Coca-Cola breaks long-standing relationship with pro-sugar group

Coca-Cola Co. ended its long association with the International Life Sciences Institute, a blow to the powerful food organization known for its research and policies in favor of sugar.

The beverage giant ended its membership “globally, regionally and nationally” this month, Coke said in a statement in response to requests from Bloomberg News. The decision was made after a routine examination, the company said without providing further details.

This departure is a major setback for ILSI at a time when health-conscious consumers are increasingly turning away from high-sugar drinks. The group, which was started in 1978 by a former Coke executive, still numbers such companies as PepsiCo, Kellogg and McDonald’s, but Coke had been a prominent supporter and funder.

Those companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the updated group membership roster. ILSI did not respond to requests for comment.

ILSI has come under fire in recent years for its role in influencing government health and nutrition policies around the world, acting like what some scientists and health experts have called a front group focused on advocacy for its corporate members. The group promoted the industry-friendly idea that exercise, not diet change, is the way to fight obesity, according to a 2015 New York Times report. influence around the world, including in a decades-long effort in China that has been detailed in the Journal of Health, Politics, Policy and Law, as well as in India and Brazil.

Citing growing criticism, candy maker Mars left the organization in 2018, and Nestlé left the regional and national levels in January of last year.

Coke made the decision last year to sever ties, said Mark Preisinger, the company’s director of corporate governance, in an October letter seen by Bloomberg and sent to the Park Foundation, a charity organization. nonprofit that criticized ILSI.

Corporate Accountability, a watchdog group that also called ILSI, said the move suggests that Coke now sees “more risk than reward” in staying with the organization.

“For decades, ILSI has been Coca-Cola’s accomplice in interfering with and blocking policies designed to protect the health and well-being of people around the world,” said Ashka Naik, director of research at Corporate Accountability, in a press release.

Coke’s shares were little changed at 11:25 a.m. in New York. The stock fell 0.9% last year due to closures of sports arenas, theme parks and other sites due to a pandemic, and the company has cut jobs.

Rachel J. Bradford