Since 2010, Coca-Cola South Pacific has donated around $422,000 to Kiwi health organisations and professionals, such as Dietitians NZ, Bike NZ, NZ Nutrition Foundation, Otago and Massey universities, according to the company’s new transparency website. Coca-Cola’s recent disclosure of funding followed a similar move by its UK and US branches.
“We have financially supported partnerships and research with third party experts to improve our understanding of the role our drinks play in people’s diets and the benefits of physical activity, alongside a balanced diet,” said Roberto Mercadé, president of Coca-Cola South Pacific, in a statement.
Addressing the critics, especially those raising concern about the existence of a conflict of interest, Mercadé explained that most of the funding in New Zealand went to Coca-Cola’s partnership programmes with community organisations, public sector and not-for-profit organisations.
“These are primarily local community projects designed to have the most positive impact possible in the communities they operate in,” he said. “When we do fund research, the recipients of our funding have full control over the work they do, which is objective and independent, and we expect they do disclose this funding source in any publication in which it appears.”
Answering to one of website’s FAQs (‘How can you be part of the solution to obesity if you are part of the problem?’), Coca-Cola highlighted its commitment to wellbeing through smaller size packages and lower sugar options. The company also voluntarily adopted the Health Star Rating scheme.
The announcement sparked controversy over the list of 14 health professional and scientific experts that were funded in Australia, including two dentistry professionals from New Zealand. In response, the NZ Dental Association stated, through its spokesman Rob Beaglehole, that they felt ‘very uncomfortable’ with dieticians and nutritionists accepting money and sponsorship from a corporation.
In the meantime Diabetes New Zealand, which received $77,467 from Coca-Cola in 2010 and 2011, declared they should not have accepted the company's money and would not do it again. A similar statement came from Dietitians NZ, which received over $7,000 in five years, including $5,000 in conference speaker travel fees.
"It's unlikely that we would go with Coca-Cola now or in the future," said Cheryl Linge, chief executive, Dietitians NZ.