Center for Food Integrity: PR for processed foods, pesticides and GMOs

Print Email Share Tweet

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), formerly the Grow America Project, is an industry-funded 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that conducts research, lobbying and public relations campaigns to “earn consumer trust” for processed food and agrichemical companies, including DowDuPont, Monsanto, Cargill, Costco, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hershey, Kroger and trade associations for meat, dairy and soybeans.

In the five-year period from 2012-2016, CFI spent over $23 million on various marketing and messaging programs to promote industry messaging to build trust in GMO foods, pesticides, food additives and antibiotics in meat. CFI’s 501(c)(3) arm, the Foundation for Food Integrity, funds research to inform messaging attempts to build consumer trust, with a spending budget of $823,167 from 2012-2016. Sponsors in 2012 included Monsanto, CropLife America and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

PR for the industrial food chain 

Board members for the Center for Food Integrity hail from the largest chemical, processed food and drug companies; the board includes executives from Cargill, Corteva Agrisciences (formerly DowDuPont), Chik-fil-A, Merck, McDonald’s, and trade associations for the soy, dairy and sugar industries. The president and founder of CFI, Charlie Arnot, also runs Look East (formerly CMA), a PR company for the food and agrichemical industries that offers services in branding and reputation management.

Terry Fleck, the executive director of CFI for 16 years since its inception, was also executive vice president at Look East. He retired in 2022. In April 2022, CFI appointed a new executive director, Mickie French, a former PR consultant for Coca-Cola,  Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Mars, Nestle, and former executive at Tate & Lyle and FleishmanHillard PR firm. 

“Industry partner” in Monsanto’s attack on IARC cancer panel

An internal Monsanto document identifies the Center for Food Integrity as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, 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.

The Monsanto plan lists four tiers of industry partners to engage in its public relations efforts. CFI is listed as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the International Food Information Council and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

According to the document, these groups were part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” to provide education about glyphosate levels and to describe Monsanto’s preferred studies as “science-based studies versus [the] agenda-driven hypothesis” of the independent cancer research panel.

Look East partnership with Monsanto and Genetic Literacy Project

The Center for Food Integrity partners with Look East, the PR firm founded by its president Charlie Arnot, for project management services, according to tax forms.

Arnot’s PR firm also works with Monsanto, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. In 2014, Monsanto tapped CMA to “merchandize” and promote a series of pro-GMO policy briefs that a Monsanto executive assigned to professors and arranged to publish on the Genetic Literacy Project website — with no disclosure of Monsanto’s behind-the-scenes role, as the Boston Globe reported.

The Genetic Literacy Project, another industry partner group named in Monsanto’s PR plan to discredit IARC, also receives funding from the Center for Food Integrity, according to the GLP’s most recent and often incorrect “transparency page.”

The Genetic LIteracy Project also played a key role in fomenting personal attacks against the scientists who raised cancer concerns about glyphosate.

Long standing front group 

In a 2013 report, the nonprofit Center for Food Safety describes the Center for Food Integrity as a longstanding food and chemical industry front group. “Front groups often have deceptive-sounding names and attempt to create a positive public impression that hides their funders’ economic motives,” states the report by Michele Simon. “Also, most front groups engage mainly in public relations campaigns as opposed to lobbying.” CFI, Simon writes, operates “through various forms of information control and public relations, including conducting consumer surveys, promoting the results and hosting events” that seek to build consumer trust in the industrial processed food chain.

For more information about processed food and chemical industry front groups, see our post Tracking the Pesticide Industry Propaganda Network