For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 18, 2019
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin, +1 415 944-7350
Internal Coca-Cola Company documents show how the company intended to use public relations campaigns to influence teens’ sense of the health risks of its products, including sugary soda, according to a study published today in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
One Coca-Cola document shows that its public relations campaign goals included to “Increase Coke brand health scores with teens” and to “Cement credibility in the health and well-being space.”
The study was produced by Australia’s Deakin University and U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer and public health group. It is based on two Coca-Cola Company public relations requests for proposals, for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games and for its Movement Is Happiness campaign. U.S. Right to Know obtained the documents through state public records requests.
“The documents show that Coca-Cola tried to use public relations to manipulate teens into thinking that sugary soda is healthy, when really it increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and other ills,” said Gary Ruskin, a co-author of the study, and co-director of U.S Right to Know. “Tobacco companies shouldn’t tell teens what is or is not healthy, and neither should Coca-Cola.”
“We are calling for governments and public health agencies to investigate how Coca-Cola uses public relations to manipulate children and teenagers in ways that may harm their health,” Ruskin said.
The study concludes that, “Coke’s intent and ability to use PR campaigns to market to children should cause serious public-health concern, given that the exposure of children to the marketing of unhealthy foods is likely to be an important contributor to increased childhood obesity rates.”
“Globally, Coke makes public pledges to reduce the exposure of children to marketing of unhealthy products. But what they say in public is at odds with their internal documents that show how they deliberately set out to target children as part of their promotion efforts”, said co-author of the study, Associate Professor Gary Sacks from Deakin University.
The study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health was co-authored by Benjamin Wood, a doctoral student at Deakin University; Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know, and Deakin University Associate Professor Gary Sacks.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public health, government watchdog and public interest groups today petitioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to cease making false disclaimers that it “does not accept commercial support” and has “no financial interests or other relationships with the manufacturers of commercial products.”
The CDC makes such disclaimers hundreds of times in its publications and on its website, despite that the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has accepted for it nearly $80 million from drug companies and other commercial manufacturers during fiscal years 2014-2018.
The petition states: “These claims may be comforting to consumers and health professionals, but both are indisputably false.” Groups endorsing the petition include Knowledge Ecology International, Liberty Coalition, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen and U.S. Right to Know.
“It’s time for the CDC to be truthful with health professionals and all Americans, and to stop denying that it takes corporate money,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “The CDC is violating the public trust by misleading us in this way.”
“That the CDC accepts millions from corporations directly impacted by the agency’s public health programs is indefensible,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “So the CDC instead has adopted the strategy of repeatedly denying that it accepts such payments.”
“The CDC needs the trust of the public, on the efficacy and safety of vaccines and drugs, and measures to prevent disease and injury,” said James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International. “A small amount of money from corporations diminishes the trust the public will have that the agency works for us, and provides independent, trusted information.”
In January, Ruskin co-authored a study in the Milbank Quarterly on emails between The Coca-Cola Company and the CDC, showing the company’s efforts to influence the CDC for its own benefit. One high-ranking CDC official even guided Coca-Cola on how to lobby the World Health Organization to back off its efforts to curtail added sugars. Coca-Cola has been a donor to the CDC Foundation.
In 2017, U.S. Right to Know obtained documents showing an alliance between Coca-Cola and then-CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald. These documents were the subject of articles in The New York Times and The Intercept.
The groups’ petition to the CDC is available here.
U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit consumer and public health group that investigates industry practices and influence on public policy. For more information, see usrtk.org.
Founded in 1971, Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. For more information, see citizen.org.
For Immediate Release: Sunday, June 2nd, 2019 at 8pm EDT
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin +1 415 944-7350 or Sarah Steele +44 7768653130
The nonprofit International Life Science Institute claims to conduct “science for the public good” that “improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” but really is a food industry lobby group, according to a study published today in the journal Globalization and Health.
The study provides examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. The study is based on documents obtained via state freedom of information requests by U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative research group focused on the food industry.
The study’s authors conclude that, “ILSI should be regarded as a lobby group and that academics and researchers, policy makers, the media, and the public should view ILSI’s research as promoting the interests of the food, beverage, supplement and agrichemical industries” and that its actions “counter healthy public policies.”
“ILSI is Big Food’s global stealth network to defeat scientists, regulators and others who point out the health risks of their products,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “Big Food wants you to believe that ILSI works for your health, but really it defends food industry profits.”
The Globalization and Health paper was co-authored by Sarah Steele, senior research associate at Jesus College and the University of Cambridge; Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know; Lejla Sarcevic, Intellectual Forum senior research associate at Jesus College, Cambridge; Martin McKee, professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and, David Stuckler, professor at Bocconi University.
In January, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh, in the BMJ and the Journal of Public Health Policy, revealed ILSI’s powerful influence on the Chinese government regarding issues related to obesity.
ILSI is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, based in Washington DC. It was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president of Coca-Cola. It has 17 branches located all over the world.
As an example of how ILSI keeps in close alignment with Coca-Cola and the soda industry, the paper quotes an email from Malaspina in which he laments ILSI Mexico’s failure to follow the industry position on soda taxes. Malaspina describes “the mess ILSI Mexico is in because they sponsored in September a sweeteners conference when the subject of soft drinks taxation was discussed. ILSI is now suspending ILSI Mexico, until they correct their ways. A real mess.”
“Our findings only continue to add to the evidence that this non-profit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. We contend that the International Life Sciences Institute should be regarded as an industry group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good,” said the study lead author Dr. Sarah Steele, a researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies.
For immediate release: Tuesday, May 7th at 7:30pm EDT
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350
Coca-Cola’s research contracts show that it had extensive influence over the public health research it funds, including the power to “prevent publication of unfavourable research” in some cases, according to a new study published today in the Journal of Public Health Policy.
According to the study, public health research contract provisions gave Coca-Cola “the power to terminate studies early and without giving reasons” as well as “the right to review research in advance of publication as well as control over (1) study data, (2) disclosure of results and (3) acknowledgement of Coca-Cola funding. Some agreements specified that Coca-Cola has the ultimate decision about any publication of peer reviewed papers prior to its approval of the researchers’ final report “
“These contracts suggest that Coke wanted the power to bury research it funded that might detract from its image or profits,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “With the power to trumpet positive findings and bury negative ones, Coke-funded ‘science’ seems somewhat less than science and more like an exercise in public relations.”
The study is based on Coca-Cola research contacts obtained via Freedom of Information requests by U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer and public health research group. From 2015 through 2018, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) filed 129 FOI requests in the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and Denmark, seeking documents about Coca-Cola or allied groups, or other aspects of the food industry. These FOI requests turned up 87,013 pages, including five agreements for Coca-Cola funded research, which were then analyzed.
The Journal of Public Health Policy paper was co-authored by Sarah Steele, senior research associate at the University of Cambridge; Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know; Martin McKee, professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and, David Stuckler, professor at Bocconi University.
Coca-Cola’s research contracts are typical of other corporate funding contracts for public health research. Given corporate influence over corporate-funded public health research, and the inadequacy of standard conflict of interest statements to describe this influence, the study’s authors “recommend journals supplement funding disclosures and conflict-of-interest statements by requiring authors to attach funder agreements.”
The study raises particular concerns about the prospect of early termination of corporate-funded public health research, and the impact such termination may have on knowledge of the public health effects of corporate products or practices. The authors recommend that “Where studies are terminated without having been registered in advance, as should be the case with clinical trials, it may be that termination acts as suppression of critical health information. We therefore call for industry funders to publish complete lists of terminated studies as part of their commitment to act with integrity, and for clear declarations of involvement as standard publication practice.”
“We are already hearing accusations from experts in nutrition that the food industry is copying tactics from big tobacco’s playbook,” said Sarah Steele, the lead author of the study. “Corporate social responsibility has to be more than just shiny websites stating progressive policies that get ignored.”
U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit consumer and public health group that investigates food industry practices and influence on public policy. For our academic papers, see https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For more general information, see usrtk.org.
Update: On May 2nd, Assemblymember Laura Friedman announced that she will not advance the legislation to the Assembly floor in 2019.
U.S. Right to Know opposes AB 700, legislation to weaken the California Public Records Act (CPRA). The legislation, sponsored by California Assemblymember Laura Friedman, would exempt much of the work product of California’s public universities from the CPRA. The CPRA is a crucial tool for journalists and citizens, as well as public interest, consumer, environmental, public health and good government advocates in California and across the country to expose corruption, wrongdoing and abuse of power. We oppose efforts to weaken it, and are concerned that any successful effort to do so could invite others, leading to a slippery slope that could diminish this law in unforeseen ways, at cost to our health, our environment and our democracy.
At California’s public universities, the CPRA is central to efforts to unearth research misconduct and fraud, sexual harassment scandals, financial improprieties and misallocation of funds, government waste, corporate influence in research process, the commercialization of the university, the influence of wealthy donors, and administrative cover-ups of all of the above. If enacted, this legislation will shield such scandals from exposure and accountability, and invite more.
- Los Angeles Times: Scientists have #MeToo issues too. Don’t exempt them from accountability laws. By Charles Seife, April 1, 2019.
- San Diego Union-Tribune: Don’t weaken open records laws at California’s public universities. April 8, 2019.
- Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Don’t keep public research secret from Californians, May 1, 2019.
- Letter of opposition to AB700 from Center for Food Safety, Consumer Watchdog. Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Real Food Media, Organic Consumers Association and U.S. Right to Know.
- Letter of opposition to AB 700 from the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors, May 2, 2019.
- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: Do No Harm, California. Press Pause on Science Secrecy Bill. April 22, 2019.
- USRTK: State public records laws help uncover corruption, wrongdoing at public universities. By Stacy Malkan, April 19, 2019.
- San Diego Society of Professional Journalists: “We rarely ask our members to take public positions on bills, but this one is too dangerous for us to be silent.”
The following organizations are opposing AB700. See letters of opposition by:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- California Newspapers Publishers Association
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Society of Professional Journalists Northern California chapter
- Society of Professional Journalists/Los Angeles chapter
- San Diego Society of Professional Journalists
- Good Food Brigade
- Coalition letter: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Social Compassion in Legislation, Animal Alliance Network, In Defense of Animals, Advancing Law for Animals, Mercy For Animals, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, Progress For Science, Kindred Spirits Care Farm, The Greenbaum Foundation
Articles about AB 700:
- Muckrock: California lawmaker halts transparency bill amidst public outcry. By Jessie Gomez, May 7, 2019.
- Muckrock: Transparency groups oppose new California bill blocking access to research records. By Jessie Gomez, April 23, 2019.
- Undark: A Battle Over California’s Public Records Law. By Zoe Loftus-Farren, April 15, 2019.
- Los Angeles Times: Protesters brave windy conditions to protest Laura Friedman’s bill about animal research, by Anthony Clark Carpio, April 12, 2019.
California Assembly Committee on Judiciary report on AB 700.
Today marks the beginning of the fourth week of the Hardeman V. Monsanto Roundup cancer trial, and jurors were still deliberating over the sole question that they must answer to close out the first phase of the trial and potentially move into the second phase.
The six jurors let Judge Vince Chhabria know on Friday that as they deliberate they want to have plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s testimony read back to them. Chhabria said that would take place first thing Monday morning.
At Monsanto’s request, the trial has been divided into two phases. The first phase deals only with the question of whether or not jurors find that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
If the jurors unanimously answer yes to that question the trial moves into a second phase in which Hardeman’s attorneys will put on evidence aimed at showing that Monsanto knew of the cancer risks of Roundup but actively worked to hide that information from consumers, in part by manipulating the scientific record.
If the trial does go to the second phase, the plaintiff will lack one key expert witness – Charles Benbrook – after the judge ruled that he would sharply limit Benbrook’s testimony regarding Monsanto’s corporate conduct.
Hardeman’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff and her co-counsel Jennifer Moore plan to spend the day in the courthouse Monday as the jury deliberates after again raising the ire of Judge Chhabria. Chhabria was annoyed Friday that the lawyers took longer than he expected to get to the courthouse after they were notified that all parties must convene to address the jurors’ request to hear Hardeman’s testimony again.
Chhabria sanctioned Wagstaff the first week of the trial for what he called “several acts of misconduct duringher opening statement.” One of her transgressions, according to Chhabria, was spending too much time telling jurors about her client and his cancer diagnosis.
(UPDATE 3:30 pm Pacific time- Jurors retiring for the day after failing again to reach a verdict. Testimony from plaintiff Edwin Hardeman to be read back to jurors Monday morning at their request. Judge Chhabria remains irritated with plaintiff’s attorneys, annoyed at the time it took them to arrive at court Friday afternoon.)
Jurors were back in court today resuming deliberations after a day off on Thursday. There is but one question they must answer: “Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?”
The judge admonished the jurors that if they pondered that question on their day off they should not seek out information about the safety of Roundup or read news articles or scientific studies about the matter. They should confine themselves to consideration only of evidence presented at trial.
Interestingly, yesterday in the San Francisco area google ads were popping up on smart phones and computers promoting the safety of Roundup. One site in particular – Weeding Wisely – was coming in at the top of some Google sites, offering such headlines as “Fear of ‘chemicals’ results from misunderstanding” and “Look at the science, not scare tactics, of glyphosate herbicide.” Also this one – “Weed Killer Hype Lacks Scientific Support.”
The google ad renewed fears by some that Monsanto and Bayer may be engaging in geofencing, a term used to describe a tactic for delivering specific messaging to individuals within specific geographic areas.
Last month Hardeman attorney Jennifer Moore alerted Judge Chhabria to fears held by Hardeman’s legal team that Monsanto might have engaged in geofencing before and would do so again to try to influence jurors. Moore told the judge they were considering “whether we were going to file a temporary restraining order to prohibit Monsanto from any kind of geofencing or targeting jurors through social media or pay-per-click ads. And so I would just ask that that not be done. We’re not doing it on our side, but I just don’t want any targeting of jurors, their social media or Internet means.”
Chhabria replied “Isn’t it, like — doesn’t it go without saying that it would be totally inappropriate? Obviously nobody on either side — nobody within a hundred miles of either side may attempt to target any juror or prospective juror with any sort of messaging.”
Geofencing is a popular advertising technique that delivers specific messaging/content to anyone within a specific geographic area designated by the company or group paying for the ad. The area can be very small, a mile radius around a specific address, for instance. Or it can be much larger. Anyone within that designated area using an app on a smart phone – such as a weather app or a game – would then be delivered the ad.
Whether or not Monsanto did or would use the tactic to try to influence jurors would be almost impossible to prove. Monsanto attorney Brian Stekloff responded to the concerns raised last month and the judge’s warning about geofencing by saying “I understand that they may have allegations, but I’m not accepting those allegations….. of course we will abide by that…”
The placement of google ads for certain search terms does not necessarily mean anyone was targeting jurors with geofencing. And it’s worth noting that google ad buys have been – and remain – a popular strategy employed by plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking new Roundup clients.
Jurors have the day off today but the lawyers do not. Chhabria is holding a hearing with attorneys for both sides at 12:30 pm Pacific time to discuss the scope of the second phase, if a second phase is held.
Among the issues to be discussed, plaintiff’s lawyers are renewing their request to be able to present testimony about Monsanto’s efforts to discredit French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini after publication of his 2012 study findings about rats fed water dosed with Roundup. Internal Monsanto records show a coordinated effort to get the Seralini paper retracted, including this email string.
Monsanto employees apparently were so proud of what they called a “multimedia event that was designed for maximum negative publicity” against Seralini that they designated it as an “achievement” worth recognition.
Evidence demonstrates “that the Séralini story is central to Monsanto’s failure to test as well as its efforts to manipulate public opinion,” Edwin Hardeman’s attorneys argue. As well, they say in their court filing, “the testimony reveals that Monsanto responded to the study by attempting to undermine and discredit Dr. Séralini, which is further evidence “that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer,” but “[focuses] instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.” ”
“The Séralini Story is Relevant to Monsanto’s Efforts to Undermine Scientists Raising Concerns about Glyphosate,” Hardeman’s attorneys argue.
Lawyers for Hardeman want expert witness Charles Benbrook to be allowed to testify about this example of Monsanto’s corporate conduct “post-use,” meaning actions by Monsanto that took place after Hardeman stopped using Roundup.
Judge Chhabria earlier ruled that the evidence regarding efforts to discredit Seralini could not be introduced because those efforts took place after Hardeman’s Roundup use ended and so would not have impacted him.
On Wednesday, Chhabria also ruled that evidence of Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer after it classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen would be excluded from a second phase of the trial because it took place after Hardeman’s Roundup use ended.
Even as both sides prepare for a second phase, the lack of a quick jury decision does not bode well for Hardeman. His attorneys were hoping for a quick unanimous decision by the jurors in their favor. Any decision by the jury must be unanimous or the case can be declared a mistrial.
(UPDATE 5:45 p.m. Pacific time – Jury has retired for the evening with no verdict. Deliberations to resume Friday.)
Judge Chhabria instructed lawyers for both sides to be ready to present opening statements for the second phase of the trial today if jurors come back this morning with a verdict. The second phase only occurs, however, if the jurors first find unanimously for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman in the first phase, which dealt solely with the question of causation.
The question that must be answered on the jury verdict form is fairly straightforward:
Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
It will take all six jurors to answer yes to that question in order for the trial to continue. If the jurors are split in how they answer the question, the judge has said he would declare a mistrial.
The judge guided the jurors in how to consider that question and how to evaluate the evidence presented to them in a 17-page list of instructions.
The jurors are allowed to request to look at specific exhibits and pieces of evidence but they are not allowed to see transcripts of the previous days of testimony. The judge said that if jurors want to review the testimony of a particular witness they can ask to have that witness’s testimony, or a portion of that witness’s testimony, read back to them but the lawyers and judge would need to be present for that.
If jurors return a verdict in favor of Hardeman on Wednesday afternoon, opening statements for phase two will take place Friday.
Chhabria kept a tight rein on closing arguments Tuesday, prohibiting Hardeman’s lead attorney Aimee Wagstaff from showing a photo of Hardeman and his wife in her closing slide presentation. He told Wagstaff that the photo was “not relevant” and said that he did not “need to hear
further argument about that.” When she asked for his rationale, Chhabria simply repeated his belief that it was not relevant.
Monsanto filed a motion for a directed verdict on Tuesday, arguing that Hardeman has presented “insufficient general causation evidence,” and specifically attacked the credibility of pathologist Dennis Weisenburger, one of Hardeman’s expert witnesses. Judge Chhabria denied the motion.
Separately, the upcoming Pilliod V. Monsanto case in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland was looking at a sizable jury pool of more than 200 people. They plan to select 17, with 12 jurors and five alternates. The case may not begin until March 27 or March 28 due to the lengthy jury selection process.