In 2015, Anahad O’Connor at the New York Times exposed Coca-Cola’s Global Energy Balance Network, a propaganda effort that used Coke-funded scientists to deny the link between nutrition and obesity. In the wake of that public relations disaster, Coca-Cola promised to be more transparent about the money it sends scientists to “health and well-being scientific research or partnerships.” But Coca-Cola has not kept that promise.
Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” website alleges,
“in early 2016, we continue to disclose, at six month intervals, all relevant funding of well-being related research, partnerships and health professionals and scientific experts that meet the criteria identified in our transparency website.
Here you will find the latest updates to our financial report of our health and well-being related scientific research and partnerships, now updated through June 30, 2017.”
By comparing Coca-Cola’s records with the CDC Foundation and NIH Foundation’s annual reports, we can see that Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” website has omitted some of its most significant payments.
Coca-Cola is Hiding CDC Payments
Coca-Cola donated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Foundation in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the Foundation’s annual fiscal reports.
And yet a search for “Centers for Disease Control” in Coca-Cola’s website yields no results since 2012:
Former CDC Director Tom Frieden (2009-2017) also seems to have misled the public regarding the Coca-Cola-CDC relationship during his tenure.
Last year, current CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald came under intense scrutiny for her partnership with Coca-Cola during her term at Georgia’s Department of Health. In coverage of Fitzgerald’s Coke partnership, the New York Times reported some of Frieden’s views on the issue:
“‘Coke has a very strong presence in Atlanta and has been a good corporate citizen for many years,’ said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who resigned as director of the C.D.C. at the end of the Obama administration, after eight years. But soon after Dr. Frieden took on the job, he started winding down Coke-funded programs.
‘I don’t think it’s justifiable to have Coca-Cola run an obesity campaign that had an exclusive focus on physical activity,’ Dr. Frieden said. ‘I basically canceled it and didn’t renew it or have more grant agreements with them.’”
Frieden went on to claim that he tried to get Coca-Cola involved in non-exercise-related donations, but they did not show any interest “other than about $20,000 that he recalls was linked to fighting the Ebola virus.”
Frieden’s claims to the New York Times are not consistent with the fact that Coca-Cola donated to the CDC Foundation during every single year of his tenure except 2014. And Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” archive is hiding at least four separate payments to the CDC Foundation. So both parties are acting as if they’re ashamed of their partnership. And yet it persists.
Furthermore, every single Coca-Cola payment to the CDC Foundation directly contradicts the Foundation’s conflict of interest policy, which explicitly bans the following:
“Partnership with an organization that represents any product that exacerbates morbidity or mortality when used as directed (mission compatibility).”
Does anyone disagree that drinking Coca-Cola regularly increases the risk of death and disease?
Coca-Cola Covers up NIH Foundation Payments
The NIH Foundation at least has lost some of the CDC Foundation’s pretenses regarding conflicts of interest. Its own website proclaims:
“As a non-governmental entity, FNIH is not subject to a variety of policies and regulations that NIH as an agency of the U.S. government is bound by, thus allowing FNIH to have a unique role in PPPs (public private partnerships).”
The NIH Foundation is essentially a money launderer. It provides corporations that are banned by NIH’s conflict of interest policy from donating directly to NIH with a convenient loophole. For example, Coca-Cola can’t pay the NIH directly, but it can pay the NIH Foundation, which then transfers the money to the NIH. That’s supposed to be better.
This omission affects press coverage of Coca-Cola. The New York Times article we mentioned above cites the “Transparency” archive and thus only mentions the 2010-2014 Coca-Cola-NIH partnership; it does not mention that the partnership continued at least through 2015.
The CDC Foundation does not list how much money Coca-Cola pays them. The only way we could know how much Coca-Cola’s paid it would be if the company fulfilled its promise to be transparent. Alas, that clearly hasn’t happened.
And at this point, is there any reason to believe that we’ve been allowed to see the full extent of the Coca-Cola partnerships with CDC and NIH? Consider that we have corrected Coca-Cola’s archives multiple times in the past, and they updated their records shortly thereafter.
Coke’s Conceivable Excuses
Is there any excuse for Coke’s CDC and NIH omissions? Might the CDC and NIH Foundation grants, for example, not be related to the area of research that Coke’s archive is intended to cover? Well, Coke says it has “committed to posting all of our funding for well-being scientific research and partnerships.” That certainly seems like it should include NIH and CDC funding.
More specifically, Coke’s archive claims to include all,
“1. Funding provided by Coca-Cola North America (CCNA) or The Coca-Cola Company’s U.S. corporate headquarters to entities based in the U.S. or Canada for research relating to dietary intake, nutrition, and health or to physical activity; and
2. Funding provided by Coca-Cola North America (CCNA), The Coca-Cola Foundation or The Coca-Cola Company’s U.S. corporate headquarters to entities based in the U.S. for health and well-being programs and communications activities conducted in the U.S.”
Thus it is highly likely, if not certain, that Coke’s CDC and NIH grants meet its inclusion criteria for the archive. Is any area of research or activity that the NIH and CDC engage in not related to “health”? And the archive does include other non-CDC and NIH funding for diseases such as Ebola that don’t have a direct nutrition or physical activity tie-in. So even were the Coke money to have gone to, say, CDC and NIH malaria research, that should still show up in Coke’s archives, according to its own avowed inclusion criteria.
Now, the fine print in Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” archive does say that it hasn’t posted every single payment due to it lacking permission to do so. This excuse is not likely to apply to the NIH or CDC Foundation, however, since they already have to list Coca-Cola publicly on their annual reports. On the other hand, had either organization forbidden Coke to list the exact amounts and targets of its payments, that would raise significant questions about what it has to hide.
The CDC Foundation’s 2016 report lists Coca-Cola as an “Annual Alliance” member. In that program, donors receive “opportunities … to interface with CDC leaders and other business leaders with an interest in supporting public health programs and progress.”
It’s not hard to imagine why Coca-Cola would have an interest in “interfacing” with the CDC’s leadership, nor what message Coca-Cola would like to share with them. It’s all about that Exercise Is Medicine, right?
Fortunately, thanks to Rob Waters’ reporting for US Right to Know, we don’t have to imagine:
“In June 2014, one month before the paper was published, Coca-Cola and CDC officials met at the CDC campus in Atlanta. Emails between the two groups make it clear that among the issues discussed were the research findings of these papers (ones funded by Coca-Cola). A couple of days later, Coke executives sent CDC officials a copy of the ‘draft manuscript’ of the Systematic Reviews paper, cautioning them that they shouldn’t share it since it wasn’t yet published.
In the same email exchange, the two sides express their mutual appreciation.
‘Thank you…for taking the time to meet with us,’ wrote Beate Lloyd, Coca-Cola’s senior director of nutrition to Janet Collins, CDC’s director of nutrition, physical activity and obesity. ‘There are clearly areas where we can work collaboratively.’
Collins promptly wrote back. ‘We enjoyed it and learned a lot,’ she said. ‘We also look forward to thinking about other areas of mutual interest and continuing our discussions.’”
This Coke-CDC-NIH Partnership has coincided with unprecedented increases in the U.S. death rate and declines in life expectancy. Meanwhile, CDC messaging has hidden the extent and causes of chronic disease. For example, U.S. stroke deaths have trended upwards, but the CDC’s graph states instead that “the decline in stroke deaths has slowed.” Yes, the decline has slowed in the sense that it has become an incline.
Even worse, the CDC’s diabetes statistics make obviously false assumptions and reach figures significantly lower than what Gallup’s more rigorous and current statistics have reached.
Over 2 million Americans will die this year from chronic disease. How much of the CDC- NIH failure to do anything effective to stop the chronic disease epidemic is related to their partnership with the companies responsible for causing it?
And will Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” archive ever become more than a parody of its ill-suited name?