"Always read the small print": a case study of commercial research funding, disclosure and agreements with Coca-Cola

J Public Health Policy. 2019 Sep;40(3):273-285. doi: 10.1057/s41271-019-00170-9.

Abstract

Concerns about conflicts of interest in commercially funded research have generated increasing disclosure requirements, but are these enough to assess influence? Using the Coca-Cola Company as an example, we explore its research agreements to understand influence. Freedom of Information requests identified 87,013 pages of documents, including five agreements between Coca-Cola and public institutions in the United States, and Canada. We assess whether they allowed Coca-Cola to exercise control or influence. Provisions gave Coca-Cola the right to review research in advance of publication as well as control over (1) study data, (2) disclosure of results and (3) acknowledgement of Coca-Cola funding. Some agreements specified that Coca-Cola has the ultimate decision about any publication of peer-reviewed papers prior to its approval of the researchers' final report. If so desired, Coca-Cola can thus prevent publication of unfavourable research, but we found no evidence of this to date in the emails we received. The documents also reveal researchers can negotiate with funders successfully to remove restrictive clauses on their research. We recommend journals supplement funding disclosures and conflict-of-interest statements by requiring authors to attach funder agreements.

Keywords: Coca-Cola; Conflicts of interest; Industry funding; Research funding; Transparency.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research*
  • Canada
  • Carbonated Beverages*
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Disclosure*
  • Food Industry*
  • Publications
  • Research Support as Topic*
  • United States