Researchers claim Coca-Cola can silence health studies it doesn’t like

8 May 2019

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A study claims Coca-Cola is signing contracts with health study research groups that allow it to bury any findings that hurt its business.

The soft drinks giant Coca-Cola has been accused of making it possible to quash any negative studies surrounding its range of products, thanks to the clauses it places in contracts. That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy including more than 87,000 documents obtained by freedom-of-information requests.

The study included researchers from the University of Cambridge, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Bocconi and US Right to Know, a group advocating for transparency in US food production.

The documents included contracts signed between Coca-Cola and research groups it had hired to conduct studies into its products to determine any negative health impacts. Through these files, several clauses were found that meant these research groups had to present their findings to Coca-Cola first before anyone else.

They included the ability for Coca-Cola to terminate any studies without reason and to hold legal right to any of the discoveries.

The study’s authors said that when combined, this gave the company power to suppress “critical health information” and it may have already done so. They now argue that such clauses contradict Coca-Cola’s commitment to transparency and ‘unrestricted’ support for science.

“We are already hearing accusations from experts in nutrition that the food industry is copying tactics from Big Tobacco’s playbook,” said lead author of the study, Dr Sarah Steele. “Corporate social responsibility has to be more than just shiny websites stating progressive policies that get ignored.”

Coca-Cola responds

It is worth noting that the documents obtained by the freedom-of-information requests showed no firm examples of suppression of results by Coca-Cola, but the authors stressed that “what is important is that the provision exists”.

Steele said: “Journals should require authors of funded research to upload the research agreements for studies as appendices to any peer-reviewed publication.

“The lack of robust information on input by industry and on studies terminated before results are published makes it impossible to know how much of the research entering the public domain reflects industry positions.”

In a statement, Coca-Cola responded by saying: “We agree research transparency and integrity are important.

“That’s why, since 2016, the Coca-Cola Company has not independently funded research on issues related to health and wellbeing in keeping with research guiding principles that have been posted publicly on our website since that time.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic