by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coca-Cola

Jul 27 2017

The CDC Nominee’s Links to Coca-Cola

Last Sunday’s New York Times had a front-page story on Coca-Cola’s relationship to the current nominee for director of the CDC.  I’m quoted in it and soon got this request:

Good morning, Marion:

I saw this Times news coverage in which you’re quoted.

Given this news about reversing the CDC’s position on aligning with the private sector on sugar sweetened beverages, I’m wondering if you’d be game to elaborate on this and provide your perspective on it.

Sure.  Happy to.

The New York Times story on Coca-Cola’s connections to Brenda Fitzgerald, President Trump’s nominee to head the CDC, goes right into the book I’m writing.  The book is about food, beverage, and supplement industry funding of nutrition research and practice and with luck will be published by Basic Books late in 2018.

Fitzgerald was health commissioner for the state of Georgia and at first glance looks well qualified to head the CDC.  But a health advocacy group, US Right to Know, has had a long-standing interest in Coca-Cola’s cozy relationships with CDC—both Coke and CDC are in Atlanta, after all—and at some point obtained emails through FOIA that explain just how cozy.

Here’s what especially got my attention in the Times article :

  • While she was health commissioner, Fitzgerald accepted a million-dollar grant from Coca-Cola for an obesity program focused exclusively on physical activity—for sure, not on the health benefits of drinking less Coke (focusing on physical activity has long been a deliberate strategy of this company).
  • People associated with the activity program said “Coke had no influence over the program.”  Of course that’s what they think.  Much research shows that recipients of industry funding do not recognize the influence.  Such influence is unintentional, unconscious, and invariably denied.
  • When the previous CDC director, Tom Frieden, canceled Coca-Cola’s funding of obesity programs (he said it was unjustifiable “to have Coca-Cola run an obesity campaign that had an exclusive focus on physical activity), he asked company officials if they would be willing to fund something in “neutral space” like transportation or water programs.  Not a chance.

Food, beverage, and supplement companies are happy to fund research with a high probability of supporting marketing objectives.   Industry-funded research almost invariably comes out with results favorable to the sponsor’s commercial interests.

It’s unreasonable to expect otherwise.  Food companies are not public health agencies; they are businesses expected to generate profits and returns to shareholders—that is their #1 priority.

The moral for public health: don’t take the money.

 

 

 

Feb 13 2017

Mexican soda tax advocates victims of government-linked spyware hacking

Who knew that such things existed, let alone that they would be directed at anti-obesity and pro-soda tax advocates.

The New York Times reports that frightening messages about their families (the article gives examples) were sent to the advocates with links

laced with an invasive form of spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli cyberarms dealer that sells its digital spy tools exclusively to governments and that has contracts with multiple agencies inside Mexico, according to company emails leaked to the New York Timeslast year.

Supposedly, this Group sells “tools only to governments for criminal and terrorism investigations.”  These can “trace a target’s every phone call, text message, email, keystroke, location, sound and sight.”

As the Times gently puts it, this discovery “raises new questions about whether NSO’s tools are being used to advance the soda industry’s commercial interests in Mexico.”

Citizen Lab has more information about this situation.

The spyware targeted these individuals:

  • Dr. Simon Barquera is a well-respected researcher at the Mexican Government’s Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (National Institute of Public Health).
  • Alejandro Calvillo is the Director of El Poder del Consumidor, a consumer rights and health advocacy organization.
  • Luis Encarnación is the Director of the Coalición ContraPESO, a coalition of more than 40 organizations that work on obesity prevention and reduction strategies.  All three individuals work to support Mexico’s soda tax.

I am leaving on Wednesday for three weeks on a Fulbright to the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca and hope to find out a lot more about this.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a tweet from someone I don’t know (I like the soda cans).

Late addition:  Gary Ruskin sends his paper on corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations.  

 

Jan 5 2017

Coca-Cola and ABA sued over misleading science

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sent out a press release yesterday to announce a lawsuit filed on behalf of the nonprofit Praxis Project.

The complaint says Coca-Cola and its trade association, the American Beverage Association (ABA), mislead the public when they trash the science linking sugary drinks to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the like.

It cites the August 2015 account in the New York Times of Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network, which aimed to shift attention from poor diets as a cause of obesity to lack of physical exercise.  Coca-Cola spent $120 million on research from 2010 to 2015 that could cast doubt on evidence linking health risks to sugary drinks.

It also cites quotations from officials of Coca-Cola and the ABA and researchers they fund “making false and deceptive statements about sugar-sweetened drinks.”  For example:

  • Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, Katie Bayne, claims that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.
  • “Simply put, it is wrong to say beverages cause disease,” the ABA stated in another release.
  • One of the scientists funded by Coca-Cola, Dr. Steven Blair, stated that “there is really virtually no compelling evidence” that sugar drinks are linked to the obesity epidemic.

The complaint also charges that Coca-Cola paid dietitians to promote sugary drinks; it quotes one dietitian who suggested that an eight-ounce soda could be a healthy snack, like “packs of almonds.”

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit fares.  Stay tuned.

Oct 26 2016

Follow up on my WikiLeak: the Australia connection

Marcus Strom of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia did a follow up to my post, “I’ve been WikiLeaked!”

Recall that a Coca-Cola representative took notes at a talk I gave in Australia and passed them up the chain of command where they got hacked as collateral damage from the ones obtained from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.

The notes advised ongoing monitoring of my activities in Australia but also of research conducted by Dr. Lisa Bero, in whose group I was working for a couple of months early this year.

The article begins: 

Coca-Cola has been exposed having a secret plan to monitor research at Sydney University that examines how private companies influence public health outcomes in areas such as obesity.

In a leaked internal email, a paid consultant to Coca-Cola South Pacific writes that a “key action” for the global soft-drinks manufacturer is to “monitor research project outcomes through CPC [Charles Perkins Centre] linked to Lisa Bero’s projects”.

Future monitoring should include planned research on “treatment and prevention of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease”, the email says.
Professor Bero, who works at the university’s Charles Perkins Centre, studies the integrity of industry-sponsored research and how it is used to influence public policy. While in the US, she worked to expose the influence of tobacco companies on health debates. Those methods are now being used to examine how companies like Coke seek to influence public health outcomes.

The reaction: See letters printed in response (you have to scroll way down to find them)

Roberto Mercadé, President of Coca-Cola South Pacific, wrote to object that Coke is not secretly monitoring academics; its monitoring is entirely public:

Readers of the article “Revealed: Coke’s plan to monitor academic” (Herald, October 22-23) may have been left with the impression that Coca-Cola South Pacific somehow engages in the “secret” monitoring of academics at the University of Sydney. Put simply, we don’t. We make no secret of the fact that we keep abreast of research in the health and wellbeing sector, as you would expect of any food or beverage company. The important work being done by the university on the integrity of industry-sponsored research is among the many fields important to us. Finally, in the article the word “monitor” was also used out of context and distorted to mean something other than what it is – our ongoing engagement with academics and experts in health and wellbeing.

Steve Harrison, Balmain

It’s no great surprise that Coca Cola is panicked by research into the cause of diabetes. The consumption of sugar and processed foods looks more and more like a major reason for diabetes, many cancers and other serious diseases. In turn, the company, the food industry and drug companies will all be in big financial trouble when the penny drops that a diet of fresh food is the basis for good health.

If a fraction of the money spent on seeking cures was used to educate people to cut processed food and sugar from their diet we would be a much healthier society. We went through a very similar process with Big Tobacco some years ago, although that was on a smaller scale.

In the words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Ivan Head, Camperdown

The score? Coke, Zero: Professor Bero, one.

Oct 19 2016

Coca-Cola Europe’s policy agenda, courtesy of WikiLeaks

Ninjas for Health posts this graphic from someplace in the emails leaked to DCLeaks (it’s good they are going through them so we don’t have to).  

The Ninjas point out that Coke divides the policies into three categories based on likelihood of happening and impact on sales:

  • Fight back
  • Monitor
  • Prepare

The policy with the biggest impact greatest likelihood of materializing?  Increased soda taxes.

No wonder soda companies are fighting back against them.

Nancy Huehnergarth pointed out in an email that a ban on advertising to children under the age of 12 shows up in the “Prepare” category, even though soda companies insist that they do not advertise to young children.

It’s interesting to see what Coca-Cola thinks has a high likelihood of happening: Protectionism against sugar imports, mandatory environmental labels, emission reduction targets, and the mysterious “provisions for lobbying.”

The company has a lot to worry about, apparently.

Oct 13 2016

I’ve been Wikileaked!

I’ve been following the story of Hillary Clinton’s Wikileaked e-mails (which John Podesta says the Russians released to sway the election)  but never dreamed that I would turn up in them.

But Crossfit’s Russ Greene sent me his blog post yesterday and there I am [the photo comes from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald].

Coke’s Surveillance of Marion Nestle

Strangely, the DC Leaks database does not include any Coca-Cola emails from August 2015, the month that the New York Times first exposed the Global Energy Balance Network. Nonetheless, it does reveal that Coke sent a representative to attend and take notes on Dr. Marion Nestle’s speech at Sydney University in January.

Dr. Nestle, an NYU professor who most recently published “Soda Politics,” spoke on conflicts of interest in health science and government food policy. She mentioned the GEBN as a case study in soda-influenced science.

Nestle moderately concerned Coke. They mentioned the need to “Monitor social media,” but stated that Nestle achieved “very limited pick up from yesterday’s presentation – #sodapolitics.”

Of course the pick up was limited.  This was a private, invitation-only meeting with Sydney nutritionists deliberately kept small so as not to compete with my subsequent public lectures (see below for the media list).

Who was the Coca-Cola note taker?   I have no idea but the notes seem fine.

Coke’s Surveillance of CSPI

I also turn up in the e-mails related to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  Evidently, Coca-Cola was tracking the social media response to a CSPI report on its marketing to children.

The most shared tweet was this one – https://twitter.com/CSPI/status/732239510138949633, which was mainly because Marion Nestle re-tweeted it.

By now I assume that someone from Coca-Cola is taking notes at every talk I give and reporting in to headquarters.

What does all this have to do with Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

As Russ Greene explains, the emails reveal that Capricia Marshall, who is working on the Clinton campaign, is also working for Coca-Cola’s communications team.

The evidence that Marshall is working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is extensive and undeniable. HillaryClinton.com features her prominently at Clinton campaign events.

Just to make things easy for Coca-Cola, here’s my Australia media list

March 10 ABC 7:30, TV interview with Sarah Whyte on Coca-Cola’s funding of research: Sweet Talk

March 2 ABC-FM interview with Margaret Throsby, Classic FM, on Soda Politics

March 1 Lecture to Sydney Ideas: Soda Politics: Lessons from the Food Movement, U. Sydney

March 1 ABC News radio and print interview with David Taylor, on Soda Politics

Feb 29  Interview (online) with ABC Sydney on Soda Politics

Feb 27  “At Lunch With” column in the Sydney Morning Herald: “the powerful foodie”

Feb 24  Podcast of lecture on Soda Politics at the University of Melbourne

Feb 22 Lecture at symposium at Deakin University, Melbourne (this is an mp4 file requiring a lengthy download)

Feb 19 Radio interview with Mark Colvin, ABC News (Sydney) on Soda Politics

Feb 19 Podcast interview with Colvinius, ABC News (Sydney) on Soda Politics

Jun 22 2016

The food scene in Israel—some early observations

Wandering around in the Rehavia neighborhood in Jerusalem, I saw a local park with a just-starting composting program.

Down the street from the official residence of the Prime Minister (that would be Benjamin Netanyahu), is the headquarters of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society.

I’m surprised at how little food advertising I’m seeing.  This restaurant overlooking the crater at Mitzpe Ramon is an example that seems typical.  Nestlé (no relation) ice cream bars are everywhere.

Coca-Cola is everywhere too, but this venerable truck is the only one I’ve seen.  This one was in Tel Aviv.

é

 

 

May 9 2016

Coca-Cola items: Warren Buffett’s gaffe. Share a Coke and a Song.

Warren Buffett, the billionnaire who owns 9.3% of Coca-Cola stock, understandably defends its products.  When challenged by shareholders in his company, Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett said:

He also said he drank 700 calories worth of Coca-Cola each day (translation: 44 teaspoons of sugars).  As Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest put it, this much sugar is not in the interest of anyone’s health.

Maybe the Wizard of Omaha can maintain good health while consuming more than three times the added sugars recommended by the nation’s leading health officials, but it’s a sure-fire prescription for increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay for the rest of his fellow citizens…the American Heart Association whose scientific panels have reviewed the evidence as well call for an even more conservative daily limit of added sugars: six teaspoons for women and nine for men.

Business analysts were just as dismayed.   said in the Financial Times that Buffett made five mistakes in laughing off the CocaCola question (my paraphrases):

  • Shareholders asked a serious question that deserved a serious answer.
  • Not everyone knows how many calories are in sodas.
  • Poor people are at greater risk from the hazards of sugary drinks.
  • Politicians know that sugary drinks are a problem.
  • Coca-Cola knows sugary drinks are a problem.

In the meantime, the Berkeley Media Studies Group has produced its take on Coke’s new “Share a Coke and a Song” campaign:

When health advocates and the business community think Coca-Cola is in trouble, it is.

Can this campaign survive satire?

This company’s responses are always interesting to follow.  Buffett is a big investor.  But it is increasingly having to respond to health concerns.

I will be watching for the next chapter in this saga.

Page 1 of 1112345...Last »