IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News

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Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and other sources shine light on the inner workings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group funded by large food and agrichemical companies, and its nonprofit “public education arm” the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC groups conduct research and training programs, produce marketing materials and coordinate other industry groups to communicate industry spin about food safety and nutrition. Messaging includes promoting and defending sugar, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides and genetically engineered foods.

Spinning pesticide cancer report for Monsanto 

As one example of how IFIC partners with corporations to promote agrichemical products and deflect cancer concerns, this internal Monsanto document identifies IFIC as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research team, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, IARC judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

Monsanto listed IFIC as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Center for Food Integrity.

How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.

The document identifies IFIC, GMA and the Center for Food Integrity as part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert the food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” for the glyphosate cancer report.

Blogs later posted on the IFIC website illustrate the group’s patronizing “don’t worry, trust us” messaging to women.  Entries include, “8 crazy ways they’re trying to scare you about fruits and vegetables,” “Cutting through the clutter on glyphosate,” and “Before we freak out, let’s ask the experts … the real experts.”

Corporate funders  

IFIC spent $23,659,976 in the five-year period from 2012-2016, while the IFIC Foundation spent $5,639,289 from 2011-2015, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Corporations and industry groups that support IFIC, according to public disclosures, include the American Beverage Association, American Meat Science Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DowDuPont, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Perdue Farms and PepsiCo.

Draft tax records for the IFIC Foundation, obtained via state records requests, list the corporations that funded the group in 2011, 2013 or both: Grocery Manufacturers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The US Department of Agriculture gave IFIC Foundation $177,480 of taxpayer money in 2013 to produce a “communicator’s guide” for promoting genetically engineered foods.

IFIC also solicits money from corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of corporate board members asks for $10,000 contributions to update the “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes lists the previous financial supporters: Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.

Promotes GMOs to school children  

IFIC coordinates 130 groups via the Alliance to Feed the Future on messaging efforts to “improve understanding” about genetically engineered foods. Members include the American Council on Science and Health, the Calorie Control Council, the Center for Food Integrity and The Nature Conservancy.

The Alliance to Feed the Future also provides free educational curricula to teach students to promote genetically engineered foods, including “The Science of Feeding the World” for K-8 teachers and “Bringing Biotechnology to Life” for grades 7-10.

The inner workings of IFIC’s PR services 

A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes to spin bad news and defend the products of its corporate sponsors.

Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists  

  • May 5, 2014 email from Matt Raymond, senior director of communications, alerted IFIC leadership and “media dialogue group” to “high profile stories in which IFIC is currently involved” to help spin negative news coverage. He noted they had connected a New York Times reporter with “Dr. John Sievenpiper, our noted expert in the field of sugars.” Sievenpiper “is among a small group of Canadian academic scientists who have received hundreds of thousands in funding from soft-drink makers, packaged-food trade associations and the sugar industry, turning out studies and opinion articles that often coincide with those businesses’ interests,” according to the National Post.
  • Emails from 2010 and 2012 suggest that IFIC relies on a small group of industry-connected scientists to confront studies that raise concerns about GMOs. In both emails, Bruce Chassy pushes the view that there is no difference between conventional bred and genetically engineered crops.

DuPont exec suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports

  • In a February 3, 2013 email, IFIC staff alerted its “media relations group” that Consumer Reports had reported about safety and environmental concerns of GMOs. Doyle Karr, DuPont director of biotechnology policy and vice president of the board of Center for Food Integrity, forwarded the email to a scientist with a query for response ideas, and suggested confronting Consumer Reports with this stealth tactic: “Maybe create a letter to the editor signed by 1,000 scientists who have no affiliation with the biotech seed companies stating that they take issue with (Consumer Reports’) statements on the safety and environmental impact. ??”

Other PR services IFIC provides to industry

  • Disseminates misleading industry talking points: April 25, 2012 mail to the 130 members of the Alliance to Feed the Future “on behalf of Alliance member Grocery Manufacturers Association” claimed the California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods “would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of grocery products in California unless they contain special labels.”
  • Confronts troublesome books: February 20, 2013 describes IFIC’s strategy to spin two books critical of the food industry, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, and “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner. Plans included writing book reviews, disseminating talking points and exploring additional options to enhance engagement in the digital media.
  • Research and surveys to support industry positions; one example is a 2012 survey that found 76% of consumers “can’t think of anything additional they would like to see on the label” that was used by industry groups to oppose GMO labeling.
  • “Don’t worry, trust us” marketing brochures, such as this one explaining that artificial sweeteners and food dyes are nothing to worry about.

Calorie Control Council (CCC) – key facts

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Summary

Calorie Control Council is a trade group for manufacturers of artificial sweeteners

The CCC has “a penchant for stealthy public relations tactics”

* CCC is run by a public relations company, “functions more like an industry front group than a trade association”

 * The PR firm that runs CCC represents asbestos manufacturers, oil companies, Monsanto, fireworks manufacturers and others

Conducts own health studies, erased reference to studies into “mutagenicity,” “carcinogenicity” from website

 * CCC uses intimidation tactics against academic researchers

Defended International Dairy Foods Association petition to put artificial sweeteners in milk without additional labeling

Downplayed study that correlated diet soda consumption with premature birth

Led petition to remove saccharin from FDA list of carcinogens

Calorie Control Council is a Trade Group for Manufacturers of Artificial Sweeteners

According to its website, the Calorie Control Council represents manufacturers and suppliers of low and reduced calorie foods and beverages.

“The Calorie Control Council, established in 1966, is an international association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry. Today it represents manufacturers and suppliers of low- and reduced-calorie foods and beverages, including manufacturers and suppliers of more than two dozen different alternative sweeteners, fibers and other low-calorie, dietary ingredients.” [Calorie Control Council website, caloriecontrol.org, accessed 12/19/14]

CCC Has a “Penchant for Stealthy Public Relations Tactics”

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Calorie Control Council is “a lesser-known industry group with an innocuous-sounding name, a long history and a penchant for stealthy public relations tactics.” [Center for Public Integrity, 8/6/14]

CCC Run by a PR Firm, “More Like an Industry Front Group than a Trade Association”

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the CCC “is run by an account executive with a global management and public relations firm, represents the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry. But it functions more like an industry front group than a trade association.” [Center for Public Integrity, 8/6/14]

President of CCC is Haley Stevens, an Account Executive at PR Firm

Haley Stevens is the president of the Calorie Control Council. [Calorie Control Council web site]

Stevens is actually an account executive for the PR firm the Kellen Company. [Kellen Company web site]

Stevens is Also the Face of Other Front Groups Represented by Kellen

In addition to her duties as an account executive for the Kellen Company and president of the Calorie Control Council, Stevens also serves as the Executive Director of the International Food Additives Council, a Kellen Company client. [Foodadditives.org, Kellen Webinar]

Stevens has previously served – and may continue to serve – as a “Scientific Affairs Specialist” for the International Formula Council, another Kellen Client. [Kellen Company web site; New York Daily News, 9/26/11]

Kellen Group Represents Other Clients, Front Groups

In addition to the Calorie Control Council, the International Food Additives Council and the International Formula Council, the Kellen Group and its subsidiary, Kellen Adams, work for a number of other businesses, organizations and front groups, including:

  • The American Pyrotechnics Association: The American Pyrotechnics Association works to prevent bans on dangerous fireworks. [Kellen Company web site]

CCC Conducts “Scientific” Studies into Low-Calorie Foods…

According to its website, CCC does its own scientific research on low and reduced calorie foods.

“As part of this objective, careful attention to scientific research has been a cornerstone of the Council since its founding. The Council has sponsored numerous studies on low- and reduced-calorie ingredients, foods and beverages—including investigations of ingredient safety, consumer usage and public opinion.” [Calorie Control Council website, caloriecontrol.org, accessed 12/19/14]

…But Removes References to Studies into “Mutagenicity, Carcinogenicity” of Low-Calorie Foods from its Website

In September 2009, the Calorie Control Council edited its page to remove references to its studies on “mutagenicity” and “carcinogenicity” of low-calorie foods.

“As part of this objective, careful attention to scientific research has been a cornerstone of the Council since its founding. The Council has sponsored numerous studies on low-calorie ingredients, foods and beverages—including investigations in the areas of mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, metabolism, consumer usage and public opinion.” [Calorie Control Council website via archive.org, 8/20/09 vs. 9/21/09]

Uses Intimidation Tactics against Researchers Who Identify Health Risks Associated with Artificial Sweeteners

In 2013, Purdue University researcher Susan Swithers published a review article showing adverse health impacts on people frequently consuming artificial sweeteners, including an increased risk of excessive weight gain, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease.

The Calorie Control Council sent a letter to Purdue demanding that the university stop “promoting biased science.”

“The intimidation tactics, going to somebody’s employer, it just seems to go beyond the realm of what’s reasonable,” says Swithers. [Center for Public Integrity, 8/6/14]

CCC Downplays Health Risks of Aspartame and Artificial Sweeteners…

“But a spokeswoman for the low-calorie sweetener industry was highly critical of the research, noting that the study involved just 27 rats. “I think studies like this are a disservice to the consumer because they oversimplify the causes of obesity,” registered dietitian Beth Hubrich of the Calorie Control Council tells WebMD. “It is true that there has been an increase in the use of low-calorie sweeteners at the same time that we have seen an increase in obesity, but there has also been an increase in the use of cell phones and nobody is suggesting that they are causing obesity.” [CBS News, 2/11/08]

… While 2005 Study Saw Link Between Aspartame and Cancer in Rats

In 2005, a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed a link between aspartame and cancer in lab rats.

“A study in rats links the popular artificial sweetener aspartame to a wide range of cancers, but industry officials charge that the research is badly flawed. Aspartame is found in the low-calorie sweetener Equal and in many other sugar-free products under the brand name NutraSweet. It is the second best-selling nonsugar sweetener in the world. Researchers in Italy concluded that rats exposed to varying doses of aspartame throughout their lives developed leukemias, lymphomas, and several other cancers in a dose-dependent manner. The study appears in the Nov. 17 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” [WebMD Health News, 11/18/05]

Downplayed Result of Study Showing Diet Soda Consumption Contributed to Premature Birth

In July 2010, Calorie Control Council Executive Director Beth Hubrich downplayed the results of a new study showing a link between diet soda consumption and premature birth, saying that the results could “unduly alarm” pregnant women.

“New research suggests that drinking lots of artificially sweetened beverages may be linked with an increased risk of premature births. … In a statement, the Calorie Control Council, a lobbying group for companies that make and distribute low-calorie foods, called the study “misleading.’ “This study may unduly alarm pregnant women. While this study is counter to the weight of the scientific evidence demonstrating that low-calorie sweeteners are safe for use in pregnancy, research has shown that overweight and obesity can negatively affect pregnancy outcomes,” Beth Hubrich, a dietitian with the council, said in the statement. “Further, low-calorie sweeteners can help pregnant women enjoy the taste of sweets without excess calories, leaving room for nutritious foods and beverages without excess weight gain – something that has been shown to be harmful to both the mother and developing baby.” [Reuters, 7/23/10]

Supports Using Artificial Sweeteners in Milk without Additional Labeling

In 2013, the Calorie Control Council defended a 2009 petition by the International Dairy Foods Association to allow the use of artificial sweeteners in milk without additional labeling requirements beyond including the sweetener in the list of ingredients.

“Recently, the Doctor Oz show aired a segment about the use of low calorie sweeteners in flavored milk and other dairy products and made several unfounded allegations. The segment centered on a petition put forth to the FDA back in 2009 by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) asking for permission to provide reduced-sugar alternatives to flavored dairy products, such as chocolate milk, without an added label claim such as “reduced calorie” or “no sugar added.” It is important to note that products using a low-calorie sweetener will still be labeled as such in the ingredients list.” [Calorie Control Council press release, 4/1/13]

CCC Led Petition in 2003 to Remove Saccharin from List of Carcinogens

In 2003, the Calorie Control Council led a food industry petition seeking removal of saccharin from the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of carcinogens, a request that was granted in 2010.

“EPA has finalized its rule removing saccharin — a common artificial sweetener found in diet soft drinks, chewing gum and juice — and its salts from the agency’s list of hazardous substances. With the Dec. 14 announcement, EPA is granting a seven-year-old industry petition that argued scientific data suggests the food additive is not as harmful as once was thought. EPA had previously included saccharin on its list of hazardous substances and wastes when the lists were created in 1980 because the Food & Drug Administration had previously concluded the additive was a potential human carcinogen, the industry group Calorie Control Council (CCC) wrote in its 2003 petition.” [Superfund Report, 12/27/10]

CCC Pushed for Overturning of Ban on Cyclamate Sweetener in 1980s

In 1984, Forbes reported that the Calorie Control Council was working to overturn a 1969 ban on the artificial sweetener cyclamate.

“And then there is cyclamate, which may not give Searle even three years of room. Since 1969, when the FDA banned cyclamate because it allegedly caused cancer in mice and rats, one of the cyclamate manufacturers, Abbott Laboratories, and an industry group called the Calorie Control Council have been campaigning to reverse the decision. In 1980 the FDA again rejected Abbott’s claims. But last April the FDA’s cancer assessment committee finally changed course, requesting that the National Academy of Sciences conduct an in-depth review. The way now seems open for cyclamate to reenter the marketplace by late 1985.” [Forbes, 8/27/84]