The food industry really hates it when you compare them to Big Tobacco. They try to deny the negative association by claiming that food is different than tobacco. Of course that’s true, but why are the same consultants that have worked for the tobacco industry now shilling for Big Food, opposing the ballot initiative that would require labeling of all foods containing GMO ingredients? Hiring Secret Consultants for the Dirty Work The latest financial filings in California for the “No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme” – reveal a $7,500 payment to the Sacramento-based political consulting firm, MB Public Affairs. Here is how the Los Angeles Times described the firm last year: MB Public Affairs is headed by Mark Bogetich, a garrulous operative known to his friends as “Bogey,” who has helped a number of Republican candidates neutralize their opponents. In recent years, MB Public Affairs has worked for Altria, once known as the Phillip Morris Cos. … Bogetich has also been called “the go-to guy for [the Republican] party,” and “the only game in town.” The L.A. Times article explains how last year MB Public Affairs filed more than 50 public record act requests to dig up dirt on a small but effective group called the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. No wonder, since the organization has scored such important victories as a living wage for workers, which would threaten plenty of businesses. But which ones? Who knows, because by hiring MB Public Affairs to do its dirty work, industry gets to keep its nose clean – a classic Big Tobacco tactic. Well-known brands such as PepsiCo (which I wrote about last week) and Kraft don’t want to be associated with negative campaigning, so they farm out the job to consulting firms. In this case, they went right to the top, or the bottom. Things are likely to get ugly. Creating Front Groups for the Dirty Work Another tactic honed by Big Tobacco is to form a front group, which appears to be made up of small businesses and others designed to give the impression of a grassroots campaign, but in reality is funded by large corporations. This tactic, known as an Astroturfing, is alive and well with “No on 37,” which describes itself as, “A broad coalition of family farmers, scientists, doctors, taxpayers, small businesses, labor, food companies, biotechnology companies and grocers. Small farmers and small businesses? I don’t see any listed on the “Who We Are” page. I do see many not-so-small trade groups representing numerous not-so-small corporations, some of them from outside California, including CropLife America, which is a trade group for the biotech and pesticide industry. Also, the “No on 37” campaign is represented by the law firm, Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, which has a sordid history of stealth tactics such as Astroturfing. And no wonder, with former Phillip Morris outside council Tom Hiltachk as the campaign’s treasurer. (His firm’s address is listed on the webpage for where to send donations; can’t get much cozier with the No campaign than that.) Hiltachk had this disingenuous quote about the GMO labeling initiative back in February: “Farmers and food producers strongly oppose this costly, ill-conceived labeling proposition.” There are those invisible farmers again. No stranger to California politics, Hiltachk’s firm represents the California Republican Party and helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger governor by orchestrating the statewide recall campaign of former Governor Gray Davis. According to PolluterWatch, Tom Hiltachk and his firm are well known for creating front groups that promote or attack ballot initiatives at the behest of the firm’s wealthy corporate clients: “In the past Hiltachk has attacked anti-smoking initiatives while being paid by major tobacco corporations.” And this scathing article at ThinkProgress from 2010 describes Hiltachk’s attempt to repeal California’s clean energy policy and says his “under-the-radar tactics of shifting money around and using phony groups are nothing new.” Specifically:

During the eighties and nineties, Hiltachk and his law partners helped the tobacco industry, with funding from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, coordinate a variety of stealth front groups. While his law firm received over a million from tobacco interests, Hiltachk helped organize “Californians for Smokers’ Rights,” a supposedly “grassroots” group that relied on tobacco industry consumer lists to mobilize opposition to anti-smoking initiatives.

Another Big Tobacco front group Hiltachk’s firm managed was “Californians for Fair Business Policy,” which fought local efforts to enact smoke-free bans in California in the early 1990s. This is going to be a busy election season for Hiltachk, as he is also the mastermind behind the deceptive union-busting Proposition 32, about which a local California paper writes: “If you liked Citizens United, you will love Prop 32.” As The New Yorker sums it up in an article describing the firm’s shady operations, “They specialize in initiatives that are the opposite of what they sound like.” Another group with Big Tobacco origins now spreading lies about the GMO labeling initiative is the unsubtle front group, “California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse,” whose executive director recently warned us to “beware of trial lawyers lurking in your food.” (It seems lawyers are scarier than altering the genetic code of the food supply.) According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch, Philip Morris is a primary funder of various “Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse” groups, which under the guise of tort reform aim to make it harder to bring lawsuits for problems caused by hazardous products. Doubt is Their Product In sum, the food industry, to oppose a simple labeling law, is hiring lawyers and consultants with ties to the tobacco industry, to deploy stealth tactics such as creating front groups, digging up dirt on opponents, and spreading outright lies. For decades the tobacco industry and its shills hid the truth by deploying its most effective weapon: manufacturing doubt about the health hazards of smoking. How many millions of Americans died as a result of Big Tobacco’s deceptive and cynical campaign? Why would we trust these same operators now? You can hardly blame industry for calling on such shady characters. Big Food has seen the polling data showing that more than 90 percent of consumers want to see GMO foods labeled. When you don’t have the people or the truth on your side, all you have left is playing dirty. This article originally appeared August 13, 2012 on Appetite for Profit.

  • CT

    Seeing as how lawyers who previously sued Big Tobacco are now suing the Food Industry for any number of things, I don’t have a problem with any of this.
    I do have a problem with frivolous lawsuits against the food industry. What ever happened to plain common sense?
    One example…
    A federal judge in California in 2009 dismissed a case against PepsiCo, which accused the company of false advertising because Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries cereal does not contain real berries. He ruled that “a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the product in the instant case contained a fruit that does not exist.”

  • Another player in the field is Rick Berman, head of the Center for Consumer Freedom. He creates so many faux front groups, it’s a wonder he knows where most of them are.
    Another tactic these groups employ is hiring people to go into comments to various stories and spread misinformation, as well as give an impression that the “grass roots” feel one way or another.
    This is why I won’t use an anonymous commenter system at my web site, and people have to at least be authenticated through my discussion system (Disqus). Though people don’t have to use their names with Disqus, at least it’s more difficult for the same person to represent themselves as many.
    And I don’t allow any commenter who does little more than attack others.
    If we want to have serious discussions about these issues, we need to do so without the paid influence of the groups outlined in this story.

  • Nathan

    Really?! This needed to be reprinted in the Food Safety News? Michele, you are truly in need of a big hug… Heres one from me.

  • Ted

    Pot calling the kettle black. The notorious Ms. Simon is, herself, one of those nasty “secret consultants” doing the evil “dirty work” of anti-agriculture hate groups like HSUS, CSPI, etc. Why do we not see a proper disclaimer detailing the skulking affiliations of this odious professional astroturfer Simon?

  • Dennis

    Well it didn’t take very long for thoughtful Californians to see through prop 37. It’s another transparent windfall for trial lawyers and special interest groups.
    So now they’ve released special interest dogs like Michele Simon to distract us to the point of madness with her mindless barking.

  • Virginia

    It’s not a “simple” labeling law. It would require revamping every single label (millions of dollars and time/energy) as well as set precedence for other states to start requiring odious labeling laws for whatever reason du jour. I would imagine this law could be trumped by federal regs since it would or could cause a distruption to interstate commerce. But also have no doubt this doesn’t stem from concerned consumers…..

  • I rest my case on anonymous commenters dragging down the general tone of the discussion.

  • gmd
  • marianne maunsell

    everyone is entitled to their opinion and mine is I don’t want to have anything to do with GMO’s I personally think they should be banned, but failing that a label will at least give me and many others a choice over what we eat wear and use. Fantastic article Michelle

  • One of the most worrisome issues associated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food supply is that long term human safety studies are neither required nor conducted in the United States.
    Most Americans are unaware of the existence of Genetically Engineered ingredients in the food they eat and that they are untested for long term safety on children, adults or humans of any age. At best GMO developers might conduct a 42 day chicken study and/or 90 day rat study but these studies presented to FDA are carefully constructed to limit or hide negative data. These safety studies are never peer reviewed by independent scientists making them highly questionable for scientific validity. This is hardly a suitable level of safety testing for a man made substance that is secretly marketed to and unknowingly consumed by Americans, especially children, over their lifetime.
    For something as vital to our biological survival as food . . . supporters for Labeling seek to protect themselves and their children from being treated as guinea pigs unknowingly consuming a manmade laboratory substance developed solely for the financial benefit of the largest biotechnology, chemical and food manufactures in the world.
    There is no evidence showing any nutrition benefit for Genetically Engineered crops grown in the United States yet there is a growing body of evidence these crops are causing biological and ecological harm.
    Nearly 50 countries require labels on Genetically Engineered food, and many of these also have severe restrictions or bans against GMO food production or sale. Countries with mandatory labeling include Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and all of the countries in the European Union. Some of the countries with severe restrictions or bans against GMO food production or sale are Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Ireland, the Philippines, Australia, Peru and Japan. The U.S. and Canada are two of the only developed nations in the world without GMO labeling. Don’t we deserve the same level of protection and information as citizens in other nations around the world?
    Proposition 37 (The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act) simply requires adding a few words to the label of retail packaged foods if the food contains ingredients that are genetically engineered. Packaged foods already have labels showing nutrition, allergy information and other facts consumers want to know. Prop 37 is easy to comply with and does not create new bureaucracies, force manufactures to change ingredients or ban the use of genetically engineering. Prop 37 will not add cost to farmers, manufacturers or consumers. Read the proposed law yourself before commenting on it’s intentions. I have read it and I support it.
    The most common GMOs are corn, soy, canola, beet sugar, cotton, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, and squash (zucchini and yellow). GMOs may be hidden in common processed food ingredients such as: Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins and Yeast Products.
    Proposition 37 will make it easier for consumers to know if the food they buy contains GMOs without having to make sense of a long list of unfamiliar ingredients.
    We all have the right to know what’s in the food we’re eating and feeding to our families – we all deserve an informed choice. I am one of many Californians fighting for honesty and transparency in food labeling.
    Visit any of these sites to learn more about the medical, environmental, political and social issues associated with Genetically Engineered food . . .

  • Chip
  • Nice article! Every government should take step like this then 1ly tobacco can be banned completely. Tobacco is very dangerous for health even sometimes people may death. Be aware about tobacco.

  • The relation between tobacco and junk food is that they both are dangerous for health, I don’t know why government only bashes tobacco products.