A SUIT FILED AGAINST THE COCA-COLA
Co. serves as yet another warning for food and
beverage companies that they shouldn’t make
health claims that aren’t clearly backed up by
science, experts say.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest,
a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., sued Coca-Cola and the trade association American Beverage Association on Jan. 4,
alleging they downplayed the risks associated
with soda products. The case is being heard in
the U.S. district court in Oakland, California.
CSPI alleges Coca-Cola “represented falsely
that sugar-sweetened beverages are not linked
to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” The group also accuses the company of
funding expensive initiatives that encourage customers to exercise
to burn off the calories
from their beverages.
CSPI points to the
“Be OK” ad campaign
that states: “A 12 oz.
can of Coke =
There are many ways to burn those calories
through EXTRA physical activity and have fun
while doing so.”
CSPI is known for suing companies that alleg-
edly overstate the nutritional benefits of their
product or understate the risks associated with
their potentially harmful ingredients, advertis-
ing attorneys say.
Coca-Cola issued a statement calling the
case meritless. “We take our consumers and
their health very seriously and have been on a
journey to become a more credible and helpful partner in helping consumers manage their
sugar consumption,” the company said. It noted
that it has taken efforts to expand low- and no-calorie products, added smaller-sized drinks to
its lineup, and reformulated its drinks to reduce
added sugars. Coca-Cola notes that it discloses
its funding of health and well-being scientific
research, and that it does not advertise to children under the age of 12.
Jason Howell, a partner at Perkins Coie in
Seattle, says there is a lesson here for in-house
attorneys, particularly those working at food
and beverage companies. “These types of cases
are always a good general reminder for in-house
counsel,” he says. “Whenever you’re vetting
advertising and marketing materials, be careful
to scrub the content to make sure the company
is not making false, misleading or unsupported
messages, especially for health-related claims.”
Howell notes this type of suit is common in
the Northern District of California, which has
become known as a “food court” because the
state is consumer-friendly and has seen an
uptick of food-related cases in recent years. But
he’s uncertain if regulators will show an interest
in the case against Coca-Cola. “I think the FTC
is generally watchful of and concerned about
health claims. This could catch their eye. But,
particularly under the Trump administration,
the FTC might choose to focus their enforce-
ment efforts elsewhere,” Howell says.
He notes that his advice applies to nontradi-
tional advertising such as a FAQ page on a web-
site, or in Coca-Cola’s case, a page dedicated to
addressing rumors about its products. “When
content is published on a commercial entity’s
FAQ or ‘rumor response’ web pages to promote
its products, the content should be vetted, just
like with other advertising,” he says.
Coca-Cola does address specific health
claims on its website. (These claims are not
mentioned in the CSPI lawsuit.) The company
supplies responses to “rumors” about its prod-
ucts, including one that says: “Soft drinks cause
kidney failure.” The company’s response, in part,
is: “None of our beverages contain harmful sub-
stances. All our soft drinks are wholesome bev-
erages manufactured in compliance with the
laws of nearly 200 countries.”
Attorney David Mallen with Loeb & Loeb says
it’s natural for Coca-Cola to “have to correct the
record” for the public but it’s a “balancing act”
when it comes to defending its product.
address says about you. If you want
to be taken seriously but need to use a
personal email address, say to look for a
job, it’s best not to be too eccentric.
Wadler’s personal email address
included the words “ontology” and the
“Isn’t it true that ‘ontology’ is a
branch of metaphysics about the nature
of being and the self, and that 911 is both
a number signaling emergency and a
date of a terrorist attack on the United
States?” Potter asked.
“Yes,” Wadler said.
“That’s a bit of a red flag, right?” Potter asked.
“It was a good flag,” Wadler said
in rebuttal. “Several recruiters I talked
to didn’t remember my name. I said,
‘Maybe you’ll remember my email
address.’ They did. [The email address]
did what I wanted. It got everybody to
“You wanted to be remembered as
Mr. Ontology Nine Eleven?” Potter fol-
“Nobody called me Mr. Ontology
Nine Eleven,” Wadler said.
Keep up with technology. Wadler
said he has been searching for a job
since his June 2013 firing, but that he
lost access to all his contacts because
Bio-Rad immediately barred him from
his own office and possessions, including his three Rolodexes. The job hunt
began slowly, Wadler said, as he learned
about online job boards and struggled
with using LinkedIn.
Wadler still hasn’t found a job.
“Bio-Rad hasn’t given me my Rolo-dex,” Wadler said. “There’s no way to
move on to another job.”
Advocacy group says Coca-Cola downplayed soft drink health risks.