The Soda Industry’s Panicked Downward Spiral

The Soda Industry’s Panicked Downward Spiral

Recently leaked emails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign revealed that Coca-Cola engaged the campaign as well as other politicians and journalists in efforts to shift the blame for the nation’s obesity epidemic away from the soda industry and toward physical inactivity instead.

A top Clinton consultant, Capricia Marshall, who was also a paid consultant for Coca-Cola, was pushed by the world’s largest soda company to pressure the Clinton campaign to reverse its position on the Philadelphia soda tax, which passed earlier this year. Clinton had voiced her support for the measure. Coca-Cola also reportedly contributed as much as $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

The emails reveal Coca-Cola’s concerted strategies to shut down soda tax efforts across the globe. Four U.S. cities are voting on soda taxes today—San Francisco is trying to pass the tax again after failing two years ago; Oakland and the small town of Albany, Calif., are voting on similar soda tax measures, as is Boulder, Colo.

Emails between senior level executives for Coca-Cola insisted that Clinton would not make the soda tax a campaign priority:

“[W]e’ve confirmed that there is no continued conversation around beverage taxes today and in future engagements – campaign is not going to drive conversation here or weigh in further,” Katherine Rumbaugh, VP of Government Relations for Coca-Cola North America, wrote. “Also, Jake Sullivan, [Clinton’s senior policy adviser], confirmed that they are not driving this from a policy POV. We’re also working on how to walk this back.”

According to Forbes, Coca-Cola also sent employees to attend lectures given by Marion Nestle, a well-respected New York University professor and author of “Soda Politics,” a book critical of the soda industry–both its products and marketing tactics, which are often targeted at children.

“Coke fretted over the social media response to a report, issued by Center for Science in the Public Interest,” reports Forbes. “The report focused on how Coke markets to children in spite of its pledge not to.”

Earlier this year, University of California research found that over several decades the sugar industry paid researchers to help shift focus away from sugar and toward fat as the culprit in health issues including heart disease. The move helped to shape flawed decades-long dietary recommendations and a low-fat craze that led millions of Americans to avoid fats critical to health (such as omega-fatty-acids) and indulge in harmful trans fats instead.

Coca-Cola’s efforts to defeat soda taxes read eerily similar to the sugar industry’s attempts to deflect blame, as one Coca-Cola executive wrote:

“An industry led, broad-based coalition met today to begin implementing a comprehensive campaign response to the tax proposal. The coalition, having faced beverage tax proposals advanced by the previous administration, is well coordinated and is moving quickly. Coalition efforts include council engagement, continued research and message development, stakeholder outreach, and plans for proactive and reactive media…”

In San Francisco, Coca-Cola and the soda industry at large have reportedly spent more than $21 million in efforts to defeat the city’s ballot measure—because the soda taxes are working. Neighboring San Francisco, the town of Berkeley has already seen a noticeable drop in soda sales since passing its soda tax two years ago. In Mexcio, which is home to the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the world, a ten percent soda tax has been in effect since 2014. The country has seen a twelve percent drop in soda consumption and a four percent increase in water consumption. The Los Angeles Times reports that the tax will save close to 19,000 lives and more than $983 million in just ten years.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.