No conflict of interest for McCormick

April 12, 2010

Your article on McCormick and Co.'s efforts to determine the health benefits of spices was well and thoroughly done ("The spice of life? McCormick invests in research into health benefits of seasonings, raising concern over a conflict of interest," April 11). I retired from McCormick 22 years ago, so I have no involvement in that program except to wish it well. However, the term "conflict of interest" used in the article was inappropriate.

The proper term, and proper concern about such efforts should be "research integrity." If the study is well designed, well executed, and clearly written, is published in peer-reviewed journals, and is well-replicated by other investigators, that is simply the way scientific knowledge is established. The only relevant test is whether or not the work is well and honestly done.

Companies have a moral obligation as well as financial incentive to become aware of the risks and benefits of their products and to make that information publicly available. As one of your commentators mentioned, negative results should also be published, but that is more difficult. Journals typically reject negative results as uninteresting unless they contradict earlier publications.

R.L. Hall, Towson

The writer is the former vice president for science and technology at McCormick and Co.

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