It wasn't quite as bad as putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Still, the law takes a dim view when the head of the US Food and Drug Administration fails to own up to profiting from soft drinks and food while determining policy on obesity. Lester Crawford this week paid the price for this notable lapse.

Crawford, who headed the FDA from 2002 to 2005, was due to learn his punishment on Tuesday after pleading guilty last year to conflict-of-interest charges. The most alarming was his failure to declare ownership of shares in the soft-drink and food companies Sysco and Pepsico while chairing an FDA working group on obesity in 2004.

"It does not take a lawyer to determine that the country's obesity tsar should not own stock in corporations that produce fast food, junk food and soft drinks," says the attorneys' sentencing advice to the court.

As New Scientist went to press, it looked likely that Crawford would escape jail because he had declared and sold shares in drug companies before taking up his post. His recommended sentence was probation, community service and a fine of $50,000.