Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to school with PepsiCo stealth marketing?

I recently blogged about questions regarding how PepsiCo's voluntary beverage guidelines, announced in March, would be implemented in schools given that contracts are made at the local level. Now with back- to-school in full swing, I have even more questions about how PepsiCo may be using stealth marketing techniques to gain access to that coveted captive K-12 audience.

Today, the company announced a new program it calls Score for Your School. From the press release:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Must-read aricles on egg recall that I did not write

In case you missed it, either because you don't watch the news, don't eat eggs, or like me, both, about 1,500 people have so far been sickened by an outbreak of Salmonella in eggs. A massive recall of half a billion eggs from two Iowa factory farms ensued. I was planning to write my own blog post on this when I realized that others have already done such a good job saying what needed to be said. So instead, I am offering up my list of favorite articles by people I already knew or have just come to admire.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Video of my MSNBC interview on egg recall

Today I was interviewed on the Dylan Ratigan Show about the massive egg recall this week, now at more than half a billion eggs, with at least 1,000 people made ill and counting. The host understood that the root cause of the problem is our industrialized, factory farm food system. The segment starts about a minute into the video clip.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Will schools follow new PepsiCo beverage guidelines even if students want Mountain Dew?

This past March, soft drink giant PepsiCo announced with much fanfare a new global school policy. The specific guidelines, to take effect by 2012, limit the types of beverages that are to be sold in schools. According to the press release, the policy will "stop sales of full-sugar soft drinks to primary and secondary schools."

That's why the announcement last week that Union County High School in Indiana was signing on to a brand new five-year contract with Pepsi (thereby ending its exclusive contract with Coca-Cola) came as a surprise. Not the contract itself, but what one school official had to say about it. From the news article:
The new contract is expected to earn the high school and middle school and booster groups $20,000 more over five years, Union County Middle School Assistant Principal Mark Detweiler said. Prices for soft drinks will remain $1.25, but school officials expect sales to increase with Pepsi products. "Students drink Mountain Dew," Detweiler said.
They sure do, only problem is, PepsiCo says those products aren't for sale. Or are they?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Court not buying Coke's defense of its deceptive marketing of vitaminwater as lawsuit proceeds

My friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently scored an important court victory in its lawsuit against Coca-Cola for deceptive marketing of its product vitaminwater. (In case you missed it, the soft drink giant purchased Glaceau, maker of vitaminwater, back in 2007 for a cool $4.2 billion in cash.)

The class action, filed in January 2009 in federal court in New York, alleges that Coca-Cola's claims about vitaminwater's heath benefits are false, misleading, deceptive, and unfair. As CSPI's press release explained:
Vitaminwater's website, marketing copy, and labels claim that vitaminwater is healthy, claiming, for example, that "balance cran-grapefruit" has "bioactive components" that promote "healthy, pain-free functioning of joints, structural integrity of joints and bones" and that the nutrients in “power-c dragonfruit" "enable the body to exert physical power by contributing to the structural integrity of the musculoskeletal system."
If those claims sound like they belong on a pharmaceutical product, you're right. As CSPI notes, they go way beyond anything the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows "and cross the line into outright fraud." Then there's the sugar. According to CSPI, "the 33 grams of sugar in each bottle of vitaminwater do more to promote obesity, diabetes, and other health problems than the vitamins in the drinks do to perform the advertised benefits listed on the bottles."

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My latest article on AlterNet - how PepsiCo is buying up top-notch health experts

My latest article on AlterNet is entitled: "How Junk Food Giant PepsiCo Is Buying Up High-Ranking Experts to Look Like a Leader in Health and Nutrition."

And the subhead is just as fun: "Pepsi's strategy: Create a research environment so scientists and public health experts don't feel out of place at the corporate HQ of sugar, salt and fat."

You can read it there and add your comments.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Yale Alumni Magazine covers PepsiCo / Yale School of Medicine partnership controversy

This past March, I blogged about how soda and snack food giant PepsiCo formed a partnership with the Yale School of Medicine, where I earned my public health degree. The grant included $250,000 for a 5-year research fellowship to be awarded to an MD/PhD student.

That post apparently set off a chain reaction of coverage of the deal, first in the Yale Daily News ("Critics fizz over Pepsi gift"), followed by the Wall Street Journal ("Boola Moolah! Food Fight at Yale") and on the San Francisco Chronicle health blog.

Now, in the current issue of Yale Alumni Magazine, fellow alum Carole Bass pens "Critics question Pepsi partnership," quoting me and others on the wisdom of Yale linking arms with the nation's largest promoter of sugar, salt, and fat. Adding to the irony, Yale is already home to the Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity, which is headed up by Kelly Brownell, a frequent critic of Big Food.

And anyway, what sort of research could possibly come of this largesse that didn't benefit PespiCo? Playing defense in the article is Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern: "There are numerous safeguards in place to protect the integrity of our research."

It's probably a bad sign when you have to use the word "safeguard" to defend taking money. Safeguards are usually for doing risky things, like skateboarding and skydiving, not philanthropy.

Alpern also responds to those who worry that the medical school's scientific principles may have been sacrificed in the name of Cheetos and Mountain Dew. Not so, Alpern assures my fellow alumni: "PepsiCo will have no involvement in who is chosen for the fellowship or the project to which the student is assigned." I for one am not assured.

The article ends aptly with a quote from Professor Jerome Kassirer, expert in conflicts of interest at Tufts School of Medicine: (Could the author find no such expert at Yale?)
The problem is that it's impossible to know whether the money given to the school can in some way have an influence on what people in the [nutrition] department might say about PepsiCo products.
And that's just for starters.

Back in April I posted the lame response I got from Yale's public affairs office upon signing a petition started on Change.org, which now has more than 1,000 signatures. But let's keep the pressure on. You can either sign the petition or email Dean Alpern directly.

And thanks to reporter Carole Bass for a job well done.

Bangkok Post covers release of Appetite for Profit in Thailand as problem spreads there

OK, so is not one my usual blog posts, but I can't help sharing my excitement. As I wrote about previously, my book has been translated into Thai, with 1,000 copies already distributed.

The translation and distribution of Appetite for Profit was commissioned by the Chulalongkorn University-based Health Consumer Protection Project, which is now releasing more copies, as was reported yesterday by the Bangkok Post. The article ("Taking a bite of out fast food: An expose details the industry's attack on food") includes graphics with pull-out quotes from the book.

If you're wondering why folks in Thailand would be interested in a book that is admittedly pretty America-centric, it seems there are warning signs that the problem is spreading there. For example, a survey conducted by the Thai Office of the Basic Education Commission found that sodas are available at 20 percent of the 20,000 schools in the country.

And this will sound familiar. Another study found some schools had agreed to allow a beverage giant to sell soda on school property in exchange for the company providing a van.

Here is how Siriwat Tiptaradol, Public Health Ministry deputy permanent secretary and the editor of the Thai version of the book explains it: "The influence of the food industry isn't limited to the US, but extends all over the world." The article also makes the case for policy change:
Developing countries like Thailand should be alert about this transnational issue and work with authorities, academics, and the public and private sectors to come up with policies to safeguard people from conditions that result from poor diet such as diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes. Otherwise, these problems will end up costing billions of baht in health care spending every year, Tiptaradol said.

A wise call for prevention before its too late.