The two key members of a scientists' panel that this week said healthy Americans need not worry about fat and cholesterol in their diets are paid consultants to the food producers affected by the study.
One, Dr. Alfred E. Harper, biochemist and chairman of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin, is the panel chairman. The other, Dr. Robert E. Olson, biochemist and medical professor at St. Louis University, wrote the report's main draft.
The industry clients, who provide about 10 percent of their income, include egg, dairy and othr food interests. Their products are among those affected by the kind of drastic reductions in cholesterol that many doctors have been recommending.
These connections were not disclosed when the 15-member-panel -- the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences -- made its report Tuesday. The academy collects such information from panel members but does not generally reveal it.
Two more panel members, Dr. David Kritchevsky of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, and Dr. Roslyn Alfin-Slater of the University of California at Los Angeles, have had egg industry research grants.
Two other members are food industry executives, Ogden Johnson of Hershey Foods and Richard Hall of McCormick and Co. Their affiliation was disclosed in the report.
Drastic changes in Americans' diet to combat heart disease were recommended last February for the first time by two major government departments, Agriculture and the then-Health, Education and Welfare. Americans, the agencies said, should eat less fat (especially solid or "saturated" fat) and less cholesterol (as in egg yolks) to help avoid heart attacks.
The Food Board sharply disagreed. It is said there is no conclusive evidence yet that cutting fat and cholesterol intake will cut most persons' risks.
The report's honesty and freedom from bias were strongly defended yesterday by Dr. Phillip Handler, president of the academy, and the scientists involved.
But no one explained another fact that has puzzled observers as a battle has begun to rage this week over the new report.
A preface to it states: "The members of the committee responsible. . .were chosen. . . with regard for appropriate balance."
Analysis shows that three board members -- including Chairman Harper, author Olson and Alfin-Slater -- are long-established and prominent foes of sweeping changes in fat and cholesterol consumption. So is the most important of three scientist-reviewers of the report, Dr. Edward Ahrens of Rockefeller University.
No strong advocate of drastic diet change was a member or a reviewer.
In an interview yesterday, Harper said he gets 10 per cent of his income from "industry consultantships," mainly for the Pillsbury Co., maker of many bakery and other products, and Kraft Inc., the nation's largest cheese merchant.
Until he moved to Wisconsin in 1965, he also held an endowed "General Foods professorship" at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Olson said he gets "close to 10 percent" of his income as a research adviser, spokesman and speaker for the American Egg Board and the Dairy Council of California.
The American Egg Board is a kind of half-government, half-industry body created by Congress with headquarters in Park Ridge, iii. The secretary of agriculture names its members from egg industry nominees, and the group is widely regarded as the egg industry's voice.
The board is authorized to collect $6 million to $7 million a year from egg producers for research, education and "consumer education." This includes recent TV commercials for the "incredible, edible egg." Agriculture officials review the expenditures to make sure they are among those Congress authorized.
If Americans followed the advice federal health and agriculture officials gave, they would eat less red meat (which contains much fat), fewer eggs and less fatty dairy products, as well as less sugar and salt, except for dieters -- and low-fat, low-cholestrol diets solely for those whose doctors tell them they're at special risk.
Harper, Olson and Ahrens all said yesterday that there is no proof that lowering cholesterol in the bloodstream by changes in diet does any good.
Neither Olson nor Harper would say how much they have received in food industry fees, but both said they consult more for government than industry.
"I don't think getting 10 percent of your income purchases your soul," Handler said. "I believe these are people of integrity."
Robert Choate, an advocate of food industry responsibility, commented that "these scientists are good people, usually. They are just blind to the effect money can have. Certainly, the public should be fully informed of such connections."
The American Heart Association yesterday reaffirmed past advice that "modest reduction of intake of saturrated fat and cholesterol" is wise and urged the public not to misinterpret the new report "as encouragement that anything they want to eat is all right."