COLLABORATION

Coca-Cola’s academic research funding comes with a major catch

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Drinks giant Coca-Cola has the ability to “quash” any company-funded research they don’t like.

Drinks giant Coca-Cola legally ensures it has the ability to “quash” any company-funded research they don’t like and gain early access to research findings prior to publication, a new report from Cambridge University has found.

Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies made the discovery while reviewing over 87,000 research funding agreements between private corporations and public institutions. Researchers obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act, and released their findings in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

The report detailed how Coke’s legal agreements ensure it has the right to “quash studies progressing unfavourably” or “pressure researchers using the threat of termination” in at least five agreements with various academic institutions between 2015 and 2016.

Policy researcher from Cambridge and lead author of the study, Dr Sarah Steele, noticed the agreements held a striking resemblance to wording in now infamous contracts.

“It’s a playbook from Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. We looked to see if this is something that can happen with Big Food,” she said, as reported by CNBC.

Coke has poured millions of dollars into academic research at universities, and have undeniably achieved some great work and groundbreaking health benefits.

But this report shows they have been allowed early access to research findings prior to publication, killing studies that could be damaging, such as those connecting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity.

The report, released earlier this month, is entitled “Always read the small print,” pointing to Coca-Cola’s extensive legal documents giving them excessive control over research.

Not only do they have early access to results, the company can also provide comments on the research, and maintains intellectual property rights connected to the research.

“Coca-Cola is writing into some of its research agreements the ability to influence — and even kill — its research projects. This is very significant,” study author Gary Ruskin, told Discover Magazine.

“One of the tenets of the scientific method is that the outcomes of experiments are not predetermined. But in some cases, Coca-Cola had the power to predetermine scientific outcomes, in that it could kill the studies if they turned out badly for Coca-Cola and its profits. That’s not science. It’s public relations.”