June 30, 2016

Emails between Coca-Cola industry advocate and CDC director point to possible political sway

Philadelphia recently imposed a soda tax partially as a means to discourage consumption of beverages seen as unhealthy

Email correspondence obtained by the nonprofit consumer education group U.S. Right to Know allegedly reveals how a leading Coca-Cola and food industry representative garnered help from a top official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in hopes of getting into the ears of World Health Organization officials.

The emails were between Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola scientific and regulatory affairs leader and the founder of a food industry-funded group, International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).

They allegedly show Bowman's multiple attempts to aid Malaspina's relationship with WHO leaders whose actions (think soda tax) were hurting the beverage industry.

According to the report, Bowman – whose job is to try to help prevent obesity, diabetes and other health problems – “appeared happy to help the beverage industry cultivate political sway with the World Health Organization.”

The correspondence allegedly shows her giving Malaspina advice, forwarding him emails from a U.S. Department of Agriculture official and discussing possibly meeting for dinner in the near future.

U.S. Right to Know researcher Carey Gillam spoke with Marion Nestle, author of the book “Soda Politics” and a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, who said, “the fact that a high-level U.S. health official is communicating in this way with a beverage industry leader appears improper.”

Nestle added that the emails "suggest that ILSI, Coca-Cola, and researchers funded by Coca-Cola have an ‘in’ with a prominent CDC official. The official appears to be interested in helping these groups organize opposition to ‘eat less sugar’ and ‘disclose industry funding’ recommendations.

The invitation to dinner suggests a cozy relationship... This appearance of conflict of interest is precisely why policies for engagement with industry are needed for federal officials.”

U.S. Right to Know could not get a comment from Bowman or Malaspina.

Read the full report at U.S. Right to Know.