But the mantra that moderate drinking is good for the heart has never been put to a rigorous scientific test, and new research has linked even modest alcohol consumption to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain. That has not stopped the alcoholic beverage industry from promoting the alcohol-is-good-for-you message by supporting scientific meetings and nurturing budding researchers in the field.
Now the National Institutes of Health is starting a $100 million clinical trial to test for the first time whether a drink a day really does prevent heart attacks. And guess who is picking up most of the tab?
Five companies that are among the world's largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg — have so far pledged $67.7 million to a foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health, said Margaret Murray, the director of the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which will oversee the study.
The decision to let the alcohol industry pay the bulk of the cost has raised concern among researchers who track influence-peddling in science.
"Research shows that industry-sponsored research almost invariably favors the interests of the industry sponsor, even when investigators believe they are immune from such influence," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University who is the author of several books on the topic, including "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health."