FOOD Standards Scotland is under pressure over a leading member’s financial links to the confectionary and fizzy drinks industries.

Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian who sits on the board of the government's food regulator, was paid by chocolate maker Ferrero and chaired a panel event for the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA).

She also cast doubt on a sugar tax weeks after FSS called on the Government to consider the move in a bid to help the nation’s health.

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David Miller, a Professor of Sociology at Bath University and co-founder of the public interest campaigning organisation Spinwatch, said: “FSS should tighten up its procedures and dispense with the services of those with conflicts of interest.”

FSS came into being in 2015 to provide the Government with independent advice on food safety, standards and nutrition.

One of the board members unveiled that year was Dr Ruxton, a former Scottish Tory candidate who heads the Nutrition Communications consultancy. She is not a medical doctor - her PhD is in child nutrition.

However, her FSS declarations of interest reveal links to organisations that may lead to questions about potential conflicts of interest.

In the remuneration section, she flagged up “desk research, advice and stakeholder engagement” for Italian company Ferrero. Described as the third biggest chocolate and confectionary firm in the world, Ferrero is responsible for products such as Nutella, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder and a range of Thorntons products.

The home site for toffee specialist Thorntons – a company Ferrero bought in 2015 – advertises the firm’s £30 “Easter egg bundle”, chocolate gift sets and other deals.

In July 2015 Ruxton’s outside work led to a discussion at the FSS board meeting about whether she had a conflict of interest in discussing a Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report. At the meeting, Ruxton referred to a previous declaration of interest and noted that she had provided nutrition advice to several companies that use “sugar and/or fibre” as an ingredient.

The minute stated: “The Chair decided that while there could be a perception of conflict of interest, his view was that there was no direct conflict of interest. He was content that Carrie take part in the discussion.”

In her previous declaration, she said she had not received any income from the sugar industry in “this financial year”, adding that her last project was ghost-writing a booklet for CEFS, a European sugar trade body.

She also declared carrying out “stakeholder engagement” for the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers and “ghost writing” for Cereal Partners Worldwide.

In addition, she chaired a stakeholder panel for the BSDA/Food and Drink Federation to discuss sugar, advertising and reformulation. The current BSDA “membership directory” includes companies such as Coca-Cola, British Sugar PLC and AG Barr, which makes Irn-Bru.

In January 2016, the FSS received coverage in the media after recommending that Ministers “actively consider how a sugar tax may be introduced and at what rate".

Weeks later, Ruxton posted a sceptical comment on Twitter about polling and a sugar tax: “Fewer than one in ten dietitians say a sugar tax is important for tackling child obesity.”

However, the Tory Government later backed a sugar levy on fizzy drinks, which Ruxton told this newspaper she supports.

Between 1996 and 2000, she was also the research manager at The Sugar Bureau, which used to be the trade body for the industry.

Ruxton said: “Over 13 years of freelance activity, I've worked with nearly 100 different companies and trade bodies covering all aspects of the food chain from ingredients to finished products. I have also written several obesity strategies and audits for the public sector in Scotland. I believe this range of work adds expertise and knowledge to my role on the FSS Board.

“All of my current work is disclosed on the Register of Interests which goes further than required by listing the projects I have carried out as well as the funders. None of this work involves promoting sugar and, indeed, much of it involves helping companies to reformulate, control portion sizing and make legal claims.”

An FSS spokesperson said: “At the Board’s meeting on 16 January 2016, the Chair invited Board members to declare any conflicts of interest. Carrie Ruxton did not have any particular interests to declare, but wished to draw attention to the organisations declared in her register of interests.

“A range of proposals were discussed, including recommendations to Ministers that Scottish Government and Food Standards Scotland officials should actively consider how a sugar tax may be introduced, and at what rate. These issues were collectively agreed by the Board at that meeting.”