ABA enhances comms to counter bias claims

WASHINGTON: Officials at the American Beverage Association (ABA) said a more aggressive communications approach and a beefed-up budget have helped the organization combat an article in the journal PLoS Medicine last week that accused industry-funded studies of bias.

WASHINGTON: Officials at the American Beverage Association (ABA) said a more aggressive communications approach and a beefed-up budget have helped the organization combat an article in the journal PLoS Medicine last week that accused industry-funded studies of bias.

The authors of the piece targeted 206 studies that made a health claim related to the drink being studied and claimed the studies were much more likely to be favorable when receiving industry money. The consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also took part in the study.

Kevin Keane, SVP of communications for the ABA, said the group's new strategy, in part, has been to show the studies accusing the industry of bias are themselves biased and the authors are more advocates than scientists.

Within hours of the PLoS news, the ABA had issued a press release with a statement pointing out what it saw to be weaknesses in the critics' argument.

"This is yet another attack on industry by activists who demonstrate their own biases in their review by looking only at the funding source and not judging the research on its merits," said Susan Neely, ABA president and CEO, in the statement. "The science is what matters - nothing else."

The ABA's communications budget has increased significantly, although Keane declined to give specific figures. The department has spent the past 18 months attempting to educate the media and pursue a more aggressive strategy.

Jeff Cronin, CSPI communications director, said the beverage industry has the benefit of having a trade group to do the aggressive "dirty PR work" without sullying the companies' names. He characterized the industry as being on the defensive.

Keane disagreed, arguing that the ABA's tactics affected media coverage and placement.

"I think our efforts are having some effect," Keane said. "This study didn't get wide circulation. They were shorter stories, by and large, and pushed toward the back of papers. The media are more willing to look at who these critics are."

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