Astroturf Groups

December 26th, 2016

What’s In a Name?

[This article was previously published in the winter issue of The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Linley Dixon, PhD
Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: Adobe Stock

Who wouldn’t want to support organizations with names like “CropLife America,” “Coalition for Sustainable Organics,” or “Food Science Matters?” But, be careful! Just because something is stated in a title, doesn’t make it so.

It turns out that industry trade/lobby groups, the progenitors of corporate propaganda, can be highly deceptive when naming themselves and it takes a bit more research to find out the true make-up and intent of an organization.

CropLife America actually represents the interests of pesticide manufacturers. And, right now, the “Coalition for Sustainable Organics”is squaring off with Cornucopia farmer-members. How could the farmers we work with be against “sustainable organics?”

However, this is actually a front group for industrial-scale hydroponic operations, substituting the term “container growing” for “hydroponics.”

Similarly, a closer look at the organization “Food Science Matters” reveals that it has very little to do with communicating published food science. The “Coalition for Sustainable Organics” (CSO) is composed of major multinational, industrial hydroponic players, like Driscolls™, Wholesome Harvest™, and Nature Sweet™. In spite of their monikers, these operations are less sustainable than the majority of soil-based operations.

Hydroponics is a very high-input production method compared to the low-input, truly sustainable techniques used by many soil-based farmers. The corporations owning the major “organic” hydroponic operations are primarily conventional businesses, with only a portion of their investments in organics.

These operations have thousands of acres of concrete-floor industrial buildings, use massive amounts of electricity for temperature control, artificial lighting, and water cycling, and rely on GMO soy production for liquid fertilization.

Contrast these hydroponic operations with soil-based, diversified vegetable farms that use high tunnels for season extension.

The high tunnels require minimal inputs because they are simply metal poles pounded into the ground and covered by clear plastic. They often have manual roll-up sides and require no concrete or electricity.

Slow-release, on-farm, or locally available organic matter is recycled into the soil, maintaining soil fertility and providing the nutrients required for healthy plant growth.

It’s operations like these that the “Coalition for Sustainable Organics” is squeezing out of business, while claiming sustainability. Likewise, “Food Science Matters” is primarily a carrageenan industry lobby group, not very well-disguised.

Members include entities that profit from carrageenan, including major carrageenan manufacturers FMC and Marinalg, the International Food Additives Council, the International Formula Council, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (all lobby groups representing food additive manufacturers and other agribusinesses).

In spite of their name, “Food Science Matters” is attempting to discredit any independent, peer-reviewed science that may hurt the sale of the food additives in which they have a financial interest.

This group funds a team of scientists to provide research proclaiming the safety of these food additives. In many cases this research specifically contradicts the research from public institutions.

In the case of carrageenan, their tactics include accusing publicly funded researchers of poor methodologies, despite the fact that the studies they are denigrating are published in highly respected academic journals.

The voice of these industry groups is difficult to overcome when regulatory decisions are being made. In the case of both the hydroponics and carrageenan lobbies, member companies have money to lobby decision-makers and thousands of employees to submit form letters.

When Cornucopia scientists square off with these lobbyists, we are outgunned. But we have a potent weapon ….. the truth!

As informed eaters, we have a social responsibility to stand up to this misinformation. The tobacco and fracking lobbies have taught us that citizens cannot stay silent while self-interest prevails.

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