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Friday 16 October 2015

Coca Cola and the corporate charity, 'Sense about Science'

The Times has recently published two articles that highlights the way big corporations organise science so that it helps to sell their products. Basically, they buy it!

This particular story concerns Coca Cola, and evidence that confirms what many people have known for some time - that 'sugary' drinks are unhealthy for us. But it could be a story about any Big Food company, any Big Pharma company, or any big corporation with money to spend on ensuring 'science' agrees with their marketing campaigns. They all operate in the same way. And many people, who call themselves scientists, are prepared to sell their reputations for a big enough cheque!

The research evidence that triggered this situation was entitled "Estimated Global, Regional, and National Disease Burdens Related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010". The background of the research was described as follows:

     "Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are consumed globally and contribute to adiposity. However, the worldwide impact of SSBs on burdens of adiposity-related cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancers, and diabetes mellitus has not been assessed by nation, age, and sex."

It is interesting to read that a drink that has been consumed in huge amounts for over a century have never been tested for these diseases. It appears that Coca Cola has been prepared to sell drinks to us without ever knowing their impact on our health. Still, this is not unusual, certainly amongst Big Food and Big Pharma companies. So what did they discover?

     ".....  we found that in 2010, 184 000 deaths and 8.5 million DALYs worldwide were attributable to consumption of sugary beverages, with three-quarters of these burdens occurring in low- and middle-income countries and the highest proportional burdens among adults 20 to 44 years of age. These results indicate the need for population-based efforts to reduce SSB consumption throughout the world through effective health policies and targeted interventions directed at stemming obesity-related disease."

So this was not the sort of publicity Coca Cola wanted for its highly profitable products. They certainly did not want any action "to reduce SSB consumption throughout the world". Their drinks might be a threat to the health of those who consumed them. It might cause 184,00 deaths every year. But this research was a threat to their profits. So what would they do?

Thanks to the Times articles (unusual for a big media corporation to uncover the activities of a big food corporation) this is what appears to have happened in the UK.

Coca Cola paid money to 'Sense about Science'. SaS is a charity that claims "to work with scientists and members of the public to change public debates and to equip people to make sense of science and evidence." Laudable aims indeed! Their website goes on to state that they "chase down dodgy science and mobilise networks of scientists and community groups to counter it." Wonderful stuff!

However, the Times article, dated 9th October 2015, suggested something quite different is happening.

     "Coca-Cola is to publish details of all the scientific research it funds in the UK after an investigation by The Times uncovered that the company had spent millions of pounds to counter claims that its drinks help to cause obesity.

     "The newspaper reported that the soft drinks giant ... has financial links to more than a dozen British scientists, including government health advisers and others who cast doubt on the commonly accepted link between sugary drinks and the obesity crisis.

So let us be entirely clear about this. Coca Cola has spent millions to counter the claims of a research study, and to raise doubt about whether their drinks cause harm, and kill people. So who did Coca Cola use to 'cast doubt' on the links between sugary drinks and the obesity crisis? The Times article, dated 9th October 2015, informs us.

     "A British charity set up to promote evidence-based science received more than £20,000 from Coca-Cola and then questioned research that was critical of sugary drinks.

     "Sense About Science, which was set up in 2002 to “change public discussions about science and evidence”, has Simon Singh, the author and journalist, and Nick Ross, the broadcaster, on its board of trustees. The charity received £20,681 from the company between 2012 and 2013, it said. It disclosed Coca-Cola as a funder on its website but made no mention of the relationship in several instances when it published criticism of research into the negative...........?????????"

So SaS, this science charity with such laudable objectives, has cast doubt on the deaths caused by sugary drinks, but in doing so, they failed to reveal their financial links with Coca-Cola.

Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre and many of their lesser minions, such as Paul Morgan, regularly attack this blog when I criticise conventional medicine, and the science that is supposed to support it. Indeed, most of the critics of Homeopathy during the last 10 years are members of SaS, so perhaps this situation makes the aims of SaS clearer.

The pharmaceutical industry does not like homeopathy. It represents a safer and more effective medical therapy to conventional medicine, dominated as it is with pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines. So SaS attacks homeopathy in an effort to support its paymasters!

The Alliance for Natural Health appears to agree with this, and in its article on this affair, gives a measured opinion of this organisation.

     "Sense About Science is the charity with which anti-alternative medicine skeptics like Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre are associated, that claims to be independent yet often acts as a voice for Big Food, Pharma and Biotech."

ANH goes on to assess the importance of the Times articles. They are worth repeating here to underline the financial (as opposed to the alleged scientific) motivation of SaS, and its credibility as an opponent of homeopathy, and other alternative medicines.

     "..... Coca-Cola has poured millions of pounds into British scientific research and healthy-eating initiatives to counter claims that their sugary drink does, indeed, help to cause obesity." 

     "Coca-Cola has financial links to more than a dozen high profile, influential British scientists and government advisors. It would seem the main game plan has been to ensure they cast doubt on the commonly-accepted link, one supported by none other than the Harvard School of Public Health, between sugary drinks and the growing obesity crisis."

     "(Increased sugar consumption) kills up to 53,000 people a year and costs the NHS £5.1 billion annually."

     "The British Government rejected recent calls for a sugar tax on consumers despite support from the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies ... (and) ...  the British Medical Association". 

The ANH article outlines the money Coca Cola has 'invested' in a variety of British organisations, including the British Nutrition Foundation, the National Obesity Forum, the British Dietetic Association, and many others. What they wanted from their 'investments' is not mentioned, but it might be surmised!

     "Coca-Cola representatives have met government officials and ministers more than 100 times over a period of 36 months between 2011 and 2014, that is nearly three times each month."

     "Coca-Cola hosts an annual parliamentary dinner." 

The ANH article also outlines some of the politicians and government advisors with known connections to Coca Cola, and some of the statements they have made. Are these position what they actually thought, or what they were paid to think and say?

     "When I correlated sugar consumption with obesity levels, there didn’t appear to be any relationship.”

“I do not regard links with both industry and the government as being in conflict. Both the public and industry are entitled to access the best advice available.”

The ANH article also notes that Coca Cola are also 'ceaselessly advertising'. As yet, the Advertising Standards Authority, has not questioned any of this advertising of a product that is clearly dangerous to our health! Perhaps that is because the evidence on which Coca Cola advertising is based is less than reliable!

     "On 31 December 2013, Spanish researchers found that scientific papers on sugary drinks that were sponsored by or had potential conflicts of interest with the food and drink industry, including Coca-Cola, were five times more likely to find no link with obesity than similar papers that were independently funded.

ANH mention one further important fact that is very important. If sugary drinks are harmful to health, why not drink the non-sugar versions. It is a false thought as the drinks using article sweeteners are probably much more harmful.

     "For anyone trying to lose weight, drinking soft drinks may be one of the worst things you can do – and that includes “diet’ or low calorie versions. The high sugar versions are by no means the only offenders. Nature magazine published research findings that show that artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame and saccharin cause changes in the beneficial bacteria that live in the human gut and contribute in regulating our metabolism. These artificial sweeteners also reduce our body’s ability to process glucose. The side-effects conspire to play a significant role in raising the overall risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Big Corporations are a threat not only to our health, but to our lifestyles, and indeed our freedoms. 

It is not just that they use their wealth, influence and power to provide us with products that harm us, whether this be sugary drinks, confectionary, processed foods, pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, rogue bankers, or Volkswagen cars.

These powerful corporations control our politicians, our governments, and our media. Corporate corruption infiltrate organisations, including charities, patient support groups and the like, in order to ensure that the general public only hear what they want us to hear. Selling and profit are king. Honesty and truth are secondary considerations. We are just consumers, and it matters not how much we are harmed.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Daraprim. A 'for-profit' drug in a monopoly industry

The mainstream media were exercised over this drug recently. The drug, Daraprim, has been market for 62 years. It is used for a an illness called toxoplasmosis, caused by a parasite in food, and compromises the immune system.

Turing Pharmaceuticals, owned by Martin Shkreli, a venture capitalist, gained control over this drug, and immediately increased the price from $13.50 to $750, a rise of over 5,000%! Natural News stated that the price hike was actually even larger when it said that the drug was priced at just $1 "a few years ago".

The outcry that followed immediately got the attention of leading USA politicians.  Hillary Clinton called the new price 'outrageous', and promised to respond to it with 'a plan', presumably a cunning plan! Another presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, responded by demanding information about the total gross revenues of Daraprim. He was quoted as follows:

"The enormous, overnight price increase for Daraprim is just the latest in a long list of skyrocketing price increases for certain critical medications."

Quite right. The issue with Daraprim is that it is the only drug licenced to treat toxoplasmosis. Turing Pharmaceuticals defended themselves. The previous company, they said, was "just giving the drug away", and that "you only need less than 100 pills so at the end of the day the price per course of treatment to save your life was only $1,000". The added that "these days modern pharmaceutical, cancer drugs, can cost %1,000 or more" and that "Daraprim is still underpriced". And, of course, the extra profit would be used to develop new and better drugs to treat the condition.

If we needed any confirmation that the pharmaceutical industry was about profit rather than patient health, perhaps we need go no further than this story! Such profiteering is not an isolated example. As the New York Times said, before going on to provide other examples of this practice,

     "While most of the attention (on drug price increase) has been on new drugs.... there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment".

I am left amazed at the outcry. This blog regularly discusses the dangers of conventional medical drugs, and their ineffectiveness. The third major problem with pharmaceutical drugs is their cost. Drug companies have been able to charge what they like for drugs for a very long time now. And politicians have been happy to pay drug companies whatever they ask for (with taxpayer money, of course). Pharmaceuticals are big business, and there are huge profits to be made from them.

This has been the situation for decades. Why should this particular situation attract so much interest?

National health services throughout the world have given conventional, drug-based medicine a virtual monopoly over our health care. And monopolies do over-price their wares. We know this from other spheres of life. The fact is that Daraprim is not the only treatment for toxoplasmosis. It is the only conventional drug that is licensed to treat toxoplasmosis - and that is quite a different matter.

The only way to rid ourselves of a monopoly is to search for other solutions, and as far as this disease is concerned, there are other alternatives, including herbal medicine and homeopathy. We ignore this, and maintain the pharmaceutical monopoly, at our own cost.