It was going to be a study that could change the American diet, a huge clinical trial that might well deliver all the medical evidence needed to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle.
That was how two prominent scientists and a senior federal health official pitched the project during a presentation at the luxurious Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2014. And the audience members who were being asked to help pay for the $100 million study seemed receptive: They were all liquor company executives.
The 10-year government trial is now underway, and Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken and other alcohol companies are picking up most of the tab, through donations to a private foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health.
The N.I.H., a federal agency, is considered one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, investing over $30 billion of taxpayer money in biomedical research each year. The vast majority of the funding goes to scientists outside the N.I.H., which manages the grants and provides oversight.
The alcohol study is overseen by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one of 27 centers under the N.I.H. The lead investigator and N.I.H. officials have said repeatedly that they never discussed the planning of the study with the industry. But a different picture emerges from emails and travel vouchers obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as from interviews with former federal officials.