A new report released by the nonprofit organization Friends of the Earth investigates sustainable and organic food messaging from ‘Big Food’ brands and agrochemical companies that have launched into these nascent food categories.
Entitled “Spinning Food”, the report compared multinational food companies to the tobacco industry, accusing them of employing questionable marketing practices to further their goal of market control: "Taking their cues from the tobacco industry, these companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years on stealth PR tactics, deploying over a dozen front groups to push coordinated messages attacking organic food production, defending pesticides and the routine use of antibiotics and promoting GMOs -- messages that are making their way into the pages of our largest media outlets,” FOE said on its website. “In the last four years alone, these companies have set up six new front groups that often appear as independent experts in the media, but are in fact made up of industry or PR professionals that are promoting messages designed to defend industry profits and win critical national policy battles on these issues.”
According to Friends of the Earth, the companies include major corporate food brand members of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (General Mills, Danone, Kraft, Kellogg, Coca-Cola, etc.), many of which have launched or purchased organic food brands or reformulated products to be free from artificial and genetically modified ingredients. As well, agrochemical and genetically modified seed manufacturers Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, ConAgra, Bayer and DuPont are targeted mainly for their efforts to thwart GMO labeling efforts. The companies also routinely take "sustainable agriculture" stands despite the numerous environmental issues connected with their herbicides, pesticides and bioengineered seeds.
All of the companies, the group says, “are trying to preserve their markets by deploying front groups; targeting moms, attacking journalists and scientists; grooming third party allies that pose as independent sources; producing advertising disguised as editorial content and using other covert tactics to influence public opinion and sway policymakers -- without most people realizing the story is being shaped behind the scenes to promote corporate interests.”
“The food industry is using a host of covert communication tactics to shape public opinion without most people realizing the stories are being shaped behind-the-scenes to promote corporate interests,” Anna Lappé, a national bestselling author and founder of the Real Food Media Project, which works with public interest organizations around the country on popular education about food, farming and sustainability, said in a statement. “Our goal with this report is to inspire journalists, opinion leaders, policy makers and the public to bring increased scrutiny to the food industry’s messages and messengers.”
The report includes a detailed summary of industry trade and front groups’ activities, board members and how they’re spending their money to gain market advantages—something Stacy Malkan, co-author of the report and co-director of consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know, says needs to change. “To have an honest conversation about the future of our food system, it’s crucial for consumers and news producers to understand the alarming extent of industry influence on media coverage and to do what we can to make sure we’re hearing the real story, not spin.”
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