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Busted: Food Myths Brought to You By Corporate Front Groups

Opinion

Over the past few months, I’ve been writing about Proposition 37, the California initiative that would require foods made through genetic engineering to be labeled, a policy that is common sense in 61 other countries, but has been denied to Americans thanks to lobbying by Big Biotech. One of the most prominent food myths perpetuated by the likes of Monsanto is that we need genetic engineering “to feed the world.”

So I am thrilled that my good friend and colleague, Anna Lappé is launching a new project called Food MythBusters, which takes direct aim at the most damaging talking points from Big Food and Big Ag that are designed to distract us from the grim realities of industrialized agriculture. The project is an impressive collaboration of numerous talented people and groups, including Free Range Studios and Corporate Accountability International, among others.

The project’s main educational vehicle is an entertaining yet serious video in which Anna describes how American farmers get duped into relying on an unsustainable system of unhealthy inputs such as pesticides and herbicides.

The messages Food MythBusters aims to correct are brought to us not only by those companies with a vested interest in promoting pesticides and biotechnology, but also by a host of less obvious sources. Front groups are organizations with innocent and often objective sounding names but in reality are funded by corporate interests. More front groups are popping up all the time.

For example, what could be wrong with the U.S. Alliance for Farmers and Ranchers, the Alliance for Food and Farming, or the Alliance to Feed the Future? (Forming an “alliance” is apparently a popular strategy for front groups.) Each of these groups is funded by large and powerful food and agricultural interests.

The U.S. Alliance for Farmers and Ranchers is hosting a series of “Food Dialogues,” which sounds so fair and balanced, doesn’t it? Except they get to set the agenda, choose the speakers and control the entire event. The group has even hired the well-heeled public relations firm Ketchum, which in turn is partnering with Zócalo Group, “its full service word of mouth and social media agency,” and maslansky luntz + partners, “a research-driven communication strategy firm that specializes in language and message development.” Not exactly the sort of grassroots approach you would expect from actual farmers and ranchers. A look at the group’s backers explains where the cash to hire such sophisticated consulting firms is coming from: National Cattleman’s Beef Association, National Pork Board and National Milk Producers Federation, just to name a few trade groups that lobby on behalf of industry interests.

The Alliance to Feed the Future laments on its website that:

Unfortunately, there is insufficient focus in today’s public discussion regarding the benefits that our modern, efficient food system provides to consumers and society. This unbalanced public debate is negatively influencing public policy and consumers’ choices.

You really have to feel sorry for them, don’t you? To balance things out, the alliance is offering free educational curricula “to help students in grades K-8 learn about modern food and agricultural production and how American farmers and producers provide safe, nutritious and abundant food choices every day.” Do you really want “partners” such as the American Meat Institute, the National Cheese Institute (really), the Corn Refiners Association, and the American Frozen Food Institute—which successfully lobbied for pizza sauce to count as a vegetable in the school meal program—teaching your children about food choices?

Another front group, simply called “America’s Farmers,” is backed by Monsanto. This seems rather ironic given the biotech giant’s insidious bullying of farmers. The U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, recently agreed to hear an appeal by an Indiana farmer who was sued by Monsanto for patent infringement.

Other Big Food and Ag front groups hide behind scientific-sounding names like the International Food Information Council, which is funded by the food and pesticide industries. (In an example of layered front groups, one of its “partners” is the Alliance to Feed the Future.) As I wrote about last year in an article called, “Pesticides are Good for You,” IFIC’s mission is to put out biased scientific information that looks objective in order to quell any consumer fears that might hurt its client’s economic interests.

The forming of so many new corporate front groups to defend industrialized agriculture is a sure sign we are making progress. And yet, with so much money and sophisticated public relations campaigns aimed at distorting the truth while hiding the negative impacts of pesticides, biotechnology and other harmful food production practices, we need Food MythBusters more than ever.

Be sure to join the Facebook event on Food Day, October 24, at 2:30 ET and help keep spreading the word at www.foodmyths.org.

© Food Safety News
  • Farmer’s Wife

    “The project’s main educational vehicle is an entertaining yet serious video in which Anna describes how American farmers get duped into relying on an unsustainable system of unhealthy inputs such as pesticides and herbicides.”- You obviously have never seen the significant yield damage that is done by spider mites and other insects to corn and soybean crops. Without pesticides these insects would wipe away a large portion of the crops that are feeding animals and people. Ignorance is not bliss when you are hungry. 

  • jswholesome

    I am, unfortunately, no longer surprised when I read an editorial in Food Safety News that focuses on politics and special interest rather than food safety.  This piece of journalistic sensationalism is so slanted I really don’t know where to start.  I will keep it simple and focus on a couple of big points.  I don’t know the ad agency Ketchum, but I ASSume they are a leader in their field.  Who should proagriculture proponents hire to represent them in the national publicity area if not a bonified leader?  Some small time ad agency can’t compete against the big money coming from the other side.  The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Board and National Milk Producers are made up largely of family farmers and ranchers who wish their voices to be heard.  Another issue is throwing out “GMO” like the word itself is toxic is not much of a critique as a scare tactic.  The concept of GMO is so diverse in function that I find it incredible that apponents can attack without specifics.  For instance, if we develope an edible bean through the science of GMO that developes more feeder roots which intern help it become more drought resistant, is that bad?  Addressing drought resistance, disease resistance, herbicide and pest resistance (the list is much, much longer) collectively as an evil in GMO is not logical to me.  This technology is not the only answer to feeding the world today, but will likely be more important as the world grows.  I don’t feel like I need to be out there supporting Monsanto, they have plenty of resourses themselves.  However, using their name like an evil empire is again, more sensationalism.  Yes Monsanto is a huge corporation and have incredible research capabilities at their disposal.  Maybe, just maybe, there could be some good behind some of information that comes from under their umbrella.  Famers are a diverse group.  Some use more  technology, some less, good and bad.  At the end of the day we have the most diverse, safe, economical  and nutritious food supply in the world.  Thank God we live in a country where we can have conventional, organic (you fill in the blanks) foods to enjoy.  We can celebrate our individual preferences without scaring people away from other healthy choices.

  • Oh, I hope they don’t get sued by Discovery Channel for using mythbuster in their name. 

    Looking forward to seeing this group’s efforts. 

    (Broken Food MythBuster link)

  • Scott Hurd

    So I asked my farmer neighbor, who has a small cattle farm with his Dad, if he would fund some of my valuable food safety research on Salmonella and ground beef. He thought I was nuts!  

    Instead he suggested I ask the National Cattlemen’s Beef association, who collects money, through the help of USDA,  from him and most other small farmers around the country.  They agreed to fund this work that will save human lives!
    It makes no sense to describe producer groups, such as NCBA or National Pork Board as corporate “front groups”. The only way the “little guy” can make a difference is to form alliances with other little guys!My neighbor did let me borrow his manure spreader.Scott

  • I am a proponent of organic farming; grew up on an organic farm and worked for five years as an organic inspector. But I am
    dead-set opposed to plans to force the labeling of foods containing GMOs.

     

    You see, we already have a very effective way to distinguish
    between foods that do contain GMOs and those that don’t; it’s called the
    certified-organic label. Why would organic activists want to dilute the market share of their
    industry by offering consuders another way to avoid GMOs?

     

    It just doesn’t make sense.

  • barbaxter

    There should be a law against misleading names for organizations.  I thought we were supposed to have “truth in advertising,” but organizations constantly select names that “advertise” good intentions and deliberately misrepresent their actual agendas.

  • Barbaxter

    There should be a law against misleading names for organizations.  We are supposed to have “truth in advertising,” but these groups deliberately select names that “advertise” good intentions, but that are the exact opposite of their actual agendas.  This has been happening for decades in the political realm, as well as the corporate realm–which are really intertwined, aren’t they?

    • doc raymond

      Oh  come on, this works both ways. HSUS, etc, also hide behind labels.   

      • Jon

        What’s up Doc — cheer leading for Big Ag once again? Like it or not the humane society has a straight-forward agenda under their plain name. As opposed to these deceptive greenwashing groups who try and disguise their origins when presenting their self-serving factoids — designed to put a warm and fuzzy spin on horrendous industrial food production and processing practices — all to fool consumers.

      • FoodSci

        The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is another favorite.

  • doc raymond

    Reaching out to K-8 grade children by Ag is surely no more threatening than HSUS’s newly announced animated film to teach K-8 grade children about “modern hog husbandry practices”? Kind of reminds me of the Presidential debates–can’t take anything for the gospel truth. 

    • Which is why it’s important for organizations like the one in this story and the HSUS to put out the truth about the negative impacts of industrialized agriculture. 

      It’s difficult to compete with all the money paid into propaganda machines by BigAg interests, but we have to make a start. 

  • Joey

    Mischa is up to his usual mischa mischief once again — a friend of organic he is not and he capitalizes on it daily. 
    Meanwhile, labeling GMOs is about Consumer Choice in the marketplace — not market share as he pretends. But while, thankfully, there is an alternative in place via certified organic and  Non-GMO food  — consumers still don’t have the labeling information they want to make an informed decision — which might to cease buying a whole range of GMO products altogether. 

  • doc raymond

    i think we agree on more things now than when we were a “team”? But the “manure spreader’ comment might lead to dispaaging remarks 🙂  

  • Well, you’re obviously ignoring a huge area in the Gulf of Mexico called a ‘dead zone’ because of industrialized agriculture’s effects. 

    Considering the damage this has done to the fishing industry–another important source of food–I’m not sure you can claim to be on the side of angels with this one. 

    Industrialized agriculture is important for profits, less so for solving world hunger. 

    • Brandy Miller

      Responsible utilization of pesticides and herbicides are important to producing the food required to feed an ever growing population. This responsible usage had been standard practice in agriculture for decades. So if you are looking to blame somebody for a so called “dead zone” why not check your front yard? Homeowners use 10 times more pesticides per acre for their lawns and gardens than farmers. You didn’t seriously think that your dog’s shit kept your suburban lawn lush and green did you?

    • FoodSci

      Could we at least use the proper nomenclature and not mix apples with oranges when you’re trying to defend a position, or in this case mix pesticides with fertilizer, shall we? Nitrogen and phosphorus are responsible for dead zones, not pesticides and herbicides. (See comment below also.) These arguments that randomly insert scary-sounding item du jour as the subject are less than compelling, although they do seem to work with the science -deficient and anti-science crowd.

      • The overuse of fertilizers and pesticides go hand in hand–both are aspects of industrialized farming. And both have negative impact on the environment. 

        The overuse of artificial fertilizer has led to the dead zone, but the overuse of pesticides decreases biodiversity. 

        Both pesticides and herbicides persist in the ground and in the water systems. They accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals, they leach into water systems, and the adversely impact on non-targeted species. That includes us. 

        There, does that satisfy your semantic itch? 

    • Michael

       Maybe you are ignoring the fact that eutrophication is natural phenomena that is exaggerated by agricultural practices.  It is not the chemicals that are used per se, but how and when they are used.  Eutrophication can be reversed with some simple changes.  In fact, simple changes in and around the great lakes has already begun to reverse the eutrophication in those areas.  The problem is the hyperbole and over reaction that accompanies these issues.  Rationality gets shot out the window, and all of sudden the baby must go with the bathwater.

      As for Prop 37………Besides being a stupidly complex and amorphic law it is fear mongering at its finest.  If I have read nothing (which I have read plenty) all I would need to know is Mercola is for 37, and the National Academy of Science is against it.  If I knew nothing else that is all I would need to know.

      • There’s nothing hyperbolic about the impacts of overuse of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. 

        Eutrophication, or the increase of organic material in an ecosystem, can have natural causes–with effects building up over centuries. However, artificial causes have a significantly increased impact, and it’s the latter we’re concerned with. 

        The Great Lakes mitigation efforts you mentioned included strict environmental controls over the amoun of phosphorus in the ecosystem. Phosphorus, from artificial fertilizers. 

        http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/atlas/glat-ch4.html

        As for Proposition 37, it’s a simple law: require labeling of GMO products. It is a way of keeping consumers better informed. You seem to be advocating for keeping consumers ignorant. Why is that?

  • “Some small time ad agency can’t compete against the big money coming from the other side”

    Let’s see: exactly how much are the corporations paying to fight Proposition 37 in California? How many magnitudes more is being spent on the No side than the Yes?

    Agree or not, but don’t treat the readers of Food Safety News like we’re stupid. 

  • FoodSci

    Everyone has an agenda and a bias. Mine is to consider science in the face of Big Fearmongering. which seems to be quite the industry these days. He or she who screams the loudest and has the scariest story gets more attention.

    For example, who would we expect to have a better grasp of the  science and global implications of biotechnology–Bill gates, or Prince Charles? Or to use a GE analogy mixed with a bit of snark, the product of hybrid vigor or inbreeding?

    I’ve always meant to ask: Is pizza sauce a meat product? A dairy product? A grain? Is x ounces of tomato juice not recognized as a serving of vegetable? If you concentrate that juice, does it not turn into sauce? Enough with the faux outrage. It’s not like they said the seasoning on Flamin’ Hots was a vegetable. And if Jamie Oliver came up with a pizza sauce we’d all be cooing over what a clever way he has to get kids to eat vegetables.

    • Uh, Bill Gates made his fortune on an operating system and various pieces of software. Tech yes, but not science, and definitely not biotechnology. 

      Price Charles has been heavily involved with sustainable farming and the environment for years. As far as I know, his mother and father are not related in any degree. Perhaps if you make a point using plain language rather than indulge in chi-chi snark. 

  • doc raymond

    AMEN. Well said.

  • Sorry, doesn’t fly. 

    I agree that the chemicals used to maintain laws are absurd, and are adding to the problem. But the primary responsibility for the Gulf dead zone is agricultural runoff. 

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/05/the-gulf-of-mexico-has.html

    The so-called ‘responsible use’ of pesticides and herbicides has been anything but. 

  • Eric

    Agreed the article is completely slanted and sensationalistic. But, many GMO are downright scary. We are the guinnea pigs in the largest experiment ever. Who knows how some of this food will alter our systems. Allergies, cancer…maybe nothing. Maybe it is safe. Personally I dont like maybe. And in a FREE country we should have the choice to know what we are eating. The same rights the 60+ other countries enjoy.

  • Well said. Too bad it’s more misleading that the sited article. How innocent. What could be so wrong with a cute little drought resistance bean that could solve world hunger? It’s just as misguided as the claims of the Green Revolution in the 60’s. Not one mention of all the potential negative side effects: Increased use of pesticides, evolution of superweeds, inability of farmers to save seeds, pollen cross contamination and loss of heirloom varietals, lack of consumer safety research. Oh, did you forget those in this well balanced critique? I’m sure they just slipped your mind?