Soda Industry Deal with Clinton Foundation Latest PR Stunt
Statement by Michele Simon, director, Center for Informed Food Choices Wednesday, May 3, 2021

The announcement today by soda companies to voluntarily set new nutrition guidelines for the types of beverages sold in schools is just the latest publicity stunt by an industry desperate to avoid government regulation.  Here is what is being left out of most press accounts.

Since December, a team of ten attorneys (including myself) and public health groups have been in private negotiation with lawyers from the American Beverage Association, Coca-Coca, and PepsiCo. From these meetings-operating under the threat of litigation being planned in Massachusetts-we got close to an agreement that is eerily similar to the one announced on Wednesday.

Apparently, Coke and Pepsi were shopping around for the best PR opportunity; it looks much better to have former president Bill Clinton at your side than a bunch of lawyers. What a brilliant move by industry, telling us they were bargaining in good faith while all the while planning another deal. Do we really need any more evidence that food and beverage companies cannot be trusted?

While it's true that the outcome-most sugary beverages out of all schools- might be similar to what we could have gained through litigation settlement, the critical difference is enforceability. The main purpose of bringing a lawsuit is to ensure that the companies would be held accountable to the outcome, whether by court decision or settlement agreement.

Similarly, the current effort in state legislatures all over the nation to pass bills to rid schools of unhealthy drinks (which Coke and Pepsi continue to lobby against vociferously) would require actual policy change. But industry prefers voluntary "self-regulation," a non-enforceable system that has already proven to be a dismal failure.

We have seen this dance from the soda companies before. Last August, the American Beverage Association announced another bogus "policy" that amounted to no more than words on paper. Since that PR stunt didn't make their problems go away, now Coke and Pepsi have just come up with a better idea.