IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News

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Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and other sources shine light on the inner workings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group funded by large food and agrichemical companies, and its nonprofit “public education arm” the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC groups conduct research and training programs, produce marketing materials and coordinate other industry groups to communicate industry spin about food safety and nutrition. Messaging includes promoting and defending sugar, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides and genetically engineered foods.

Spinning pesticide cancer report for Monsanto 

As one example of how IFIC partners with corporations to promote agrichemical products and deflect cancer concerns, this internal Monsanto document identifies IFIC as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research team, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, IARC judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

Monsanto listed IFIC as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Center for Food Integrity.

How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.

The document identifies IFIC, GMA and the Center for Food Integrity as part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert the food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” for the glyphosate cancer report.

Blogs later posted on the IFIC website illustrate the group’s patronizing “don’t worry, trust us” messaging to women.  Entries include, “8 crazy ways they’re trying to scare you about fruits and vegetables,” “Cutting through the clutter on glyphosate,” and “Before we freak out, let’s ask the experts … the real experts.”

Corporate funders  

IFIC spent $23,659,976 in the five-year period from 2012-2016, while the IFIC Foundation spent $5,639,289 from 2011-2015, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Corporations and industry groups that support IFIC, according to public disclosures, include the American Beverage Association, American Meat Science Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DowDuPont, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Perdue Farms and PepsiCo.

Draft tax records for the IFIC Foundation, obtained via state records requests, list the corporations that funded the group in 2011, 2013 or both: Grocery Manufacturers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The US Department of Agriculture gave IFIC Foundation $177,480 of taxpayer money in 2013 to produce a “communicator’s guide” for promoting genetically engineered foods.

IFIC also solicits money from corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of corporate board members asks for $10,000 contributions to update the “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes lists the previous financial supporters: Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.

Promotes GMOs to school children  

IFIC coordinates 130 groups via the Alliance to Feed the Future on messaging efforts to “improve understanding” about genetically engineered foods. Members include the American Council on Science and Health, the Calorie Control Council, the Center for Food Integrity and The Nature Conservancy.

The Alliance to Feed the Future also provides free educational curricula to teach students to promote genetically engineered foods, including “The Science of Feeding the World” for K-8 teachers and “Bringing Biotechnology to Life” for grades 7-10.

The inner workings of IFIC’s PR services 

A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes to spin bad news and defend the products of its corporate sponsors.

Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists  

  • May 5, 2014 email from Matt Raymond, senior director of communications, alerted IFIC leadership and “media dialogue group” to “high profile stories in which IFIC is currently involved” to help spin negative news coverage. He noted they had connected a New York Times reporter with “Dr. John Sievenpiper, our noted expert in the field of sugars.” Sievenpiper “is among a small group of Canadian academic scientists who have received hundreds of thousands in funding from soft-drink makers, packaged-food trade associations and the sugar industry, turning out studies and opinion articles that often coincide with those businesses’ interests,” according to the National Post.
  • Emails from 2010 and 2012 suggest that IFIC relies on a small group of industry-connected scientists to confront studies that raise concerns about GMOs. In both emails, Bruce Chassy pushes the view that there is no difference between conventional bred and genetically engineered crops.

DuPont exec suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports

  • In a February 3, 2013 email, IFIC staff alerted its “media relations group” that Consumer Reports had reported about safety and environmental concerns of GMOs. Doyle Karr, DuPont director of biotechnology policy and vice president of the board of Center for Food Integrity, forwarded the email to a scientist with a query for response ideas, and suggested confronting Consumer Reports with this stealth tactic: “Maybe create a letter to the editor signed by 1,000 scientists who have no affiliation with the biotech seed companies stating that they take issue with (Consumer Reports’) statements on the safety and environmental impact. ??”

Other PR services IFIC provides to industry

  • Disseminates misleading industry talking points: April 25, 2012 mail to the 130 members of the Alliance to Feed the Future “on behalf of Alliance member Grocery Manufacturers Association” claimed the California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods “would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of grocery products in California unless they contain special labels.”
  • Confronts troublesome books: February 20, 2013 describes IFIC’s strategy to spin two books critical of the food industry, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, and “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner. Plans included writing book reviews, disseminating talking points and exploring additional options to enhance engagement in the digital media.
  • Research and surveys to support industry positions; one example is a 2012 survey that found 76% of consumers “can’t think of anything additional they would like to see on the label” that was used by industry groups to oppose GMO labeling.
  • “Don’t worry, trust us” marketing brochures, such as this one explaining that artificial sweeteners and food dyes are nothing to worry about.

Grocery Manufacturers Association — key facts

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Summary


* GMA is the leading trade group for the junk food industry

* GMA hides list of its own corporate members

GMA was found guilty of money laundering

Opposed legislation to combat child slavery

* Out of touch: 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, but GMA opposes it

Opposes mandatory food labeling, supports voluntary regulation

Pure double-talk on ending childhood obesity

Supported use of rBST/rBGH in milk, an artificial hormone banned in EU/Canada

Funded fake “grassroots” anti-ethanol campaign

GMA Hides List of Own Corporate Member Companies

GMA no longer lists its member companies on its website. Here is the most recent publicly available list of the [GMA’s members. GMA website via archive.org, archived 12/23/13]

GMA’s President Makes Over $2 Million a Year

Since January 2009, Pamela Bailey has served as the President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. As of April 2014, Bailey made $2.06 million per year. [Government Executive, 4/14] Bailey announced in 2018 she will retire after 10 years at the helm of GMA. [Progressive Grocer, 2/12/2018]

GMA Found Guilty of Money Laundering

In October 2013, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the GMA for money laundering. The suit alleged that GMA “illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.” [Attorney General press release, 10/16/13]

In 2016, GMA was found guilty of money laundering and ordered to pay $18 million, which is believed to be the highest fine for campaign finance violations in the history of the United States. [Seattle PI, 11/2/2016]

GMA Revealed Donors Under Pressure, Showing More Than $1 Million Each from Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola

In October 2013, GMA released its list of funders under pressure, showing that Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola each gave more than $1 million.

“The Grocery Manufacturers Association on Friday revealed that PepsiCo, Nestle USA and Coca-Cola each gave hidden donations of more than $1 million to the campaign against a Washington initiative that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food. The association agreed to make public a long list of donors to its anti-labeling campaign after being sued this week by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.” [The Oregonian, 10/18/13]

GMA Accused of Hiding Millions of Dollars More Than Originally Believed

In November 2013, Attorney General Ferguson amended the original complaint to increase from $7.2 million to $10.6 million the amount that GMA allegedly concealed. [Seattle Times, 11/20/13; Attorney General press release, 11/20/13]

Filed Counter-Suit Seeking to Invalidate Campaign Finance Laws that Required Disclosure of Donors

In January 2014, GMA responded to the Washington Attorney General’s lawsuit with a countersuit seeking to invalidate the state’s campaign finance laws regarding disclosure of donors.

“After trying to secretly influence the outcome of the vote on Initiative 522, the Grocery Manufacturers Association now is challenging the state’s campaign finance laws. On Jan. 3, the GMA responded to the Washington State Attorney General’s campaign disclosure lawsuit against the GMA with a counterclaim. The GMA also filed a separate civil rights complaint against Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The GMA claims Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing Washington’s laws and challenges the constitutionality of requiring the GMA to register as a political committee before requesting and receiving contributions to oppose Initiative 522, a measure would have required labeling of genetically engineered foods.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/13/14]

GMA Claimed Law Requiring Disclosure of Donors was Unconstitutional

GMA’s countersuit claimed that being required to disclose its donors was unconstitutional.

“In its counterclaim and civil rights suit, the GMA claims the following are unconstitutional as they have been applied in this case: Washington’s law requiring the GMA to file a political committee before collecting funds from its members for specific political activity in Washington; Washington’s law requiring the GMA to disclose the organizations who contributed to its special political fund and how much they donated; and Washington’s law requiring the GMA to secure $10 in donations from 10 separate registered Washington voters as part of its political committee before donating to another political committee. [Washington State Office of the Attorney General press release, 1/13/14]

Judge Rejected Effort to Dismiss Lawsuit in June 2014

In June 2014, Thurston County Judge Christine Schiller rejected a motion from GMA to dismiss the money laundering charge it was facing.

A Thurston County judge on Friday rejected efforts by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to squelch a lawsuit in which state Attorney General Bob Ferguson accuses the Washington, D.C.-based lobby of laundering millions of dollars in last fall’s campaign. … Judge Christine Schaller rejected the association’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “Today’s ruling is an important step in our work to hold the Grocery Manufacturers Association accountable for the largest campaign finance concealment case in Washington history,” said Ferguson. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/13/14]

Attorney General Said Judge’s Ruling Meant Case Would Continue to Trial

Following Judge Schaller’s ruling, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the GMA case would continue to trial “on its merits.”

“[Judge Christina] Schaller rejected the motion to dismiss, ruling the state’s campaign finance laws requiring the formation of a political committee and associated disclosures were constitutionally applied in this case. The case will now move forward on its merits.” [Washington State Office of the Attorney General press release, 6/13/14]

Opposed Bill That Exposed Slave-like Child Labor in Cacao Plantations

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, in 2001 the GMA, along with the chocolate industry, lobbied against legislation in the U.S. Congress that would have exposed slave-like child labor practices on cacao plantations in Africa. [Spokane Spokesman-Review, 8/1/01]

The proposed legislation was a response to a Knight Ridder investigation that found that some boys as young as 11 are sold or tricked into slavery to harvest cocoa beans in Ivory Coast, a West African nation that supplies 43 percent of U.S. cocoa. The State Department estimated that as many as 15,000 child slaves work on Ivory Coast’s cocoa, cotton and coffee farms. [Spokane Spokesman-Review, 8/1/01, Congressional Research Service, 7/13/05]

GMA is Out of Touch: 93 Percent of Americans Support Labeling…

According to the New York Times in 2013, “Americans overwhelmingly support labeling foods that have been genetically modified or engineered, according to a New York Times poll conducted this year, with 93 percent of respondents saying that foods containing such ingredients should be identified.” [New York Times, 7/27/13]

… But GMA Opposes Mandatory Labeling Laws

In June 2014, GMA and three other food industry organizations challenged Vermont’s law requiring food labels to identify products with GMO ingredients.

“Today, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), along with the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont challenging the state’s mandatory GMO labeling law. GMA issued the following statement in conjunction with the legal filing.” [GMA press release, 6/13/14]

Supported Federal Ban on State GMO Labeling Laws

In April 2014, the GMA advocated for a federal ban on state laws to require mandatory GMO labeling.

“The giants of the U.S. food industry who have spent millions fighting state-by-state efforts to mandate new labels for genetically modified organisms are taking a page from their opponents and pushing for a federal GMO law. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such food and beverage leaders as ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, isn’t exactly joining the anti-GMO movement. It’s advocating for an industry-friendly, law with a voluntary federal standard — a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.” [Politico, 1/7/14]

2014 Bill Introduced to Prevent States from Requiring GMO Labels

In April 2014, a bill was introduced in Congress that would ban states from enacting their own GMO labeling laws.

“A bill introduced Wednesday would put the federal government in charge of overseeing the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, preventing states from enacting their own requirements to regulate the controversial ingredients. … But consumer groups vowed to fight the legislation, which they see as an attempt to undermine efforts to pass state ballot initiatives mandating labeling of most products with genetically modified ingredients.” [USA Today, 4/9/14]

GMA President Called Defeating Prop 37 “Single-Highest Priority”

In 2012, GMA President Pam Bailey said that defeating Prop 37 was the GMA’s highest priority for 2012.

“In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative ‘is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.’” [Huffington Post, 7/30/12]

Supports Voluntary, Not Mandatory, Food Labeling

2014: GMA and Food Marketing Institute Launched $50 Million Voluntary Labeling Campaign

In March 2014, GMA and the Food Marketing Institute launched a $50 million marketing campaign to promote the industry’s voluntary “Facts Up Front” nutrition facts system.

“The food industry appears poised to one-up the Obama administration with the launch of a national media blitz to promote its own nutrition labels on the front of food packages. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, which represent the biggest food companies and retailers, will roll out a coordinated marketing campaign, spending as much as $50 million, on Monday to promote their ‘Facts Up Front,’ the industry’s own voluntary program for providing nutrition information on the front of food and beverage packages, POLITICO has learned.” [Politico, 3/1/14]

GMA Pressed for Voluntary Federal GMO Labeling Standard

In 2014, the GMA, along with other food industry organizations, called for a voluntary federal genetically-modified-organism labeling standard.

“The giants of the U.S. food industry who have spent millions fighting state-by-state efforts to mandate new labels for genetically modified organisms are taking a page from their opponents and pushing for a federal GMO law. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such food and beverage leaders as ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, isn’t exactly joining the anti-GMO movement. It’s advocating for an industry-friendly, law with a voluntary federal standard — a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.” [Politico, 1/7/14]

GMA’s Double Talk on Ending Childhood Obesity

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has boasted of its “commitment to do its part to help reduce obesity in America – especially childhood obesity.” [GMA Press Release, 12/16/09]

… But Opposes Restrictions on Sale of Junk Food, Soda in Schools

According to Michele Simon’s book Appetite for Profit, “GMA is on record opposing virtually every state bill that would restrict the sale of junk food or soda in schools.” [Appetite for Profit, page 223]

 … And Worked to Defeat California School Nutrition Guidelines, Sending Bill to Defeat with Last-Minute Lobbying

In 2004, nutrition guidelines for California schools failed narrowly following last-minute lobbying from GMA.

“Just last month, California tried to set nutrition guidelines on foods sold outside the federal meal program. But thanks to last-minute lobbying by the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), that bill failed by just five votes, despite having the support of 80 nonprofit organizations. Only five groups opposed the measure — all of whom profit from selling junk food to kids.” [Michele Simon, Pacific News Service, 9/3/04]

… And Opposed School Nutrition Guidelines in Other States

According to the book Appetite for Profit, GMA opposed school nutrition guidelines in other states, including Texas, Oregon, and Kentucky.

“A search for the word ‘schools’ on the GMA web site resulted in no fewer than 126 hits, most of which are either submitted testimony or a letter filed in opposition to a school-related nutrition policy. Here are just a few examples of document titles: GMA Letter in Opposition of Texas Food and Beverage Restrictions, GMA Letter in Opposition to Oregon School Restrictions Bills, GMA Requests Veto of Kentucky School Restrictions Bill, and GMA Letter in Opposition to California School Nutrition Bill.” [Appetite for Profit, Page 223]

… And Has Lobbyists Around the Country Aiming to Defeat Legislation

In addition to its federal lobbying (which spiked to $14 million in 2013), GMA has lobbyists around the country aiming to defeat legislation that would restrict the food industry. Below are just some of their state lobbyists. [Center for Responsive Politics, opensecrets.org, accessed 12/22/14; State sources linked below]

Lobbyist State
Louis Finkel California
Kelsey Johnson Illinois
7 lobbyists with Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver Maryland
Kelsey Johnson Minnesota
Capitol Group Inc. New York

GMA Sought to Weaken Enforcement of Labeling Rules

In December 2011, GMA asked the Food and Drug Administration to selectively enforce labeling rules regarding basic nutrition facts.

“You have requested that FDA exercise enforcement discretion with respect to certain aspects of its nutrition labeling regulations in order to facilitate implementation of the Nutrition Keys program, namely: [1] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons (calories, saturated fat, sodium, and total sugars), alone or accompanied by up to two Nutrition Keys Optional Icons, without declaration of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat in the Nutrition Facts panel as required by 21 CFR 101.9(c)(2)(iii) and (iv). [2] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons, unaccompanied by any Optional Icons, without the disclosure statement required by§ 101.13(h) when the nutrient content of the food exceeds specified levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium. [3] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons, alone or accompanied by up to two Nutrition Keys Optional Icons, without disclosure of the level of total fat and cholesterol in immediate proximity to the saturated fat icon as required by § 101.62(c).” [FDA letter to GMA, 12/13/11]

Supported Use of Hormone Banned in Canada, EU to Boost Milk Production in Cows

In 1995, GMA said that the Food & Drug Administration had found that the synthetic hormone rBST was “completely safe.” [GMA press release, 4/25/95]

rBST/rBGH Banned in EU, Canada

rBST/rBGH is banned from dairy products in the European Union and Canada.

“Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a synthetic (man-made) hormone that is marketed to dairy farmers to increase milk production in cows. It has been used in the United States since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, but its use is not permitted in the European Union, Canada, and some other countries.” [American Cancer Society website, cancer.org]

Co-Plaintiff in Vermont Lawsuit Regarding Labeling for rBST/rBGH

According to FindLaw.com, GMA was a co-plaintiff in IDFA vs. Amnestoy, a case regarding the labeling of dairy products produced from cows treated with rBST/rBGH. [FindLaw.com, accessed 12/17/14; United States Court of Appeals, International Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, Case No. 876, Docket 95-7819, decided 8/8/96]

“‘Vermont’s mandatory labeling law flies in the face of FDA’s determination that rBST is completely safe and that mandatory labeling should not be required,’ stated John Cady, president of NFPA. ‘The law will likely convey to consumers a false and misleading impression concerning the safety and wholesomeness of milk from rBST-supplemented cows.’” [GMA press release, 4/25/95]

Opposed Labeling Dairy Produced with Growth Hormone

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in 1993-94, GMA opposed labels on dairy products derived from cows injected with Monsanto’s controversial Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/3/94]

GMA Opposed Ohio Labeling Rule that was Struck Down

According to FoodNavigator-USA, GMA and other food industry groups opposed the Ohio labeling rule that was struck down by the appeals court. [FoodNavigator-USA, 4/25/08]

The Ohio state rule in question banned statements such as “rbGH Free,” “rbST Free” and “artificial hormone free,” aimed at providing consumers with the information needed to make informed choices. Center for Food Safety, 9/30/10

Funded Fake “Grassroots” Anti-Ethanol Campaign

In May 2008, Sen. Chuck Grassley revealed that an anti-ethanol campaign that was supposedly “grassroots,” was in reality backed by a PR firm hired by GMA.

“According to two documents posted on Sen. Charles Grassley’s, R-IA, congressional website, the ‘grassroots’ anti-ethanol media blitz that’s hitched today’s climbing food prices to farmer-backed biofuels is as fake as astro-turf. Indeed, Grassley explained to Senate colleagues during his May 15 endorsement of the new farm bill, ‘It turns out that a $300,000, six-month retainer of a Beltway public relations firm is behind the smear campaign, hired by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.’” Aberdeen News, 5/30/08

GMA Sought to Take Advantage of Rising Food Prices

In its request for proposals, GMA said that it believed rising food prices provided the organization with an opportunity to hit ethanol.

“GMA has been leading an ‘aggressive’ public relations campaign for the past two months in an effort to roll back ethanol mandates that passed in last year’s energy bill. The association hired Glover Park Group to run a six-month campaign, according to GMA’s request for proposal and Glover Park’s response. ‘GMA has concluded that rising food prices … create a window to change perceptions about the benefits of bio-fuels and the mandate,’ reads the three-page RFP, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.” [Roll Call, 5/14/08]

Trump’s New CDC Pick Boosts Agency’s Ties To Coca Cola

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See also:

  • New York Times, by Sheila Kaplan, 7/22/2017: “New C.D.C. Chief Saw Coca-Cola as Ally in Obesity Fight”
  • Forbes, Part 2 by Rob Waters, “The Coca-Cola Network: Soda Giant Mines Connections with Officials and Scientists to Wield Influence”

By Rob Waters

Part 1 of 2 stories 

For many years, The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest seller of sugary drinks, has sought to influence health policy and public opinion by forging ties with influential scientists and officials, including at the nation’s top public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Now the Trump administration has appointed a new CDC chief, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who, as Georgia public health commissioner for the past six years, partnered with Coke to run a program against child obesity. Coca-Cola KO +0.00% gave $1 million to Georgia SHAPE, which seeks to increase physical activity in schools but is silent about reducing soda consumption, even though studies have found that high sugar intake, especially in liquid form, is a driver of obesity and diabetes, as well as cancer and heart disease.

In a 2013 press conference, Fitzgerald praised Coke for its “generous award.” She wrote a commentary about the obesity epidemic for Coca-Cola’s website declaring the need to “get our students moving.” And in an interview with a local TV station, she made clear her priorities. Georgia SHAPE, she said, is “going to concentrate on what you should eat”—while saying nothing about what you shouldn’t.

The agency Fitzgerald will now run already had cozy relationships with Coca-Cola. These connections can be seen in emails that circulated between Coke executives, CDC officials and a network of people from universities and industry-backed organizations funded by companies including Coke, Nestlé, Mars Inc. and Mondelez, formerly known as Kraft. The emails, released by the CDC in response to public records requests submitted by U.S. Right to Know, are chatty, sometimes plaintive, often affectionate and occasionally angry and urgent.

In an October 2015 email, Barbara Bowman, a CDC official who has since resigned, offers her appreciation to former Coca-Cola executive Alex Malaspina for a recent dinner. “What a lovely time we had on Saturday nights, many thanks, Alex, for your hospitality.”

In another 2015 email to a group of scientists, all of whom have received research funding from Coca-Cola or other industry-backed organizations, Malaspina asks for “any ideas on how we can counteract” recommendations from a committee of experts advising the U.S. government. The committee wants the government to urge Americans to reduce their consumption of sugar, meat and sodium. In his email, Malaspina dismisses these suggestions as “not based on science.”

And in another note, Coca-Cola executive Rhona Applebaum writes to a CDC official and a Louisiana State University researcher who is leading a large study on child obesity. She has just learned that Mexico is declining to participate in the study because Coke is funding it, and she’s peeved. “So if good scientists take $$$ from Coke–what–they’re corrupted?” she writes.

‘Why is Coke talking to CDC?’

The emails provide a glimpse of the ways that Coca-Cola use connections forged with health officials and scientists to influence policy-makers and journalists. The efforts come at the expense of public health, according to academic researchers who questioned the appropriateness of contacts between Coke and CDC.

“Why is Coke talking to CDC at all? Why is there any line of communication?” asked Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco who researches the effects of sugar consumption on children and adults. “The contact is completely inappropriate and they’re obviously trying to use it to exert influence on a government agency.”

Many of the emails were not directly addressed to anyone at CDC, yet were turned over by the agency to comply with public records requests. This suggests some CDC officials were sent bcc:’s or blind copies.

The emails offer a look at the global network created by Malaspina, a former senior vice president of external affairs at Coca-Cola. The network includes:

  • The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a global organization whose members, according to its website “are companies from the food, agricultural, chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology and supporting industries.” Coca-Cola was among ILSI’s original funders and Malaspina was its founding president. A budget document obtained by US Right to Know suggests that Coca-Cola gave ILSI $167,000 in 2012 and 2013.
  • The International Food Information Council (IFIC), a Washington-based nonprofit supported by food companies and trade associations including Coca-Cola, the American Beverage Association, the Hershey Company and Cargill Inc. According to its website, IFIC works to “effectively communicate science-based information” about food and “helps journalists and bloggers writing about health, nutrition and food safety.”
  • An assortment of academic scientists with a history of conducting research sponsored by Coca-Cola or ILSI.

Malaspina, who remained involved with Coca-Cola and ILSI after leaving the soda company, emerges in the emails as a principal connecting node in the network. For example, after asking for advice on how to discredit the 2015 recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, he praises the Food Council’s efforts to influence reporters writing about them.

‘Coming Through for Industry’

The Council has just held a media call with 40 reporters to criticize the committee’s recommendations, which IFIC viewed as “demonizing” sugar, meat and potatoes. After the media call, IFIC representatives boasted in an internal memo that they’d influenced the coverage of a number of reporters. Malaspina receives a copy of the memo and forwards it to his colleagues at Coke and his contacts at the CDC.

“IFIC is coming through for industry,” Malaspina writes.

A spokeswoman for the CDC, Kathy Harben, said in an email that her agency “works with the private sector because public-private partnerships advance CDC’s mission of protecting Americans. CDC ensures that, when we engage with the private sector, we are good stewards of the funds entrusted to us and maintain our scientific integrity by participating in a conflict of interest review process that is intended to be both rigorous and transparent.”

Financial ties and questionable contacts between Coca-Cola, academic researchers and the CDC have been exposed in several reports in the past two years.

‘Energy Balance Network’

In 2015, the New York Times and later the Associated Press reported that Rhona Applebaum, Coke’s chief health and science officer, had orchestrated grants to the University of Colorado and the University of South Carolina to start a nonprofit group, the Global Energy Balance Network, that would “inject sanity and reason” into discussions about obesity.

The goal was to push the idea that weight gain is as much related to people’s inadequate physical activity as to their consumption of sugar and calories. After Coca-Cola’s funding was exposed, the energy balance network was disbanded and the University of Colorado announced it would return $1 million to Coke. Applebaum retired three months after the Times story.

Last year, Barbara Bowman announced her retirement from the CDC two days after US Right to Know reported that she had advised Malaspina on ways to influence the World Health Organization and its Director-General Margaret Chan. The WHO had just issued guidelines recommending greatly reduced consumption of sugar, and Malaspina considered these a “threat to our business.”

Other records obtained last year by US Right to Know show that Michael Pratt, senior advisor for global health in the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, had conducted research funded by Coca-Cola and been an advisor to ILSI.

‘We’ll Do Better’

In August 2015, two weeks after the Times story, Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent acknowledged in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “We’ll Do Better” that the company’s funding of scientific research had, in many cases, “served only to create more confusion and mistrust.” The company later disclosed that from 2010 to the end of last year, it had spent $138 million funding outside researchers and health programs and created a “transparency” website listing recipients of its funding.

Coca-Cola says it now supports the WHO recommendations that Malaspina wanted to discredit — that people limit their sugar intake to 10% of the calories they consume each day. “We’ve begun our journey towards that goal as we evolve our business strategy to become a total beverage company,” Coca-Cola spokeswoman Katherine Schermerhorn said in an email.

Coca-Cola also pledged to provide no more than 50% of the cost of any scientific research. Will that make a difference in the outcome of the studies? Coca-Cola critics are skeptical, noting that previous studies funded by Coke minimized the negative health impacts of sugar-sweetened or diet beverages. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow at some of the studies that Coke funded – and then passed on to its contacts at the CDC.

Rob Waters is a health and science writer based in Berkeley, California and an investigative reporter for US Right to Know. This story originally appeared in Forbes on July 10.

Conflict of Interest Concerns Cloud Glyphosate Review

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By Carey Gillam

It’s been a little more than a year since the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research experts upended the agrichemical industry’s favorite child. The group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared the globe’s most widely used herbicide – glyphosate – to be a probable human carcinogen.

Since then, Monsanto Co., which draws roughly a third of its $15 billion in annual revenues from its Roundup branded glyphosate-based herbicide products, (and much of the rest from glyphosate-tolerant crop technology) has been on a mission to invalidate the IARC finding. Through an army of foot soldiers that include industry executives, public relation professionals and public university scientists, the company has called for a rebuke of IARC’s work on glyphosate.

How successful those efforts will or will not be is still an open question. But some answers are expected following a meeting being held this week in Geneva, Switzerland. An “international expert scientific group” known as JMPR is reviewing IARC’s work on glyphosate, and the results are expected to offer regulators around the world a guide for how to view glyphosate.

The group, officially known as the Joint FAO-WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WHO. JMPR meets regularly to review residues and analytical aspects of pesticides, to estimate maximum residue levels, and to review toxicological data and estimate acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) for humans.

After this week’s meeting, set to run from May 9-13, JMPR is expected to issue a series of recommendations that will then go to the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Codex Alimentarius was established by FAO and the World Health Organization develops harmonized international food standards as a means to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.

The meeting comes as both European and U.S. regulators are wrestling with their own assessments and how to react to the IARC classification. It also comes as Monsanto looks for backing for its claims of glyphosate safety.

Glyphosate is not just a lynchpin for sales of the company’s herbicides but also for its genetically modified seeds designed to tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate. The company also is currently defending itself against several lawsuits in which farmworkers and others allege they contracted cancer linked to glyphosate and that Monsanto knew of, but hid, the risks. And, a rebuke of IARC’s glyphosate classification could help the company in its lawsuit against the state of California, which aims to stop the state from following the IARC classification with a similar designation.

Depending on the result of the JMPR, the Codex will decide on any actions necessary regarding glyphosate, said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.

“It is the JMPR’s function to conduct risk assessment for agricultural use and assessing the health risks to consumers from residues found in food,” said Jasarevic

The outcome of the JMPR meeting is being watched closely by a number of environmental and consumer groups that want to see new safety standards for glyphosate. And not without some worry. The coalition, which includes the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth, has expressed concern about apparent conflicts of interest on the expert advisory panel. Some individuals appear to have financial and professional ties to Monsanto and the chemical industry, according to the coalition.

The coalition specifically cited concerns with member ties to the nonprofit International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is funded by Monsanto and other chemical, food and drug companies. The Institute’s board of trustees includes executives from Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Nestle and others, while its list of member and supporting companies includes those and many more global food and chemical concerns.

Internal ILSI documents, obtained by a state public records request, suggest that ILSI has been generously funded by the agrichemical industry. One document that appears to be ILSI’s 2012 major donor list shows total contributions of $2.4 million, with more than $500,000 each from CropLife International and from Monsanto.

“We have significant concerns that the committee will be unduly influenced by the overall pesticide industry and particularly Monsanto- the largest producer of glyphosate in the world,” the coalition told WHO in a letter last year.

One such JMPR expert is Alan Boobis, professor of biochemical pharmacology and director of the toxicology unit in the faculty of medicine at Imperial College London. He is a member and a past chairman of the board of trustees of ILSI, vice-president of ILSI Europe and chair of ILSI.

Another member is Angelo Moretto, Director of the International Centre for Pesticides and Health Risks Prevention at “Luigi Sacco” Hospital of the ASST Fatebenefratelli Sacco, in Milan, Italy. The coalition said that Moretto has been involved in various projects with ILSI and has served as a member of the steering team for an ILSI project on risks of chemical exposures financed by agrichemical companies that included Monsanto.

Another is Aldert Piersma, a senior scientist at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands and an advisor to projects of ILSI’s Health and Environmental Sciences Institute.

In all the JMPR list of experts totals 18. Jasarevic said that the roster of experts are chosen from a group of individuals who expressed interest in being involved, and all are “independent and are selected based on their scientific excellence, as well as on their experience in the field of pesticide risk assessment.”

Aaron Blair, a scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute and the chairman of the IARC group that made the glyphosate classification, has defended IARC’s work as based on a thorough scientific review. He said he had no concerns to discuss regarding the  JMPR review of IARC’s work.

“I am sure the evaluation by the joint FAO/WHO group will make the reasons for their evaluation clear, which is what is critical for the press and public,” he said.

The world is waiting.