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Some say it’s the best public relations that money can buy, because when you can’t refute the truth about an issue, the next-best thing to do is stack the deck in your favor.
The third edition of a report released last month by the International Food Information Council Foundation is anything but the “reasonable and helpful document” it may outwardly appear to be, writes Michele Simon, JD, MPH, of the Center for Food Safety, in a recent blog post.
Rather, she says, it “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.”
Phony front groups pushing bad biotechnology
The report, “Food Biotechnology: A Communicator’s Guide to Improving Understanding,” was written and reviewed by lots of folks with great credentials, but they clearly are pushing a “biotechnology” answer to today’s food issues. From the “Dear Colleagues” intro:
As farmers and other food producers discover the opportunities provided by food biotechnology, there is a growing interest in the safety and sustainability of these foods. Although foods produced through biotechnology have been safely consumed for more than 15 years, they remain a controversial topic around the world, with some individuals raising questions about their safety, environmental impact, and regulation.
To understand the complexity of the issues, access to current, scientifically sound, and consumer-friendly information on food biotechnology is needed. …
Such doublespeak doesn’t fool other experts like Simon. Being very familiar with the industry, she can spot a forgery, if you will, a mile away.
Noting the make-up of the IFICF’s board, Simon has written a report for her organization, titled “Best Public Relations Money Can Buy: A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups,” “that exposes the well-funded organizations and highly-sophisticated public relations strategies increasingly deployed to defend the food industry,” she writes.
The report goes onto to describe how the combo of “Big Food” and “Big Ag” (agriculture) trot out front groups that sound consumer-friendly and oriented organizations. They include names like the “U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance”; the “Center for Consumer Freedom“; and the “Alliance to Feed the Future”. All appear as though they have us, the little people, uppermost in mind when it comes to the formation of food production policy.
However, Simon notes, the notion is not to educate and inform. The goal of these shady front groups “is to fool the media, policymakers, and general public into trusting these sources, despite their corporate-funded PR agenda.”
That’s because of the growing concern over the negative impact of the world’s increasingly industrialized and over-processed food industry, and the resultant health problems that have arisen from GM foods and other agricultural biotechnology:
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.
She provides some examples.
‘Name-calling and scaremongering’
In the case of the International Food Information Council, the group not only publishes reports that are friendly to the agriculture and food-production industries, but it also “infiltrates professional conferences” like the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the group representing registered dieticians, to push its agenda.
Consider also the case of “the notorious industry attack dog,” the Center for Consumer Freedom, which was formed in the 1990s with funding from tobacco giant Philip Morris. In response to the recent NYC controversy involving Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks in excess of 16 ounces, CCF bought full-page ads in major newspapers depicting Bloomberg as a “nanny” with an accompanying 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,” wrote Simon.
“…[W]e can’t allow these disingenuous and deceptive tactics to undermine our good work,” she concludes. “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.”