. Has anyone actually seen Bill Gates eat his fake meat burgers?), and hatred for organic, regenerative agriculture, grass fed meats; one has to wonder if this study is an attempt to create “fake science” in support of vegetarianism? Which will in turn promote his GMO crops, fake meats and thus create emerging markets for his corporation.

Call me a “Bill Gates hating conspiracy theorist” but considering that there is serious push by global corporations to change food preference on a global scale:

My apologies for digressing…however, I do want to point out the interconnectedness of our global world’s problems; thanks to a few global corporations like BMGF. The solution seems to be to go local, to decentralize and to de-globalize.

Thanks to the brave and good doctors, I don’t think this study was actually published and I am hoping it did not receive the award.

Even more saddening is the loss of respect for institutions like Johns Hopkins that do not seem to have even a shred of scientific integrity any more. Not even a single person from Johns Hopkins questioned this study’s methodology? Did it even go through an IRB (Institutional Review Board – an administrative body established to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects)? Would such a study be allowed here in the US? Why conduct such a study in rural India? Do they think such lousy experiments and faulty science is ok for the rural, illiterate Indians?

Here is Dr Shatrugna’s response:

Dear Purnima, and Researchers from IFPRI, John Hopkins, and FHI,
 Greetings! I am writing this mail on my behalf and on behalf of Sylvia, and the 148 signatories to the above letter. (of course many more signed it later).
Thank you for your mail responding to our critique of your study on Pregnancy Nutrition in UP, India. Let me first apologize for the delay in responding…these are Covid times remember, and hope you will understand

You suggest that we wait for the publication of the paper which is under peer review which will also take into consideration our inputs provided in the critique. You further state that “We are happy to jointly plan communications with you and others once the full paper is available to ensure that the findings are not misinterpreted, etc.” and inform us that it “is a sub-study of a much larger body of work to study the impact of maternal nutrition interventions– including the promotion of all foods, including animal-source foods – on diet quality.”
I am not sure what you expect to achieve from your final paper when it is published. The damage to Nutrition science has already been done with your tweets. Our concern is not whether your final paper when published will redeems itself but rather the trend that your paper has set in areas of Nutrition research in India.
For lack of a better word I can only say that your paper is dangerously close to explaining the “Exotic Oriental” in the field of Nutrition. One of the reasons for this might very well be that there are very few areas of undernutrition left for serious study…Dr. Gopalan and the NIN have successfully laid bare and teased open the terrain of malnutrition, in terms of epidemiology of Malnutrition, RDAs, Clinical manifestations, Biochemical changes in undernutrition, Treatment and prevention of Malnutrition, Nutritive value of Indian foods to name a few areas. What is required at this time is food and more food for the large masses of people both urban and rural through a serious implementation of food programs and not calculations of the p value between 2 groups which are in any case not comparable in terms of caste and class (your observation).

  At a time when the country under the new dispensation is floundering on questions of food entitlements and right to food for the poor and specially children and pregnant women, your research serves to divert the attention to questions of vegetarians and non vegetarians. It is almost a surreal celebration of the food habits (vegetarianism)  of the people of a distant land.
The Right to food activists with an army of barefoot nutritionists are monitoring the Government’s non serious attempt at providing some bare cereals during the lockdown phase. We would have appreciated a well thought through statement from your team urging the Govt. to at least provide food/cash or both to rural and urban poor families. This has been advocated by all economists of the left or right. As scientists from prestigious institutes like IFPRI, John Hopkins and FHI it was imperative that you rise to the occasion, show concern and help prevent severe malnutrition in terms of underweights, anaemia, children with SAM and other manifestations of prolonged hunger. We would have liked to collectively persuade the Indian Government to take food seriously.

Even earlier we would have appreciated your intervention in the cultural onslaught on the school kids when egg was being denied to them by the Government funded central suppliers, a self proclaimed vegetarian sattvic outfit called the Akshaya Patra.

Some of you are maybe aware of the political minefields you are treading in the area of Nutrition. Is it a result of a total disregard for the serious questions of hunger and even starvation haunting our land? or is it just the novelty of the variables thrown up by the majoritarian and dominant ruling dispensation?

In future we do hope you will take India and its people seriously in terms of understanding our issues of health and Nutrition.

Veena Shatrugna
Former Deputy Director,
National Institute of Nutrition,

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