August 4, 2014 cover of Bloomberg Business Week - photo illustration by Justin Metz; photography by Jason Falchook
Bloomberg Business Week cover, August 4, 2014 – photo illustration by Justin Metz; photography by Jason Falchook

Responding to criticism that its soft drinks contribute to epidemic obesity in America, and that it hooks kids on the sugary sodas like Bill Cosby giving away Quaalude Jell-O shots to kindergarteners, and that it has funded research to confuse Americans about how horrible soft drinks are for human health, the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. said it is thinking doing something – but probably not.

“Sure, we could recall all 600 billion soft drinks Americans drink on an average day, and you could make the case that these sugar-packed sodas contribute to the nation’s appalling weight gain, in the same way you could make the case that eating ANYTHING, including alfalfa sprouts, contributes to weight gain,” said a Coca-Cola spokesman. “Do you seriously want to ban alfalfa sprouts?”

Scientists said 600 billion soft drinks are the caloric equivalent of all the potatoes grown in Idaho since 1837.

“If you drink a six-pack of Coca-Cola, it’s like putting four baking potatoes in your back pockets, it has that kind of effect on your body,” said Ralph Edwardson, a noted nutritionist.  “Think about what that looks like walking down the street. Would you want to follow that for six blocks?”

Wall Street was swift to react to Coca-Cola’s announcement that it is thinking about the largest product recall in history — but probably not. Coke shares soared. Consumers, fearing the worst, cleared store shelves of Coke and Sprite and went to fountain outlets and ordered 55-gallon drums to go.

Coke’s announcement follows a recent report in The New York Times that the company has paid for research to cast doubt on claims that its soft drinks contribute to obesity. The Coke-funded researchers said instead of cutting out soft drinks people could work off the extra calories with exercise.

Scientists estimate that to work off all the calories in 600 billion soft drinks 5 million people would have to jog to Pluto and back, with a sofa bed strapped to their backs with a two hundred pound person sitting in the sofa bed – six times.

“That’s a bit much to ask,” said Ted Anderson, a noted researcher.

Republicans called the furor around epidemic obesity and Coke considering pulling 600 billion soft drinks off the market – but probably not — “as hysterical, and as unfounded, as climate change.” Billionaire businessman and GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump, blamed “fat, non-model women” for the potential recall.

Trump Tweeted: “You walk through a shopping mall with your big behinds hogging half the food court. It’s no wonder the earth wobbles on its axis. Have a Coke and a heart attack! Please!”

Trump’s rankings in the GOP polls jumped 2 percent after the Tweet. Other GOP candidates rushed to capitalize on the moment.

Fla. Senator Marco Rubio said he was so poor when he grew up he didn’t have soft drinks. He had to mix water with dirt to get a flavored beverage that he used to wash down the tortillas he had for dinner that his father heated with a Bic lighter because they didn’t have a stove, house, or electricity.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders applauded the idea of a recall, issuing a statement: “Coke isn’t a job creator. It’s a BLOB creator.”

Yet, even those who favor Coke pulling 600 billion soft drinks from the market, worry about environmental impact. “If you take that many soft drinks and dump them into the Atlantic Ocean, overnight sea levels would rise two feet,” said noted researcher Charles Plunk. “You could surf in Dothan, Ala.”

Coca-Cola said if it went ahead with the recall – but probably not — it’s not yet sure how it will dispose of the 600 billion soft drinks. “There could be some kind of outdoor amusement park with soda surfing, or something,” said a spokesman. “We’re always thinking.”

The company said if it did go ahead with the recall, consumers would not be without Coke products for long. It has plans to replace the beverages with smaller, gel cap portions of its soft drinks that are only 14 calories each and can be carried in a purse or wallet.

“The thought we have is ‘Pop a Pop,’ said the spokesman.

The Food and Drug Administration said it is studying the plan. But, given the health ramifications of soft drinks, the gel caps would probably have to be prescription only. A spokesman for the Affordable Care Act said it’s not clear if the gel cap soft drinks would be covered under its plan.

“You need to check with your insurance provider,” he said.

Image: August 4, 2014 cover of Bloomberg Business Week - photo illustration by Justin Metz; photography by Jason Falchook - posted here with links to the story and the artists personal site (promotional use).
Jeffry Scott

Jeffry Scott

Jeffry Scott is a former staff reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where, over the course of 24 years, he covered two of the biggest trials in the city's history -- the racketeering trial of former mayor Bill Campbell, and the trial of courthouse shooter, Brian Nichols -- and wrote features on travel, food, politics, movies, TV and advertising, and covered breaking news on the metro desk. He left the paper two years ago and is living, quite happily, in St. Petersburg, Fla., as a freelance writer.