Groups With Junk-food Ties
Distributed by Parents Advocating School Accountability,
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Knight-Ridder Newspapers' Washington Bureau is the latest victim
of deception by paid advocates for the junk food industry
masquerading as independent experts on diets. A recent K-R
article quoted dietitian Dr. Susan Finn, chair of the
benevolently-named American Council for Fitness and Nutrition
insisting that junk-food-stocked vending machines in schools
play no role in the child obesity crisis. The American Council
for Fitness and Nutrition counts among its members The Coca Cola
Company, Pepsico, Kraft Foods, Cadbury Schweppes, the Snack Food
Association, the Sugar Association and the National Soft Drink
The press should be aware that there are numerous such groups
and should remember to find out who funds their sources. This
8/10/03 San Francisco Chronicle editorial gives a well-informed
Truth is Elusive in Soda Battle as Industry-Funded 'Experts'
PITY CONSUMERS—or legislators—trying to figure out who stands
for what when making up their minds on controversial issues like
whether sugar-filled sodas should be sold in our schools.
Last month at a hearing in Sacramento, Lisa Mosing, a dietitian
from Fullerton, testified against SB677, a bill by Sen. Deborah
Ortiz restricting on-campus soda sales. Mosing's central
message: lack of exercise, not sodas, causes obesity.
But Mosing is hardly a disinterested dietitian. She runs her own
consulting firm and regularly consults for the
soda and food industry. In fact, she was paid by the California
Nevada Soft Drink Association to testify at the hearing,
something she neglected to disclose in her public testimony.
She did reveal she is on the advisory board of the American
Council on Fitness and Nutrition. It is one of a slew of
tax-exempt organizations in Washington, D.C., with wholesome
names—the Center for Consumer Freedom and the American Council
on Science and Health are others—that are actually funded wholly
or in part by corporate interests to defeat threatening
legislation or discredit potentially damaging research.
We have no problem with any corporation making its best case for
its products, in whatever forum. But it pollutes the arena of
discourse when charitable organizations they create or support
obscure their sources of funding while posing as objective
sources of information.
In June, for example, the Center for Consumer Freedom (see
sent out a press release attacking Ortiz' bill, alleging it was
based on "fizzy science." It contended that "no causal link
between soda and obesity has ever been produced." In an op-ed
piece in our newspaper, the group trashed a seminal 2001 Harvard
study co-authored by Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity
program at Children's Hospital Boston, as "dubious science." The
study found that every additional can of soda kids drink daily
increases their risk of becoming obese by 60 percent.
The group also attacked a study by Harvard professor Grace
Wyshak showing that physically active girls who drink sodas
regularly are more likely to suffer from bone fractures. "Wyshak
never came close to proving that soda pop had anything to do
with broken bones," wrote David Martosko, the center's "research
director." He criticized Ortiz for "using this hollow 'study' "
in the text of her bill.
But like Mosing the dietitian, the Center for Consumer Freedom
is hardly an unbiased source. Originally known as the Guest
Choice Network, and begun with funds from the tobacco giant
Philip Morris, the organization is the brainchild of Washington
lobbyist Richard Berman, who is also the group's executive
director. Berman also founded the American Beverage Institute,
which fights drunk-driving laws, and the Employment Policy
Institute, which works against minimum-wage legislation opposed
by the restaurant industry.
Berman runs all three organizations out of his offices in
downtown Washington, which we visited last month. Some of the
same staff members work for all three organizations. Not only
does Berman draw a salary from at least one of the
organizations, all three, in turn, pay huge fees to his lobbying
firm for a range of services.
We called Boston researcher Ludwig, who told us that Berman and
his staff never contacted him to clarify his research before
widely attacking it. The group, he said, engages in "highly
selective quoting," and "missed the main point" of his research.
And he dismissed their critique of his peer-reviewed study,
published in the highly respected journal Lancet. "These are
commonly used research techniques, whose methodology has been
validated, and can provide important and useful information if
used accurately," he said.
If anything, he said, his work may underestimate the impact of
drinking sodas on obesity.
Wyshak was equally dismissive of the center's criticisms of her
work. "I showed there was a relationship between soda
consumption, especially cola drinks, and bone fractures in
physically active teenage girls," she said. "It is consistent
with what is known, consistent with what we call biologically
Center for Consumer Freedom staffers also maintain that a
resolution to ban soda sales by the Los Angeles Unified School
District beginning next January was instigated by a bunch of
left-wingers at the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental
College in Los Angeles. For instance, Martosko told us, its
director Bob Gottlieb was a member of the activist Student for a
Democratic Society in the 1960s.
Gottlieb, a professor of urban and environmental policy,
dismissed the allegations as erroneous or irrelevant. "It's
guilt by association, without looking at the substance of the
issues," he said. Rather than the work of a left-wing cadre, the
L.A. schools soda ban was the outcome of lobbying by a coalition
of organizations, some of whose work was even praised by the
Bush administration. As to his own background, he said, "I was a
student activist, and I'm proud of it."
After hearing from Mosing and others, the Assembly Health
Committee watered down Ortiz's bill to exclude high schools,
where most soda sales occur. The full Assembly will vote on it
later this month. The bill's uncertain fate can't be tied
directly to the input from industry-sponsored groups or their
representatives. But they play a key role in obfuscating the
issues, and confusing the debate by consistently challenging
"They are part of the necessary arsenal that corporations use to
squash any regulation or reform," said Andrew McGuire, director
of the Trauma Foundation in San Francisco, an advocate for
tougher drunk- riving laws. "Ultimately, what they do is confuse
consumers, who eventually say, 'forget about the whole thing.' "
We hope the Legislature won't be as easily dissuaded.
Organizations with warm and fuzzy words in their titles can't
hide the underlying truth: research—and common sense—make clear
that excessive soda consumption contributes to children becoming
overweight. And schools have no business exacerbating the
problem by selling sodas to captive, and gullible, consumers.
This is one in a series of editorials on the commercialization
of childhood. See the others at
Note from PASA: Since this editorial was written, the
watered-down version of SB677 has passed the California Senate
and is awaiting Gov. Davis' signature.
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