Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups: How Corporate Lobbyists Control Public Discourse

Health + Wellness

Eat Drink Politics

By Michele Simon

Last month, the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) released the third edition of its report, Food Biotechnology: A Communicator’s Guide to Improving Understanding. What sounds like a reasonable and helpful document is in fact the product of a well-oiled PR machine whose board of trustees includes executives from such food giants such as Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and Mars.

In response to such tactics, I have authored a new report for Center for Food Safety that exposes the well-funded organizations and highly-sophisticated public relations strategies increasingly deployed to defend the food industry.

Best Public Relations Money Can Buy: A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups describes how Big Food and Big Ag hide behind friendly-sounding organizations such as: the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Center for Consumer Freedom and Alliance to Feed the Future. The idea is to fool the media, policymakers and general public into trusting these sources, despite their corporate-funded PR agenda.

With growing concern over the negative impacts of our highly industrialized and overly-processed food system, the food industry has a serious public relations problem on its hands. Instead of cleaning up its act, corporate lobbyists are trying to control the public discourse. As a result, industry spin is becoming more prevalent and aggressive.

For example, the same group cited above—IFIC—in addition to publishing industry-friendly reports, also infiltrates professional conferences such as the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s trade association for registered dieticians.

In 2011, IFIC moderated a panel at this event called, How Risky is Our Food? Clarifying the Controversies of Chemical Risks in which the take-away message was not to worry about pesticides, and anybody who tells you otherwise is scaremongering and non-scientifically valid. At the 2012 conference last fall, IFIC was back again, with representatives on four separate panels, including dispelling any concerns about food additives.

In addition to IFIC, other front groups that have been around for some time include the notorious industry attack dog, Center for Consumer Freedom, which began in the 1990s with funding from tobacco giant Philip Morris.

In the recent controversy in New York City over limiting the size of sugary beverages, Center for Consumer Freedom took out full-page ads in major newspapers showing Mayor Michael Bloomberg dressed as a woman with the tagline, “New Yorkers need a Mayor, not a Nanny.” Name-calling and scaremongering are very effective tactics for distracting away from the issue at hand: a serious public health problem.

Big Soda also invented an entirely new front group to do its bidding called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, which pretended to represent individuals, but in fact was funded by the American Beverage Association, the Washington DC-based lobbying arm of the soft drink industry. It’s a brilliant strategy when you realize that creating a group named “Coke and Pepsi Opposing Public Health in New York” just wouldn’t fly.

By relying on a front group such as the Center for Consumer Freedom to do its dirty work, well-known companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are able to keep their noses clean, and their valuable brand reputations intact.

This report is extremely timely because now more than ever new front groups are forming so quickly that it can be hard to keep up. And with deliberately confusing names such as Alliance to Feed the Future, Center for Food Integrity and Global Harvest, it can be challenging to tell the good guys from the bad. I often have to remind people not to confuse the industry front group Center for Food Integrity with either the Center for Food Safety or the Food Integrity Campaign. Front groups position themselves cleverly to try and confuse media outlets, which too often just assume the information is coming from a reliable source.

The new report answers such questions as, “What is the Different Between Trade Groups and Front Groups?” (mostly that trade groups lobby, while front groups rely more on PR), “What are Common Front Group Tactics?” (scaremongering and buying science, for example) and “How Can We Fight Front Groups?” Most importantly, the report contains numerous examples of front groups, including recently-formed groups created in response to heightened criticism and awareness, along with scientific “institutes” invented by such food giants such as Coca-Coca, Nestlé and General Mills.

Junk food companies, the biotech industry and big agribusiness are all on the defense because the nation is waking up to the myriad problems our industrialized food system has created, from public health epidemics, to environmental disasters, to horrific exploitation of humans and animals alike. It’s a testament to the food movement’s success that industry is responding with such sophisticated and well-funded public relations efforts.

But we can’t allow these disingenuous and deceptive tactics to undermine our good work. It’s imperative that reporters, policymakers and the general public do their homework to learn exactly who is behind these industry front groups and not fall for their biased propaganda and public relations stunts.

 Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A protest against the name of the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Nov. 2, 2014. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.

Read More Show Less
The survival tools northern fish have used for millennia could be a disadvantage as environmental conditions warm and more fast-paced species move in. Istvan Banyai / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma

Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.

Read More Show Less
A mother walks her children through a fountain on a warm summer day on July 12, 2020 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Gary Hershorn / Getty Images

A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.

Read More Show Less
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus. blackCAT / Getty Images

By Joni Sweet

If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of burnt areas of the Amazon rainforest, near Porto Velho, Rondonia state, Brazil, on Aug. 24, 2019. CARLOS FABAL / AFP via Getty Images

NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.

Read More Show Less
A baby receives limited treatment at a hospital in Yemen on June 27, 2020. Mohammed Hamoud / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The 2006 oil spill was the largest incident in Philippine history and damaged 1,600 acres of mangrove forests. Shubert Ciencia / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Jun N. Aguirre

An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.

Read More Show Less