Coca-Cola Takes on Scaremongers

Published May 13, 2015

At the April meeting of the Coca-Cola Company’s (CCC) shareholders, the National Center for Public Policy Research urged the soft drink manufacturer’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, to do more to promote the safety and benefits of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

The food industry has come under constant assault from anti-science activists demonizing these GMOs in recent years.

Kent was asked to make himself and CCC’s health scientists and nutrition specialists available to the media to combat unscientific activists and stand up for the promise of GMOs.

Kent replied, “Many of our regulatory affairs executives and scientific executives are involved in those discussions, and I’m very happy to even recommit them to a very productive dialogue with organizations like yours. And I’m very happy to be also a part of those where it can serve a purpose.”

Debunking Unscientific Theories

Greg Conko, executive director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says CCC’s strategy is the right approach to combating anti-GMO scaremongers, but U.S. companies have a long way to go.

“People love Coca Cola and other major brands like Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, and Kraft Foods,” Conko said. “These are brands people trust, so if consumers start hearing more from these people, and particularly from scientists within those sectors, then they are going to be exposed to more rational explanations, and maybe they are going to start asking questions.”

Conko says radical green groups such as Greenpeace and the Center for Food Safety have been unchallenged when putting out misleading information stating people should avoid Coca Cola because it contains high-fructose corn syrup, has genetically engineered ingredients, has too much sugar, too much caffeine, or other characteristics activists cast as worrisome.

If CCC isn’t saying, “No, no, no, wait a minute, here’s what we know about the ingredients we use,” people are absolutely only going to hear one side of the argument, Conko says.

“But if Coca Cola or some of those other companies start meeting these crazy theories with scientific evidence, then it will get consumers to start asking questions and it will get easier for them to get information from other trusted avenues like their family doctor, the health section of their newspapers, consumer reporters on television, etc.,” Conko said.

“We need to start getting into those places where people are getting their news,” Conko said. “That, along with the food companies standing up and defending themselves and their products, is what we really need to do to reach consumers.”

Some Bend, Some Don’t

CEOs who support sound science and refuse to bend to activist campaigns should be applauded, says Dr. Gilbert Ross, executive director of the American Council on Science and Health.

“It might be more productive to go to a company whose leadership is wavering on the subject and explain to them scientifically why it’s repugnant to have companies flee from the science in order to please what they consider to be consumer concerns, which are exaggerated tremendously anyway,” Ross said.

Need to Practice Self-Defense

Companies should refute the activists and stand up for their products if they are not doing anything wrong, says H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News.

“Coke, just like all soft drinks, has been using corn syrup for its sweetener for a long time,” Burnett said. “If soft-drink companies like Coke are not using cane sugar, they’re probably using corn syrup, which means they’re using GMO corn. As long as there’s been corn syrup in soft drinks, there’s been GMO corn in soft drinks. Not a single person has been shown to be harmed by this.”

Burnett says these products are safe, and the people who are arguing against GMO ingredients, products, and medicines are fringe characters.

“They’re just missing the boat,” Burnett said. “These products are no less safe than anything else, regardless of the way they are created. In fact, they are better. You’re not modifying perfect foods, because perfect foods don’t need modification. They’re making these foodstuffs better.”

Matthew Glans ([email protected]) is a senior policy analyst at The Heartland Institute.