Coca-Cola, obesity and the right to water. Scientific study

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A scientific study just published in The Lancet reveals Coca-Cola’s concerns about obesity and the universal right to water in Low-Middle Income Countries(LMICs). Problems that the Corporation sees as obstacles to its business, in the opposite direction to the needs of public health and civility. (1) Good to know before choosing how to quench your thirst.

Bubble imperialism

TheInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health recently highlighted the imperialism of bubbles. In a study by Gary Ruskin et al. (2019) documenting the strategy perpetrated by Coca-Cola Company to juxtapose the emblematic junk food brand with health, lure minors and their mothers, marginalize detractors. With multimillion-dollar investments in public relations, social marketing and neuromarketing.

The UNICEF-WHO-TheLancet report on Children’s Health Risks (2020) in turn denounces Big Food ‘s predatorymarketing as the primary cause of the deadly escalation of childhood obesity. A disease that in turn drags on others, serious and incurable, increased 11-fold between 1975 and 2016. The empire of bubbly and junk-food thrives, political puppets go along with it, the world gets sick.

Colombia, the disasters of Coca

Research published in The Lancet highlights the disasters caused by Coca in Colombia. A country already devastated by land grabbing and conflicts over land for palm oil production. And above all, a country subject to U.S. political control, unlike those that adhere to ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for Our America) where solidarity and civil society-including through movements such as La Via Campesina- prevail over neoliberalism and Corporation.

An analysis of Coca-Cola Company documents collected in the Food Industry Library in San Francisco at the University of California, along with others in the public domain, shows the group’s interests and concerns in Colombia. Where there is double-digit growth in sales, and yet two possible threats to investment are noted:

civil society and academia carry on a battle to combat obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) through appropriate legislation. Following in the footsteps of Mexico and other neighboring countries, which have achieved reductions in consumption of carbonated and sweetened beverages through Sugar Tax or Soda Tax and nutrition warnings on the label front, (2)

communities and local governments are facing severe water shortages. Just in 2016, the country experienced its worst drought in years, with water rationing in several areas. As Coca-Cola president and chief operating officer James Quincey opened a new bottling plant, in the city of Tocancipa, which would absorb 68.5 percent of the entire municipality’s water consumption.

Universal right to water and greenwashing

Researchers document the strategies put in place by the bubble empire in Latin America to prevent possible taxes on industrial water consumption as a logical consequence of establishing a universal right. The right of access to water, precisely, which was recognized by the UN General Assembly on 7/28/10 (with the abstention, ça va sans dir, of the U.S.) and was ranked sixth among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.


The Corporation
has thus activated a series of public-private partnerships, along with water protection groups. A heinous example of greenwashing. Water for Education, Water for Life, Water for the Future. Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola FEMSA, its franchise chain of bottlers in Latin America, have gone so far as to declare that they have achieved ‘water neutrality’ by returning 100 percent of the water consumed to the public.

Independent studies , moreover, show how the Corporation ‘s vaunted numbers do not consider the water used to produce bottles and cans, packaging, sugar and other ingredients. Where sugar production makes up about two-thirds of the beverage’s total water footprint. Depending on the sweetener used, a total of about 442-618 liters of fresh water would be needed to produce one liter of soda. (3) A hundred liters or so, according to estimates by Prof. Arjen Hoekstra-the creator of the Water Neutral Calculator (a method for calculating the water footprint of processes)-on a model-plant in the Netherlands.

Global Syndemic and SDGs

The Lancet Commission on Obesity, in 2019, focused on an ongoing epidemic on a planetary scale, the
Global Syndemic
. Identifying its primary causes in malnutrition and obesity-the two sides of a mephitic coin-as well as theclimate emergency.

The globalized food supply chain is one of the key players in this crisis, in persisting with aggressive policies to produce and market ultra-processed and health-threatening foods. In addition to playing an instrumental role in international crimes against humanity related to land robbery (
land grabbing
) and the loss of biodiversity. And that is why the FAO recently recommended to its 197 member states that they adopt policies to promote agroecology. Short supply chains that respect both nature and the local communities of production and consumption, the only ones that can guarantee food sovereignty and sustainability.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in UN Agenda 2030, cannot be separated from a transformation of the food supply chain, as noted. However, policy is completely absent, outside of rare virtuous examples that are harshly opposed by global industrial giants (5,6). Also through politics (7.8).

What to do?

Sugary and sweetened drinks are harmful to everyone’s health, as science has amply demonstrated. Replacing them with water or fruit juices produced in Italy by Italian companies and cooperatives-where possible from local and organic fruit-is an essential choice.

In quenching our thirst and feeding ourselves, we support the local economy and agroecology instead of funding the bubble empire. Let’s do our Good and the planet’s Good with responsible spending.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Laura Schmidt, Melissa Mialon, Cristin Kearns, Eric Crosbie. (2020). Transnational corporations, obesity and planetary health. The Lancet – Planetary Health. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30146-7

(2) In Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, special warnings have been introduced on the front label of HFSS foods(High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium. SEE https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade .it/etichette/messico-via-alle-avvertenze-nutrizionali-sul-fronte-etichetta). In addition to Sugar Tax or Soda Tax (see https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade .it/salute/tassazione-delle-bevande-zuccherate-l-oms-avanza-mentre-l-italia-frena)
(3) Amit Srivastava. Never mind the greenwash – Coca Cola can never be ‘water neutral’. The Ecologist. 25.8.15, https://theecologist.org/2015/aug/25/never-mind-greenwash-coca-cola-can-never-be-water-neutral

(4) Christine Mac Donald. Coke claims to give back as much water as it uses. An investigation shows it isn’t even close. The Verge. 5/31/18, https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/31/17377964/coca-cola-water-sustainability-recycling-controversy-investigation

(5) Adding to the examples in footnote 2 is the virtuous case of India, where junk-food has recently been removed from schools (see https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade .it/progresso/junk-food-espulso-dalla-scuola-l-esempio-in-india). Under the leadership of Narendra Damodardas Modi, India also introduced a Soda Tax. And intervened to protect communities from water shortages induced or exacerbated by bottling industries
(6) Lynn Silver. Sugary drink taxes – the new normal. WCRFI (World Cancer Research Fund International). 6/20/18, https://www.wcrf.org/int/blog/articles/2018/06/sugary-drink-taxes—new-normal
(7) U.S. diplomacy, always in the service of Big Food, has long since initiated a political battle against Mexican nutrition policies. As part of the negotiations for the revision of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) treaty. V. https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/nafta-ceta-e-salute
(8) The European Commission, on the other hand, is 11 years (!) late in establishing nutrient profiles to be applied to food products. V. https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/profili-nutrizionali-10-anni-di-latitanza-a-bruxelles