If GEBN rings a bell, it should. It is the nonprofit (“founded to combat obesity”) that Coca-Cola poured $1.5 million dollars into, and was the focus of a New York Times front page story this past August on food industry conflicts of interest in academia.
Although GEBN “says the $1.5 million it received from Coke doesn’t influence its work, emails obtained by The Associated Press show the company was instrumental in shaping the group.”
- “In an October 16, 2012 email whose subject line is “Ready for a stimulus pkg?” Rhona Applebaum [Coca-Cola’s Chief Health & Science Officer] tells James Hill [GEBN President and Professor of the University of Colorado School of Medicine] she has “sold the concept” of what would become the Global Energy Balance Network. She later informs him those involved will need to be open about collaboration with private industry. “That is non-negotiable,” she says.”
- “On November 8, 2012 Applebaum emails Hill and John Peters [another GEBN leader] about media questions over a Coke-funded study they are working on. Attached is an internal company document with talking points to address such matters. “Also — if you would like media training let me know. All our folks receive it,” she writes.”
- “On July 9, 2014, Applebaum emails the group with a “tweaked” proposal for the establishment of the network. The proposal says the group will “inject sanity and reason” into the debate about obesity and become the go-to resource for media. “Akin to a political campaign, we will develop, deploy and evolve a powerful and multi-faceted strategy to counter radical organizations and their proponents,” it says.”
- “On October 14, 2014, in emails about GEBN potentially partnering with others on a project, Applebaum writes: “There you go! Than (sic) the # of experts and reputable orgs is too large for any naysayers to cull the pack and attack.”
- “When contacted by the AP about the emails, Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent said in a statement that “it has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company’s involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network.” “Clearly, we have more work to do to reflect the values of this great company in all that we do,” Kent said.”
- “It seems like another one of these classic cases of money coming from industry with no strings attached — that’s the official message. But it’s a very different kind of story taking place,” said Leigh Turner, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, who studies academic integrity and conflicts of interest.”
The Associated Press also reports that Rhona Applebaum has stepped down from her role.