Like your typical rich guy (and we're talking $4.5 billion at last estimate), David Murdock has lots of opinions about lots of things. But he's especially passionate about healthy living - so much so that he's bankrolling both the California WellBeing Institute in Westlake Village and the 350-acre North Carolina Research Campus, where several universities plan to conduct food-related research. Anyway, Bloomberg's Seth Lubove profiles the 84-year-old Murdock, who preaches the benefits of a low-fat diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. And as luck would have it, that's exactly what his Dole Food Co. sells. Murdock believes people who are overweight lack the willpower, even the intelligence, to stay slim. "I have self-control," he says. "Most people who gain weight have little or no self-control."' Murdock says there's no such thing as stress, calling it "a figment of people's imagination” (even though the WellBeing Institute sells a $2,910 "stress management package"). Don’t you just love this guy?
In North Carolina, the exact nature of the Dole-sponsored studies that the new research campus will undertake hasn't been decided. Preliminary literature for the planned David H. Murdock Research Institute says only that it will be "dedicated to scientific research on nutrition, fruits and vegetables." New York University nutrition professor and food industry critic Marion Nestle says consumers should be wary of any research sponsored by a food company. She cites a January analysis by Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School that found beverage nutrition studies funded by the drinks industry were four to eight times more likely to have conclusions favorable to the sponsors' financial interest than studies with no industry funding. "The whole thing makes me squirm because there's so much evidence that funded research gives you answers that are favorable to the company that gave sponsorship," says Nestle.
Murdock might want to pay a little more attention to business. Last year, the company lost $89 million, and Fitch rates its bonds and bank debt "speculative"' to "high-default risk." There also are a bunch of lawsuits accusing the company of selling spinach that was contaminated by the E. coli virus (Dole blames the packager).