Busted: Food Myths Brought to You by Corporate Front Groups

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, to quell any consumer fears that might hurt their 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.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer, author of "Appetite for Profit," and advisory board member of Corporate Accountability International's Value [the] Meal campaign. She wrote this article on behalf of Corporate Accountability International.

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Genetically Modified Food | Genetic Engineering