Another day, another example of how some of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ partners (in this particular case, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) rely on manipulation and deception to spin issues to their liking.
A study released yesterday by the Berkeley Media Studies group “which analyzed news articles and industry publications from November 2011 to January 2013, [found that] the soda industry infiltrated news stories while camouflaging its identity. The industry recruited a broad range of community spokespeople, from pastors to politicians, to voice an anti-tax position on their behalf. Many of these sources received industry funding but were not identified as connected to industry. This allowed soda companies to distance themselves from the political debate and create the appearance that opposition to the taxes came from within the community, rather than from a well-funded PR campaign.”
There’s more. “The study also found that the soda industry, which spent $4 million to defeat the proposals, exploited existing class-based and, in the case of Richmond, race-based tensions to portray the tax as financially ruinous and regressive. The industry claimed — sometimes directly and sometimes through community spokespeople — that it would be financed off the backs of the cities’ poorest residents.”
And, when it came to California, “the soda industry leveraged California’s legal structure to orchestrate arguments against the tax. Because the state’s Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass taxes intended for a specific purpose, rather than for the general fund, Richmond and El Monte decided to forego earmarks so that they would need fewer votes to succeed. In spite of both cities having companion ballot measures that explained how the funds would be used — including for health purposes — the soda industry used the structure of the proposals to cast doubt on city officials’ motives and paint the tax as a money grab.”
Today, public health lawyer Michele Simon published an article about a proposed bill in San Francisco that would tax soda at two cents per ounce. The soda industry is once again called out for dubious practices:
“Just this week, the San Francisco Bay Guardian conducted a sting, also catching Big Soda operatives signing up numerous unwitting local businesses to their list of supporters. In some cases, low-level employees signed on without authority, while other businesses were no longer even open. Also, canvassers presented a very biased view of the tax, not stating where the money would go, and then failing to inform owners they would be placed on an opposition list.”
And then there’s this:
“Polling released last week by the California Endowment looks promising. Two out of three California voters support taxing sugary drinks when the revenues are tied to children’s health programs. (This confirms earlier polling showing that voters are more likely to support soda taxes tied to health services versus a general tax.)
These results rattled the American Beverage Association so much that they put out this ridiculous press release last week (one day prior to the poll results) proclaiming that “Public Opinion Remains Opposed To Taxing, Limiting Soft Drinks,” but without any new research. Specifically, the release claimed: “Nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose additional taxes on soft drinks … according to a number of recent independent public polls.”
Really? An astute observer on Twitter named Colin Whooten noticed the related fact-free tweet from @AmeriBev and asked for some backing, tweeting at ABA: “you release a study without citing the source? No bias there I’m sure. How about study details?” In response, ABA cheerfully replied with three links, including this 2013 Associated Press survey that concludes there is “little support” for soda taxes but no underlying data is offered, along with this poll claiming that 63 percent oppose “sin taxes.” However that poll question only asked: “Do you favor or oppose so-called ‘sin taxes’ on sodas and junk food?” – nothing about dedicating revenue to social programs most voters favor.”
The soda industry is fiercely protecting its bottom line; it certainly has every right to. However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics should look at this corporate behavior and realize that it, in no way, aligns with the Academy’s vision of helping Americans live more healthfully. We are completely befuddled by the Academy’s staunch defense of its Big Food and Big Soda partners when it seems like, almost daily, these same companies are making headlines for all the wrong reasons.