A new study has found that Coca-Cola spends millions of dollars funding scientific research, but if it doesn’t like what scientists find, it kills or buries the findings, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Public Health Policy.
Coca-Cola’s influence on health research related to its products
Coca-Cola has spent millions of dollars on research. Much of the research the company funds is related to nutrition and physical activity. And as the US government is spending less on research, corporate sponsors are kicking in, so it isn’t unusual these days for corporations to sponsor scientific research related to their products. PepsiCo does it too.
However, the most surprising thing the analysts learned about Coca-Cola is how a single company can influence research, as well as, completely kill studies without reason. The researchers said it was right out of the playbook of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma, and now it is happening with Big Food.
The reason Coca-Cola can have such an influence, the analysis found, is that the company’s contracts allow them to review studies before they are published, provide comments on the research, as well as, terminate research products at any time, without explanation, under any circumstances. Further, Coca-Cola is allowed to own the intellectual property rights connected to the research.
What Coca-Cola doesn’t want you to know
According to the analysis, when Coca-Cola gets results it doesn’t find favorable to its bottom line, the company simply kills the research or buries the findings.
The researchers found that, in some cases, Coca-Cola had demonstrated the power to predetermine scientific outcomes by way of killing studies that turned out badly for Coca-Cola and/or its profits.
While the study authors did not reveal any concrete examples of Coca-Cola concealing any research findings that could have been harmful to the company, the researchers said that the restrictive clauses that exist in the contracts are telling of themselves, in that they provide a de facto ability to predetermine outcomes that are not scientific, while protecting public relations.
Researchers call on Coca-Cola to reveal motivations
In the analysis, the study authors called Coca-Cola’s motivations for funding health research into question, calling on the company and its other corporate backers who funded scientific research to publish a list of their terminated studies. Further, they say that journals should require scientists to share any research agreements with corporate funders and make them accessible for greater transparency and integrity.
In response, Coca-Cola told the authors of the study in a statement that “we agree research transparency and integrity are important,” but did not comment further on the findings of the analysis.
How the study was conducted
The authors of the study are affiliated with the University of Cambridge, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Bocconi, and U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that advocates for greater transparency in the food system. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the researchers took a look at numerous Coca-Cola research contracts which added up to around 87,000 pages of documents. In particular were five research agreements Coca-Cola had made with four universities: Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina, University of Toronto and the University of Washington.