by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coca-Cola

Mar 26 2019

Pediatric Academy and Heart Association endorse soda taxes!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have issued a joint statement endorsing soda taxes along with other policies aimed at reducing risks for childhood obesity (the full statement is published in Pediatrics).

The AAP and AHA recommend:

  • Local, state and national policymakers should consider raising the price of sugary drinks, such as via an excise tax, along with an accompanying educational campaign. Tax revenues should go in part toward reducing health and socioeconomic disparities.
  • Federal and state governments should support efforts to decrease sugary drink marketing to children and teens.
  • Healthy drinks such as water and milk should be the default beverages on children’s menus and in vending machines, and federal nutrition assistance programs should ensure access to healthy food and beverages and discourage consumption of sugary drinks.
  • Children, adolescents, and their families should have ready access to credible nutrition information, including on nutrition labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements.
  • Hospitals should serve as a model and establish policies to limit or discourage purchase of sugary drinks.

Comment:  This action of the AAP is truly remarkable.  In 2015, this Academy was heavily criticized for taking funding from Coca-Cola and, surely not coincidentally, saying little about the need for children to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.  Once exposed, the AAP said it could no longer accept that funding. I did, however, hear an alternative story.  Coca-Cola officials told me that as a result of their transparency initiative, the company would no longer fund the Pediatric, Dietetic, and Family Practice Academies.  It is also hardly a coincidence that now that the AAP no longer takes money from Coke, it is free to promote soda taxes as a useful public health strategy.

Jan 15 2019

Coca-Cola’s political influence in China: documented evidence

The BMJ (the new name for what was formerly the British Medical Journal) has just published a report by Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist and China specialist at Harvard, of how Coca-Cola, working through the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), got the Chinese government to focus its anti-obesity efforts on promoting physical activity rather than dietary changes.

Professor Greenhalgh documented industry influence on Chinese health policy through review of published work as well as interviews with key players in this drama.

A more thorough report of her investigation with details of her interviews was released at the same time by the Journal of Public Health Policy: “Soda industry influence on obesity science and policy in China.”  This report comes with extensive supplemental information about her methods and interview details (these explain why training in anthropology is useful for this kind of work and provides information not otherwise available).

For readers familiar with Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), this is a familiar story.

I tell the GEBN story in a chapter in my recently released book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

One surprise in writing that book was how often ILSI turns up in its pages.  ILSI positions itself as an independent “nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” but it was founded by Coca-Cola and is largely supported by food and beverage companies.  It works in many countries to promote food-industry interests.

Greenhalgh’s articles thoroughly expose how this organization accomplishes its objectives.  If you would like to know more about it, UCSF Food Industry Documents Library can help, as I learned about from this tweet.

Greenhalgh’s investigation has received extensive press coverage.

I was particularly interested in the account by Crossfit’s Derek Fields and Russ Greene, which provides further documentation of the close connections between Chinese health agencies, ILSI, and programs funded by Coca-Cola.

Sep 11 2018

Why food companies should not have a role in formulating obesity policy

I was interested to read FoodNavigator-Asia’s account of food industry comments on what to do about obesity is Australia.

By all reports, two-thirds of Australian adults meet definitions of overweight or obesity, along with a quarter of all children.  A Senate committee is collecting ideas about what to do about this, including those from the food industry.

Food-Navigator-Asia has taken a look at some of the submitted comments, particularly in light of comments from medical groups encouraging social, environmental, regulatory and medical interventions, and arguing that food companies should be kept out of formulating policies due to their inherent conflicts of interest.

The article quotes three companies.

Coca-Cola Amatil says taxes would be counterproductive because it is already reducing the sugar in its products.

Fonterra (a dairy company) says obesity is not the problem; instead, underconsumption of dairy products is the problem.

Nestlé [no relation] blames consumers; it is trying to reduce salt and sugar in its products but the public isn’t buying them.  It also blames government, which it says should do a better job of educating the public about diet and health.

Obesity poses a formidable problem for food companies making junk foods.  They have stockholders to please.  They cannot be expected to voluntarily act in the interest of public health if doing so affects profits.

That is why food companies should have no role whatsoever in developing policies to prevent or treat obesity.

Jul 2 2018

Big Soda strong-arms California: no more soda taxes for 12 years. Shame!

In 2017, Jennifer Pomeranz and Mark Pertschuck published an article in the American Journal of Public Health titled State Preemption: A Significant and Quiet Threat to Public Health in the United States.

How right they were.

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law banning new soda tax initiatives in the state until 2030, thereby preempting local initiatives planned and in progress.

How did this happen?

Raw, overt power politics (my emphasis throughout).  The Sacramento Bee shows how it’s done.

The Hill explains that this bill was a compromise.

The measure was a last-minute compromise to stop an initiative circulated by the beverage industry that would make it more difficult to raise state and local taxes in California.  “Mayors from countless cities have called to voice their alarm and to strongly support the compromise which this bill represents,” Brown wrote in a signing message.

Big Soda’s tactic: use California’s ballot initiative process to put forth a measure requiring a two-thirds majority to pass any new tax legislation.  Brown and those mayors must have assumed it would pass (anything to prevent new taxes).  Brown said he would agree to a 12-year moratorium on new soda taxes if the soda industry would withdraw the measure.  It did, and he signed.

In explaining the so-called “compromise” (in quotes because this was blackmail), US News quotes state senator Scott Wiener (Dem-San Francisco):

This industry is aiming a nuclear weapon at government in California and saying, ‘If you don’t do what we want we are going to pull the trigger and you are not going to be able to fund basic government services.”

In other words, the beverage industry held the state hostage. Like the Sacramento Bee, I’d call this a shakedown.

The Sacramento Bee also called it extortion—a power play by the American Beverage Association that:

appears to be working as intended. As the deadline for signing the state budget approaches this week, a developing trailer bill attached to it would give Big Soda a 12-year ban on local soda taxes in exchange for dropping a ballot initiative that would threaten the finances of cities throughout California. Who says extortion doesn’t pay?

The New York Times explains the “stunning” preemption:

Now the beverage industry has a new approach. Instead of fighting the ordinances city by city, it is turning to states, trying to pass laws preventing any local governments from taxing their products.

The reactions have been fierce.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association says, “We’ve seen some cynical moves to protect profits, but this soda tax ban is a new low.”   The American Heart Association issued a statement:

The bill—a last-minute, backroom deal negotiated and written in secret by beverage industry lobbyists and their allies—is a significant step backwards in the ongoing effort to reduce overconsumption of sugary drinks.

“This is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in more than 30 years spent fighting for better health for kids and families,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “We could not be more disappointed to see this bill, taken straight from the tobacco industry playbook, pass.”

The LA Times said “Shame on California lawmakers for caving in to the soda industry.”

Salon explains:

There’s a lot at stake for America’s biggest soda companies. Carbonated soft drinks – such as Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and Fresca – make up two-thirds of Coca-Cola’s production, and U.S. soda sales earned the company more than $10 billion in 2015. And PepsiCo’s soda sales – including Pepsi, 7Up, and Mountain Dew – still account for one-quarter of the company’s $38 billion in North American sales, despite a shift toward healthier products. But soda consumption fell to its lowest point in 31 years in the U.S. in 2016, according to Fortune, and Coca-Cola concedes that sweetened beverage taxes “are hurting Coke’s business.”

I’ll end with this quote from the New York Times:

Bill Monning, the Senate majority leader, was one of a handful of Democrats who voted against the bill. He called its passage “unprecedented” and said it would stop cities and counties “from being able to take steps to protect the health of their residents”…“It’s a sad day for democracy in California,” he said. “But ever the optimist I think that the outrage of Big Soda blackmailing the state legislature and the people of California is going to boomerang.”

Let’s make sure that happens.

And while we are at it, don’t let this happen in your state.  If the soda industry threatens to mess with state elections, tell your representatives and governor to resist.  California public health advocates: keep the pressure on.  Advocate for bans on sodas everywhere you can: schools, hospitals, workplaces, government offices.  Expose what the industry is doing to protect its profits at the expense of public health.  Don’t give up.  Courage!

For the record, here’s where to find out more about this shameful episode.

Jun 12 2018

Biggest global food companies, according to Forbes

Forbes has published a ranking of the top 2000 global companies (all kinds, not just food) by a composite score of revenue, profit, assets, and market value.

Forbes summarizes some of the information for food processing companies.  By its measure, Anheuser Busch, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are the top three.

Coca-Cola, however, ranks #209, a big drop from last year’s #86.  It did not have a good year last year.

You can sort the list by name or category.  I did that for four categories: Beverage, Food processing, Food retail, and Restaurants.

Walmart does not show up as a food retailer; Forbes considers it a Discount Store, even though food accounts for nearly half of Walmart’s revenues, nearly $200 billion a year.

Here are the food, beverage, retail, and restaurants that show up as among the top 250 companies, worldwide.  I only included sales and profits in this  table; you would have to add in assets and market value to understand the ranking system.

Food, beverage, retail, and restaurant companies among the biggest 250 companies worldwide.

RANK  COMPANY SALES

$ Billions

PROFITS

$ Billions

24 Walmart, US 500.3*  9.9
41 Anheuser-Busch, Belgium  56.4  7.9
48 Nestlé, Switzerland  91.2  7.3
102 PepsiCo, US  64.0  4.9
103 Unilever, Netherlands  60.6  6.8
126 Kraft-Heinz, US  26.2  11.1
209 Coca-Cola, US  33.7  1.4
211 Mondelēz International, US  26.2  3.2
239 Danone, France  27.8  2.8
241 McDonald’s, US  22.3  5.4

*About 40% of sales are from food.

This is why Walmart is the elephant in the food-business room.

Mar 14 2018

Soda Politics: Japan style

I am in Japan this week and am fascinated to see that Coca-Cola produces special products with seasonal themes, just in time for cherry blossoms (which, alas, are not quite out yet):

And it offers fruity varieties:

For the first time, Coca-Cola is adding alcohol to canned Coke (the rum, as in “Rum and Coca-Cola” was not premixed).  It is launching the new alcohol-laced soft drink for the Japanese market.

Japanese supermarkets are already crowded with alcohol-infused soft drinks and teas.  I got this at the OK Supermarket in Yokohama:

Here’s a close up of one variety:

Most soft drinks in Japan, with or without alcohol, are local brands.

Will alcohol help Coke increase market share?  Can’t wait to find out.

Jan 29 2018

Soft drinks: anything that sells

The soft drink industry is in big trouble.  Sugary drinks aren’t great for health, and sales are down.  But this industry keeps trying.

I’m starting to collect interesting innovations.  Would you believe?

Yum?

Sep 19 2017

The NY Times’ blockbuster investigation: Big Food in Brazil

The article, which starts on the front page and continues to another two full pages and more, is headlined How Big Business got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.

It’s mostly about how Nestlé (no relation) recruits women in low-income countries to sell the company’s products from small mobile carts.

Here are a few quotes:

  • Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.
  • Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.  “We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.
  • Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, described to investors in 2014.  “Half of the world’s population has not had a coke in the last 30 days.  There’s 600 million teenagers who have not had a coke in the last week. So the opportunity for that is huge.”
  • “What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.  “It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.”
  • [From Felipe Barbosa, a  Nestlé supervisor:] “The essence of our program is to reach the poor,” Mr. Barbosa said. “What makes it work is the personal connection between the vendor and the customer.”
  • But of the 800 products that Nestlé says are available through its vendors, Mrs. da Silva says her customers are mostly interested in only about two dozen of them, virtually all sugar-sweetened items like Kit-Kats; Nestlé Greek Red Berry, a 3.5-ounce cup of yogurt with 17 grams of sugar; and Chandelle Pacoca, a peanut-flavored pudding in a container the same size as the yogurt that has 20 grams of sugar — nearly the entire World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit.

The article is worth the read.  Or see the 3-minute video for a quick summary.  It also comes with a nifty interactive map of world obesity.

Politico Pro Agriculture asked Nestlé for a comment (this may be behind a paywall):

A Nestlé spokesperson defended the company while acknowledging the deeper childhood obesity problems currently plaguing Brazil. “We are disappointed by the New York Times’ biased approach in this article, which we believe does not accurately reflect the breadth and reality of our product portfolio in the context of the public health issues impacting the people of Brazil,” the spokesperson said. “However, we do agree that the real and serious issues raised in the article should be discussed in a balanced and constructive way that focuses on practical solutions.”

Resources

Here’s the article en Español.

And here it is em Português.

Take a look at Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report on Carbonating the World, which covers much of the same territory for Coca-Cola.  In the meantime, subsequent articles in this series are promised for soft drinks and fast food.