Conflicts of Interest and What They Could Mean for Your Soy Latte

How is it that we stay in shape? Ask pretty much any in-shape American and they’ll probably tell you something along the lines of ‘eat healthy, exercise, and do what your doctor tells you.’

If I told you that some of the most recognizable, popular American companies and brands had major conflicts of interest, you most likely wouldn’t be surprised. Corruption is prevalent in today’s highly capitalistic, globalized society. Money is the motive and ‘whatever works’ is the method. But what if I told you that your trusted family doctor, and those medical professionals conducting the R&D to produce those meds that your doc prescribes you, also had conflicts of interest?

For example, let’s take a look at the conflicts of interest which our lovable Coca-Cola is entangled in. Coca-Cola, like many other companies that capitalize on human consumption of sugar, is threatened by America’s recent emphasis on “getting fit,” which includes efforts to raise taxes on sugary drinks and inhibit companies from marketing said drinks at children. Coke’s response to this? Offer a new solution to the obesity crisis: “to maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories,” which, you know, conveniently doesn’t hurt their profit margin.1 In order to push this argument, the sugary temptation of a business has provided funds to the Global Energy Balance Network, a nonprofit organization that places the blame for obesity on lack of exercise rather than dietary intake.1

The group’s vice president, an exercise scientist named Steven N. Blair, says that much of media’s focus is on blaming sugary drinks and fatty foods for America’s health problems, and that there’s, “really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause,” later saying, “you shouldn’t believe everything you see on TV.”1 But when beverage studies funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association are five times more likely to conclude that sugary drinks have no role in weight gain than those studies with no financial conflict, can we even believe scientific research?1 The same such scientific research that has found that, “children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don’t” (funded by an association which represents the makers of your favorite candies, like Skittles and Hershey chocolate bars)2 or the Harvard research from the 1960s that found fat and cholesterol to be the main triggers of coronary heart disease (funded by the sugar industry)?3

These enormous conflicts of interest are not only threats to our health, but they make us question the validity of our media. What’s scarier is that the above-mentioned conflicts of interest, those between scientific research and food production, aren’t the only type we need to worry about. Just last week it was announced that Bayer, the financial powerhouse of a chemical company, would be taking over the U.S. “seed giant” Monsanto to, “become one of the world’s biggest agriculture conglomerates.”4

Bayer, known for its development of products like Aspirin and Alka-Seltzer, has actually been targeting the agriculture industry for some time now — producing pesticides as well as crop supplies. Monsanto, on the other hand, is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seeds — securing their grip on American farming. Another little detail? Monsanto produced the Agent Orange herbicide that the U.S. military weaponized for use in the Vietnam War.5 Monsanto is surrounded by so much controversy that they have even dedicated a section of their webpage to clarify the ‘myths’ that have been generated in regard to the company’s effects on human health and the environment.6

Not only does this $66 billion deal (the largest corporate merger of the year) call into question the relationship between a company whose products can potentially make people sick and one which produces the medicine for the sick, but it is also already attracting the attention of both American and German antitrust regulators; this merger could lead to higher prices for farmers, who will then transfer the additional cost onto consumers.4 Worse than this financial woe is the reality that the resulting mega-conglomerate would be selling 29% of the world’s seeds and 24% of its pesticides, with Monsanto alone producing more than 90% of soybeans sold within the United States already.7 With U.S. soybean production being dominated by a single company, who will produce a single variety of soybean, should a soybean disease ever arise, the soybean market would be decimated.

I say all of this for this reason alone: we should be aware of the conflicts of interest in our society, whether they be inter-business or business-media relations. When we are aware of these things, we are better able to make well-informed decisions and influence the goings-on around us, making us less reliant on sources of media that may not even be trustworthy. And when the price of our soy latte goes up in the next few years, we’ll understand why.