by Gina Badalaty
There’s a war going on in this country, and while it’s not being fought with weapons, it is being waged with marketing, misdirection and outright lies. “Big AG,” America’s top agricultural and biochemistry firms are leading an assault on organics, non-GMO foods, proper labeling and healthy choices. They are seeking to protect their profits as consumers move away from these toxic food choices. To help you protect your family from these deceptive practices, I’ve listed the top tactics that firms like Monsanto use to influence your buying choices.
OPEN PRESS INITIATIVES
Some of the attacks coming from Big AG are not openly deceitful. Corporations are revealing their identities and offering workshops, luncheons and other events aimed at promoting charities, global hunger solutions, the impact of food and more allegedly “positive” topics. Earlier this month, Aljazeera America reported that at last month’s BlogHer conference, an annual event that attracts thousands of bloggers, the Monsanto Corporation sponsored an invitation-only brunch to share discuss the impact of food on the environment. Bloggers were paid $150 each to attend a panel that featured two female farmers as well as a team from Monsanto. In fact, Monsanto has a history of damaging the environment, unleashing everything from Agent Orange to a list of banned pesticides.
One wonders how a discussion on food and the environment from a panel packed with Monsanto representatives could be either fair or balanced, but they are not alone in marketing themselves as pro-environment. Friends of Earth reports on how Bayer and other pesticide manufacturers are putting a positive spin on their role in bee decimation in their article, “Pesticide Pushers Spin the Bee Crisis to Protect Profits.” Consumers should be wary of organizations claiming to care for bees that have any connection with Big AG or pesticide companies.
While these aboveboard PR tactics are growing, there is also a growing movement of deception in the form of “front groups.” Front groups are organizations that seem to represent one thing, but actually have an agenda for another group or organization that is hidden. The BlogHer luncheon was not the first – or last – time that Monsanto has reached out to the public to position itself as a company supporting farmers and the environment. That time, Monsanto was upfront about their operations, but in the past, they have engaged bloggers while hiding behind front groups. Typically, these groups have misleading names that sound beneficial to the public.<
Paige Wolf’s article, “Bloggers Beware: Industry Front Groups Are Lobbying For Your Endorsement,” covers some of those groups. American Farmers.com, for example, actually represents Monsanto, but some of the bloggers who have written for them do not support Monsanto. They thought they were supporting what the name implies – American farmers – and did not read the fine print. Here is extensive list of more food front groups:
- Illinois Farm Families (WatchUsGrow.org)
- Alliance for Food and Farming
- Together Counts
- Farmers & Ranchers Alliance
- Center for Food Integrity
- American Council on Science & Health
- Obesity Myths
- EPA Facts
- Center for Consumer Freedom
- Alliance to Feed the Future
- International Food Information Council
- Global Harvest
- Protect the Harvest
“These front groups prey on digital moms with hopes to make them feel gullible for supporting organic,” says Leah Segedie. “In reality, straw man arguments like the ones they use are a common persuasion tactic created by multi-billion dollar companies who are threatened by the very existence of organic food and moms making healthier decisions for their families. This generation of moms is far more confident in their research abilities because most have college or graduate degrees. The days of moms relying on paid industry ‘experts’ are over. These moms like to think for themselves and that is cutting into their bottom line. Thus, you have all these front groups popping up hoping to confuse them, but changes at the grocery store have proven that moms are smarter than they thought.”
The Center for Food Safety, a legitimate organization, disclosed the names of many of these groups in a May, 2013 report (PDF). While these organizations are all in existence as of this writing, don’t underestimate the groups behind them. New organizations are forming all the time and name changes are bound to occur too.
BACKLASH FROM TRADITIONAL PRESS
A concerted backlash against the organics movement has been started in the traditional press, no doubt supported by Big AG. According to Fair.org’s article, “The Assault on Organics,” it’s not just blogger commentary and food webinars peddling bad information. In traditional press articles like “The Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia” in the NY Post, the Washington Post’s “Is Organic Better for Your Health?” and Slate’s “Organic Schmorganic,” writers cherry-pick information, avoid selected topics and rely on discredited studies. These articles may be the result of poor journalism, however, “Assault on Organics” claims the main source of the “Organic Mafia” article is Julie Gunlock, Director of the Culture of Alarmism Project, part of the Independent Women’s Forum. They write that this group is funded by the Koch Brothers. SourceWatch.org reports that the actual group, Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, is a Koch Family Foundation, funded by the brothers from 1998 through its closure in 2013. The Koch Brothers are co-owners of Koch AG & Energy Solutions and other biotech firms. It’s difficult to trust traditional media when sources may be influenced like this. It’s important to look at the sources behind an article and know where there the reporter’s loyalty lies.
In addition to being out in front on positive marketing and spin, Big AG is also taking an aggressive stand in other ways as well. Just this February, Democracy Now! reported that scientist Tyrone Hayes has been targeted by the herbicide company Syngenta after speaking out against it. Read his interview at their site. Discrediting scientists is nothing new. The film “Genetic Roulette” has an entire section documenting how independent scientists have systematically been discredited for going up against Monsanto and questioning the safety of GMOs.
Discrediting opposing opinions and creating positive spin are just two tools up the sleeve of this multibillion corporation. Monsanto recently acquired Climate Corporation, which gives them access to “detailed information on every tillable field in the Unites States,” according to a report in The Irish Times. Farmers are concerned that the data can be used, sold or leaked to their competitors, compromising their businesses. In addition, will Monsanto use this data for nefarious purposes? Considering their patent on soybean seeds and how they have sued farmers all over the country for accidentally contaminated fields, the idea of this data in their hands should be a concern for everyone.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
While this is all challenging, the fact is that organics and non-GMO foods are becoming more popular and are in bigger demand from the American public. That means that you, the consumer, have some input into how the future of America’s food pans out. Here’s what you can do to help shift the paradigm to a healthier future for all our families:
- Keep yourself educated but don’t trust everything you read.
Essentially, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you hear a report emphasizing that less costly non-organic produce is just as healthy as organic, it may be published by a front group or underwritten by a corporation like Monsanto. Always read the fine print and look at who is funding a study, event or organization.
- Use common sense.
We already know that studies show organics are better, but it’s common sense that produce and food free of chemicals and artificial ingredients is healthier to eat than ingesting pesticides, chemicals and toxins.
Know where your elected officials stand on the GMO labeling movement and tell them you support it.Remember that president hopefuls like Hillary Clinton need to be on the same page too!
- Buy organic and non-GMO.
You vote with your dollar just as much as you do with a ballot. Make the switch to all organic and Non-GMO Project verified foods. Stop buying from brands that sink thousands of dollars into anti-GMO movements. Don’t think your food choices matter? Earlier this month, GMO-free fast food company Chipotle’s stock hit an all-time high. Panera recently announced they are removing artificial ingredients from foods. Cheerios is now non-GMO. Consumer voices are being heard all over the food industry and yours matters too!
- Get involved.
Write your Congress people. Contact your favorite foods and tell them to go GMO-free. Sign petitions. Attend rallies. Follow Mamavation and Robyn O’Brien for the best information on this fight.
The war on organics in this country is on, but Monsanto and Big AG have hardly won the fight. GMO labeling initiatives around the country are on the rise. Consumers are putting more money into organic and non-GMO brands. Fast food chains are reconsidering their menus. It’s up to you, Moms and Dads, to move this fight forward with your voice and your dollars.
Disclosure: Together Counts was a Mamavation client over three years ago before Leah joined the food movement.