It suddenly stopped funding the research project that was connecting sucrose to serious health risks, forcing the study to close down.
The results of the 1967 study—that had discovered that sucrose increased the chances of heart disease and bladder cancer in laboratory rats—were never published, and the project's funders, the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF), sat on the findings.
The whole project had been secret, and nobody even knew the ISRF was exploring the possibilities that sucrose might be causing two of the world's major diseases. The study, known as Project 259, had ostensibly been set up to "measure the nutritional effects of the organisms in the intestinal tract". In fact, researchers from the University of Birmingham had been commissioned to discover whether sugar could cause coronary heart disease, and especially when compared to consuming starch.
Two years after the study was closed, an internal document at the ISRF said that Project 259 had been "one of the first demonstrations of a biological difference between sucrose and starch-fed rats."
In addition to discovering a link to heart disease, the researchers had also found that sucrose increased the risk of bladder cancer, something the ISRF hadn't suspected.
The discovery would have been a vital addition to a growing belief at the time that sugar could raise levels of fats, known as triglycerides, that are linked to heart disease, say researchers from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), who discovered the hidden documents recently. Even last year, the sugar industry was still denying there was a link between sucrose and tumour growth, and yet, in truth, they were aware of the possibilities nearly 50 years ago. "The kind of manipulation of research is similar to what the tobacco industry does," said UCSF researcher Cristin Kearns.