Bolivian coca farmers are trying to pressure one of the world’s largest companies to abandon one of the world’s most recognisable brands. Bolivia is rewriting its constitution and wants to re-establish the standing of the humble coca leaf to its religious and cultural importance once more. The move could force the Bolivian government into legal battles with the likes of Coca-Cola and any others that use the name of the leaf.

The coca leaf and a couple of its derivatives

I know what you’re thinking – Who else uses the word Coca? I wondered the same thing. A quick Google search reveals a few interesting answers. The Canadian Organization of Campus Activities;, a UK based charity; the Centre on Contemporary Art in Seattle; the Centre Of Contemporary Art in New Zealand; the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia and so on. Bolivia could spend decades in court. Incidentally, I wonder why the folk in Seattle have a centre on contemporary art while the Kiwis have a centre of it. I think the New Zealanders have a better grammatical handle on that one.

Of course, all of this is ignoring the fact that the coca leaf is much maligned as it is the base ingredient of cocaine. Coca-Cola the beverage was originally marketed as a health tonic and medicine and contained coca leaves. Initially the prescribed dose was five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of Coke. That’s a pretty major hit. Apparently, Coke went on to use “spent” coca leaves, which are the leaves after the process of cocaine-extraction, with cocaine only present in molecular traces. Still…

“Ah! Coca-Cola, symbol of the Free West!”

Coca-Cola claims never to have used cocaine in its recipe and refuses to this day to admit whether or not “spent” coca leaves are part of its secret formula. Until a few years ago, company bought tonnes of leaves annually, so it’s a pretty safe guess that the leaves are used in Coke production. Apparently there is now just one plant in the US, in New Jersey, with Federal Government approval to grow coca plants for the production of Coca-Cola.

It will be interesting to see if Bolivia ever does mount a campaign to make Coca-Cola change the name of its flagship product. It is, after all, one of the most recognised names and symbols in the world and has even led to the invention of a new word. With Coke often being seen as the symbol of America itself, the great free West and land of a million dreams (shattered, for the most part) the term Coca-Colanization has grown in reference to the spread of American culture on a global scale. Perhaps that’s reason enough to back the Bolivians on this one.