It’s now widely reported and known that the soda industry funds biased science in order to manufacture uncertainty and controversy about the negative health harms of soda. Following the tobacco industry’s playbook, studies funded by the soda industry routinely have conclusions against scientific consensus that specifically seek to exculpate their products.
The recent #CokeLeak of internal executive emails at Coca-Cola reveals how the soda industry also funds science to refute the evidence that soda taxes are an effective public health policy.
One internal Coke email cites “strong headwinds” as inspiring the need to align their company’s research and advocacy. Coca-Cola consistently phrases their research efforts in the context of advocacy against regulatory policy.
“A key priority… is an aligned strategy on caloric and non-caloric sweetener research and advocacy to address the strong headwinds.”
The stated purpose of Coke’s “health-related science strategies” is to grow, protect, and sustain Coca-Cola’s soda sales. Not exactly the correct order of the scientific method.
“Developing and implementing nutrition and health-related science strategies for caloric and non-caloric sweeteners to grow, protect, and sustain The Coca-Cola Company’s (TCCC) business.”
No wonder soda-funded studies are less likely to link sugar with disease. Those findings may just be bad for Coca-Cola’s business.
Actually, an internal competitive analysis document admits as much:
“During 2015 and continuing into 2016, this intense focus on sugar, and in particular, its role in diet and health has accelerated discriminatory attention to caloric beverages.”
“These developments have prompted governments to propose and enact some policies and regulations around taxation, labeling, warning statements, marketing restrictions, and others. Many of the proposed policies and regulations are discriminatory or punitive, targeting specific ingredients or categories.
Many negatively affect the The Coca-Cola Company’s portfolio, caloric sparkling beverages in particular and those containing low and no calorie sweeteners (LNCS). Although the impact of these measures to date may be considered limited, as the policies and regulations spread and intensify, the impact in the future may be considerable.”
— Sancroft’s “SRA Top Policy Issues” for Coca-Cola (April 2016)
Research Refuting Mexico’s Soda Tax
Emails show that in Mexico, the soda industry funded “well-respected institutions” to smear Mexico’s soda tax as ineffective.
“Multiple studies from well-respected institutions in Mexico (ITAM, ColMex, and UANL, supported by funding from industry) that make clear the tax was ineffective”
They leaked the ABA-funded research that consumption returned to pre-tax levels after the Mexico tax.
“He also received information from the ABA on a study they funded (but have not yet released) on the Mexico tax. The study shows that beverage consumption has returned to pre-tax levels.” — Kerry Tressler, Coca-Cola (4/27/16)
The study about business closures in Mexico was done by “a key member of the coalition”.
“This week, the head of the Mexican National Alliance of Retailers, Cuauhtémoc Rivera, presented the results of a survey entitled, “Popular consumption, how is it doing?” The survey highlights the effects of the excise tax on small retailers: 30,000 small stores have closed which eliminates about 60,000 direct jobs in Mexico. Rivera has been a key member of the coalition created when the tax proposal was originally presented.”
Pattern of Industry-Funded Soda Tax Research
This biased research methodology isn’t unique to Mexico. Emails from the #CokeLeak show it’s a consistent advocacy strategy whenever a new soda tax is introduced.
When Russia began discussing a soda tax this year, Coca-Cola facilitated an “economic impact study”. As the scientific method would dictate, first they decide on the message, and then they chose the “provider” to publish the research.
“The team initiated the process of updating its Economic Impact Study. The provider will be selected in April, and completed the update by summer. Tax workshop conducted for Company and bottler teams.”
In Bosnia, Coca-Cola commissioned another politically-motivated economic study. In keeping with the scientific method, the conclusions were known before the study began. And it was done with the express intent of influencing media and policymakers.
“We have commissioned the Economic Institute to complete a study which will prove inefficiency of such tax. It will be ready in 15 days which will give us another tool to communicate both to the media and in 1-on-1s.”
— Ana Kljaic, Coca-Cola (4/26/16)
They even arranged their meetings with policy-makers first, before a first draft of the study was even completed.
“We will have a meeting with HDZ President Dragan Čović or his Economic Advisor next week (exact time TBC). We will have first draft of the Study on May 5th (we need to agree on the launch date with stakeholders form industry and endorsers, as well as choose a good timing)”
— Ana Kljaic, Coca-Cola (4/29/16)
They admit this is a strategy they’ve used in multiple countries.
“We are working with the local Economic institute to develop a tax assessment study based on similar studies we did in other countries.”
— Ana Kljaic, Coca-Cola (4/14/16)
Don’t Fall For It
Like has been apparent with soda-funded research about sugar, the public must know that soda-funded research about the soda tax effectiveness is not science, it’s advocacy.
Voters can’t make informed choices when the very facts about public policy are infiltrated and skewed by the soda industry.
But I guess that’s the whole point.