You’re going to love this little exposé as much as I did when I first read it…
Five different health research funding contracts, which Coca-Cola issued to four different universities, would have given the company carte blanche to bury results as they saw fit—although according to reports, “this never actually happened.”
Whether you buy that or not, it isn’t a good look for Coca-Cola. And it’s about time somebody blew the whistle.
In this case, a consumer nonprofit called U.S. Right to Know—whose main donor is the Organic Consumers Association—got a hold of these contracts under a freedom of information request. And as far as I’m concerned, the group deserves a hearty round of applause!
A PR tactic as old as time
This whole investigation arose because the study authors were curious whether Coca-Cola was earnest in suggesting their intention to be transparent with their company-funded health research. But I suppose we all know the answer to that question…
U.S. Right to Know found emails spanning from 2010 to 2016 that discussed shady contracts with Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina, University of Toronto, and University of Washington. Mostly for studies dealing with energy balance and beverage intake during exercise.
In fact, the only reason Coca-Cola likely bothered to attempt to persuade the public of their honesty in the first place was because the New York Times exposed their strategy a few years back.
In 2015, the company poured money into the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN)—a group that, you might recall, tried to suggest that lack of exercise was the main driver behind the obesity epidemic.
Of course, lack of exercise is a huge problem, don’t get me wrong. (In fact, I devoted a lengthy article to the lethal risks of a sedentary life in the February 2014 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives [“The silent epidemic stealing your youth”]. Subscribers have access to this and all of my archives. So if you haven’t already, consider signing up today!)
But we all know that sugar takes top honors in the fight against obesity—and sugary drinks, in particular. So it should come as no surprise that GEBN was not long for this world.
Still, I must point out that this is the same tactic the tobacco industry used to deflect attention from their own bad behavior (and that our current administration uses, too, but that’s a rant for a different day): When you’re backed into a corner, just blame whatever’s going wrong on something or someone else.
So it’s not just Coca-Cola. Big Soda, Big Pharma, Big Food…
All these corporate giants do the same thing. They spearhead initiatives that are nothing more than empty window dressing.
Real science… or corporate propaganda?
Notably, every contract allowed Coca-Cola to terminate research, suppress documents, and refrain from registering trials. Essentially giving them permission do whatever they want with their research.
So the end result is more PR than science. And when the industry is allowed to pull strings this way, it makes it more difficult to discern what research out there is true, and what’s just propaganda to further corporate interests.
The conflict here is glaring. According to a lawyer asked to comment:
“The study reveals that, Coca-Cola’s broad funding principles aimed at safeguarding the independence of researchers notwithstanding, the company keeps through its contracts a significant level of control over the research through a combination of prior review and termination provisions, and sometimes even the right to ask for the return of all research materials and all work done.”
“A person who accepts significant funding from an industry source knows what research findings will interest the sponsor and what will likely create future research funding opportunities.”
As a researcher, how can this not influence your decisions—consciously or unconsciously? Yet many of the scientists mentioned in the study reported not feeling any pressure at all from the people bankrolling their research. And we’re supposed to believe that…
It’s this kind of nonsense that allows Coca-Cola to continue to dodge responsibility for their role in the global obesity crisis. When they could simply offer a “mea culpa” and commit to working to fix the disaster they created.
But that’s simply not corporate America’s way, now is it? And it’s certainly not Coca-Cola’s way… lest they admit that maybe they’re not actually “the real thing” after all.
“Coca-Cola Contracts Allow Research to Be Suppressed, Says Report.” Medscape Medical News, 05/08/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/912768)