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Sugar Daddies: How the Snack Food Industry Funnels Money into Food Policy

Robert Weissman May 25, 2005

p4 sugar daddiesIf you’re wondering why Americans are losing the wars on cancer, heart disease and diabetes, you might look at the funding sources of the major public health groups.

Earlier this month, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) cut a deal with candy and soda-pop maker Cadbury Schweppes. Here’s the deal: Cadbury Schweppes kicks in a couple million dollars to the ADA. In return, the company gets to use the ADA label on its diet drinks, plus the positive publicity generated by the deal.

Just this week, The Journal of Pediatrics published a study placing a good part of the blame for childhood diabetes on soda pop and sugared drinks. The Cadbury/ADA deal came under immediate fire from Gary Ruskin at the Portland-based group Commercial Alert. Ruskin wants the ADA to return what he considers to be a “corrupt contribution” from Cadbury Schweppes.

“Maybe the American Diabetes Association should rename itself the American Junk Food Association,” Ruskin said. “If Cadbury Schweppes really wanted to reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes, it would stop advertising its high-sugar products, and remove them from our nation’s schools.”

We called Richard Kahn, the ADA’s chief medical and scientific officer, to ask about this. (The entire transcript of the interview is posted at www.corporatecrimereporter.com).

On the whole, Kahn sounded like an industry apologist, rather than a public health official. He said the type 2 diabetes problem in the United States is being driven by obesity, and weight is simply a function of the calories in and calories out. It doesn’t matter whether the calories are sugar, protein or carbohydrates.

Kahn said that there was no evidence that sugar or sugared sodas were driving the obesity problem. (The interview was conducted just before The Journal of Pediatrics released its findings, but according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, several previous studies have linked drinking sodas to weight gain.)

We asked Kahn whether he thought it was appropriate to restrict access to junk food. He replied that restricting access to junk food wouldn’t work.

Then we asked him why then the ADA was supporting legislation introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) that would restrict access to junk food via vending machines to school children.

“Because there is little to be lost and potentially some to be gained by limiting the foods sold in vending machines,” Kahn said.

He defended taking money from Cadbury saying that Cadbury was only allowed to use the ADA label on its diet drinks, and that the money would be used for educational programs to encourage people to exercise.

But it’s not just Cadbury Schweppes. The ADA takes big money from a wide range of drug and food companies, among them Kraft Foods, J.M. Smucker Company, General Mills, Inc. and H.J. Heinz Company.

Of course, the ADA is not alone. Dr. Matt Hahn, who runs a community health center in Hancock, Maryland, recently received a carton of 100 samples of Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal.

The carton was accompanied by a letter from Michael McBurney, identified as senior director of nutrition and regulatory affairs. But since his name and signature were placed directly over the name American Heart Association,” Hahn thought McBurney was with the AHA. McBurney is actually with Kellogg’s.

Hahn was surprised that Kellogg’s or the AHA expected him to give out the cereal, which contains trans fats, to his patients. Dr. Hahn told us he wouldn’t, since his patients can get cereals without trans fats.

The AHA says that it agrees with Hahn that people should limit their intake of trans fats, but says that it certified Kellogg’s Smart Start because it meets the AHA guidelines, including containing less than three grams of fat per serving.

“When it comes to Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal, the nutritional label states that it contains zero grams of trans fat, which means that it contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat,” said AHA’s Carrie Thacker.

Thacker says that Kellogg’s gives no money to the AHA, although we later learned from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that the AHA charges companies $7,500 per certified product, and $4,500 per year thereafter – plus additional fees. And like the ADA, the AHA and other health groups like the American Cancer Society get big money donations from a long list of drug and food companies.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Multinational Monitor. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy.

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