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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
  • 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. 

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      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 :)   

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    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. 

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

        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?

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    “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.

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      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.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    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. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFitzgeraldYoung Timothy Fitzgerald Young

    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?