By Hank Campbell — October 12, 2016 @ American Council on Science and Health
Is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the take from Big Soda? Dr. Tom Frieden will be surprised to hear that their $7 billion budget is moved by a tiny marketing sponsorship at some events. As would the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and we here at the American Council on Science and Health. But that is the inference made by a 'follow the money' conspiracy correlation brought about by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
All of those groups are advocates for public health and all, including some 90 others, received occasional funding from a large soda company in the past. And they are implicated in the American obesity epidemic.
It's obviously a good time to jump on soda companies. Coca-Cola funded a perfectly sensible group at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (who noted accurately for decades prior that if you burn as many calories as you take in you won't gain weight) and not only apologized for it, they have basically apologized for being in the soda business at all. The researchers returned the money even though they had said nothing different for decades. Then we got another conspiracy story in JAMA, this time alleging that one paper in the 1960s somehow absolved sugar of any health guilt and pointed the finger at fat, which swayed both policy makers and the public - and the scientists behind it got a grant for a measly $6,500.(1)
Running a non-profit is very difficult. Everyone is competing for a finite pool of money and it would be great if there were enough foundations to support us all, but there just aren't. Most of our donors are individuals but we will surely take a check from any company that wants to send it, just like the ~100 groups implicated in the paper. Go to any panel hosted by a large non-profit and you will see corporate sponsors everywhere, because it isn't possible to fulfill our missions without accepting unrestricted grants where we can get them. That does not mean any positions change based on that. I have never taken a donation with a stipulation attached and never will.
And why wouldn't JDRF take money from Coke? They support research for the autoimmune disease version of diabetes, type 1, it is not caused by soda. The CDC has been heavily criticized for creating a metric for prediabetes that has almost no clinical relevance, they wouldn't do that if they were in cahoots with Big Soda. I even audited our content here to make sure we hadn't unwittingly been swayed by nominal grants from Coca-Cola and found that our content didn't change at all; we said what we had always said even during occasions where we got sporadic grants, that soda is a treat and bans and taxes on one food are not a magic bullet for obesity any more than banning one kind of bullet would end crime.
I imagine those other groups undertook a similar audit. Heck, the only way the authors knew about the funding was because the companies provided it. Meanwhile, the soda companies were lobbying against bills that implicated soda as some special cause of obesity and diabetes, so the authors suggest our groups were "inadvertently participating in their marketing plans."
We're not picking and choosing science and health positions based on donors or their marketing or lobbying agendas, inadvertently or not. If we mollified our statements based on that we wouldn't be the trusted consumer advocates we are (2) and we wouldn't get donations from the public. Some shills can be funded - U.S. Right To Know is 97 percent funded by organic food corporations who pay them to scaremonger genetically modified foods - but individuals won't give you money if they don't like your work and believe in your mission.
And you clearly do. We appreciate that trust.
(1) Meanwhile, the researcher who wrote that paper claiming Big Sugar was as awful and conspiratorial as Big Tobacco got $400,000 from the foundation of Johnson & Johnson, and then went on a bender about e-cigarettes. What does Johnson & Johnson make? Nicoderm CQ patches, which e-cigarettes compete with.
(2) To everyone not on the kooky side of the activism fringe, at least. Michael Pollan tried to claim we were a "chemical industry front group" because we don't think his high-walled Berkeley garden can actually feed the world. How can we be a front group for Big Chemical and Big Sugar at the same time? It makes no sense, but then again I am not getting "consulting" agreements and speech honorariums from the food corporations I endorse, like he does.