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Pepsi and Coke Agree to Stop Financing Research That Uses Animals

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/31/business/31testing-web.html?ref=business

May 31, 2007

By BRENDA GOODMAN

ATLANTA, Ga., May 30 � Under pressure from animal rights activists, two soft drink giants, Coca-Cola and Pepsico, have agreed to stop directly financing research that uses animals to test or develop their products, except where such testing is required by law.

Researchers at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sought the assurances after discovering studies financed by the companies that used animals like rats and chimpanzees to test taste perception, and in some cases, to bolster support for promotional health claims.

Pepsico said it would stop directly financing animal experiments, including some it had financed through grants given to graduate students through its Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

Elaine Palmer, a spokeswoman for Pepsico, said that while the company had never supported the idea of animal testing, "We had not been policing it, so that part is new."

Coca-Cola also said it would discontinue a grant given to a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University who has been studying taste perception in rats, which share certain taste pathways with people.

A research associate at PETA, Shalin G. Gala, said, "We see these statements from Coke and Pepsi, massive global conglomerates, as the beginning of the end of all animal tests on food."

Scientists conducting basic research in animal models have cautioned against PETA�s hard line, saying their work, which may ultimately have medical benefits, would not be possible in many cases without thehelp from corporate sponsors.

"It�s very easy to characterize scientific research like this in a bad light," said Dr. John A. DeSimone, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who had been working under the Coca-Cola grant. "To do medical research, you sometimes need an animal model."

Not everyone agrees with Dr. DeSimone�s thinking, particularly when it involves tests on highly intelligent animals, as did a study involving a Coca-Cola scientist, financed by Nutrasweet, that cut open the faces of chimpanzees to study nerve impulses used in the perception of sweet tastes.

"I have never found Chimpanzee work justifiable," said Dr. Alan Goldberg, director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University. "They are a species that�s incredibly close to human capacity, and we just have to recognize that. If it shouldn�t be done in humans it shouldn�t be done in chimps."

Dr. Goldberg said that over the last 30 years, advances in alternatives to animal models, many of which are usually more scientifically precise, have already cut the number of lab animals in use by 50 percent.

"The bottom line for me is that I�d love to see animal studies disappear entirely," Dr. Goldberg said. "In vitro models are cleaner."

The two soft-drink giants are the latest companies to respond to scrutiny by PETA, which has mounted a campaign to expose animal testing practices in the beverage industry, an industry which unlike cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, had largely been a stealth operator in the animal testing arena.

In January, Roll International, the company that makes Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, agreed to cease tests on animals after PETA publicized a 2005 study financed by the company that tested the juice to see if it might relieve artificially induced erectile dysfunction in rabbits. Whole Foods grocery stores also threatened to stop carrying Pom Wonderful if the company didn�t stop its animal testing.

The company, which says it has spent $20 million dollars to fund studies exploring the health benefits of its juice, uses such studies as promotional material on a portion of it�s web site geared toward convincing medical professionals, which it calls "POMbassadors", to recommend the product to their patients.

In recent months, Welch�s and Ocean Spray have both issued similar promises not to test their products on animals after their own histories of animal testing were brought to light.

But Coca-Cola and Pepsico have been the largest manufacturers to capitulate.

In a letter to PETA dated May 22, Danny Strickland, Coke�s chief innovation and technology offer, promised to pull a corporate grant to Virginia Commonwealth University that has been used to fund studies on how rats, which share similar biology with humans, perceive sour tastes.

Mr. Strickland said senior management had not previously been aware of the study.

Representatives of Coca-Cola and VCU declined to say how much funding the company was providing or to elaborate on what the ultimate application of the research might be.

"Certainly we�re disappointed," said Dr. John DeSimone, who said he has been studying how nerves conduct taste sensations for 25 years.

"I think it�s unfortunate that they would essentially interfere with a relationship which is essentially one which is devoted to advancing scientific knowledge," Dr. DeSimone said. "I don�t think that�s progressive by any means."

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