The Future Of Food Needs Transparency And Integrity

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By Stacy Malkan and Carey Gillam

“Food companies can’t figure out what Americans want to eat,” according to a June Wall Street Journal article.

Food industry CEOs are “rushing for the exits,” WSJ reported in October, and the food lobby is “splintering,” Politico explained, as food companies disagree about how to respond to shifting consumer tastes.

But it’s no mystery what Americans want to eat — or why the food industry is struggling.

Consumers are demanding foods free of artificial colors, faked flavors, pesticides, preservatives, growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs, as Fortune magazine reported in 2015 — these trends led by millennials are driving an “$18 billion food revolution.”

But rather than provide what customers want, some food industry players strive to confuse rather than comply with market demands.

Among the tactics in the toolbox, they use front groups and friendly academics to push propaganda to promote their products, and denigrate those who advocate for honest information.

One recent and blatant example appeared here in Investor’s Business Daily, in two opinion articles authored by Henry I. Miller, a Hoover Institution fellow. Miller’s resume certainly makes him appear authoritative and impressive — someone consumers could trust.

But in using the IBD forum to rail against the small non-profit consumer group we work for, U.S. Right to Know, he revealed his allegiance to certain industry interests who seek to keep consumers in the dark.

Our organization advocates for truth and transparency in the food system. We spend most of our time filing information requests for data and documents from state and federal agencies and institutions to share with consumers about food policy matters.

Miller has become fairly well known for putting science and public health second to corporate interests. He was listed in a 1994 memo as a “key supporter” of Philip Morris’ campaign to fight tobacco regulations.

He was also named in an internal Monsanto Company document as a resource who could help discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research panel after it declared Monsanto’s key herbicide to be a “probable” human carcinogen. That weed killer, glyphosate, is widely used globally in agricultural food production.

The Monsanto plan to protect its weed killer could not have been more clear: “Engage Henry Miller” it states. Documents reported by The New York Times revealed that an article posted by Miller in Forbes criticizing the cancer panel “largely mirrored” a draft provided by a Monsanto executive. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller as a result and deleted all his articles from the site.

Miller’s move now to discredit U.S. Right to Know seems driven by the same industry forces that led him to try to discredit the global cancer science group. Offering no evidence whatsoever, he insinuated that U.S. Right to Know is somehow in cahoots with the Russian government.

The slanderous missives are ironic, considering that the public relations firm hired by the agrichemical industry to salvage the reputation of their embattled GMO and pesticide products was Ketchum – the firm that pushed Russia’s interests in the United States for a decade until 2015.

So why would certain corporate food industry interests want or need a front man to attack our little nonprofit? The answer is easy: Investigations by U.S. Right to Know have turned up hidden documents — many of them now posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Archive — that have sparked multiple media investigations into the lobbying and propaganda operations of the food and agrichemical industries.

Articles about secretive food industry strategies to mislead consumers, lawmakers and investors have been published in the New York Times, BMJ, the Guardian, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Boston Globe, CBC, public health journals and many other outlets.

P.R. Shenanigans

Along with Miller, Monsanto tapped many other “industry partners” to try to discredit the scientists who warned about Monsanto’s herbicide, including the Genetic Literacy Project, Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food-industry funded groups.

These are the sorts of public relations shenanigans the food brands should shun if they hope to gain consumer trust.

For the record, we have no ties whatsoever to Russia. We are a food industry watchdog group. We examine how the food and agri-chemical industries operate behind the scenes to influence lawmakers, regulators, academics and others. And we share that information with the public.

Truth and transparency are scary concepts for certain corporate interests, to be sure. But these corporate players and their investors would be wise to listen to, and appreciate, consumer calls for honest advertising and open information about the risks as well as the rewards that come with a modern food system.

The articles by Dr. Henry I. Miller discussed here can be found at:

Russia Does Far Worse Than Meddle In Our Elections — It Meddles In Our Science, Part I

Russia Does Far Worse Than Meddle In Our Elections — It Meddles In Our Science: Part II

This story originally appeared in Investor’s Business Daily.

Monsanto Relied on These “Partners” to Attack Top Cancer Scientists

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See also: Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists, by Stacy Malkan (7/12/2018)

This fact sheet describes the contents of Monsanto’s confidential public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, the international group of experts on the IARC panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

The Monsanto plan names more than a dozen “industry partner” groups that company executives planned to “inform / inoculate / engage” in their efforts to protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent the “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” Partners included academics as well as chemical and food industry front groups, trade groups and lobby groups — follow the links below to fact sheets that provide more information about the partner groups.

Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide.

Monsanto’s objectives for dealing with the IARC carcinogenicity rating for glyphosate (page 5).

Background

A key document released in 2017 in legal proceedings against Monsanto describes the corporation’s “preparedness and engagement plan” for the IARC cancer classification for glyphosate, the world’s most widely used agrichemical. The internal Monsanto document — dated Feb. 23, 2015 — assigns more than 20 Monsanto staffers to objectives including “neutralize impact of decision,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “lead voice in ‘who is IARC’ plus 2B outrage.” On March 20, 2015, IARC announced its decision to classify glyphosate as Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

For more background, see: “How Monsanto Manufactured Outrage at Chemical Cancer Classification it Expected,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (9/19/2017)

Monsanto’s Tier 1-4 “Industry Partners”

Page 5 of the Monsanto document identifies four tiers of “industry partners” that Monsanto executives planned to engage in its IARC preparedness plan. These groups together have a broad reach and influence in pushing a narrative about cancer risk that protects corporate profits.

Tier 1 industry partners are agrichemical industry-funded lobby and PR groups.

Tier 2 industry partners are front groups that are often cited as independent sources, but work with the chemical industry behind the scenes on public relations and lobbying campaigns.

Tier 3 industry partners are food-industry funded nonprofit and trade groups. These groups were tapped to, “Alert food companies via Stakeholder Engagement team (IFIC, GMA, CFI) for ‘inoculation strategy’ to provide early education on glyphosate residue levels, describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypotheses” of the independent cancer panel.

Tier 4 industry partners are “key grower’s associations.” These are the various trade groups representing corn, soy and other industrial growers and food manufacturers.

Plan suggests Sense About Science to “lead industry response”

The “post-IARC” section details Monsanto’s plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.” The plan suggests the front group Sense About Science (in brackets with a question mark) as the group that “leads industry response and provides platform for IARC observers and industry spokesperson.”

Sense About Science describes itself as a public charity that “promotes public understanding of science,” but that occurs in ways that “tip the scales toward industry,” as The Intercept reported in 2016. The group was founded in London in 2001 by Dick Taverne, an English politician with ties to the tobacco industry and other industries Sense About Science defends.

For more information:

The sister group of Sense About Science, the Science Media Centre, is a nonprofit public relations group in London that receives industry funding and has sparked controversy for pushing corporate science. The Science Media Centre has close ties to Kate Kelland, a Reuters’ reporter who has written inaccurate articles about IARC that have been heavily promoted by the “industry partner” groups named in Monsanto’s PR plan, and used as the basis for political attacks against IARC.

For more information:

  • IARC responds, “IARC rejects false claims in Reuters article” (3/1/18)
  • USRTK, “Reuters’ Kate Kelland IARC Story Promotes False Narrative,” by Carey Gillam (7/24/2017)
  • Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Reuters vs. UN Cancer Agency,” by Stacy Malkan (7/24/2017)
  • USRTK, “Reuters’ Kate Kelland Again Promotes False Narrative About IARC and Glyphosate Cancer Concerns” (10/20/2017)

“Engage Henry Miller”

Page 2 of the Monsanto PR document identifies the first external deliverable for planning and preparation: “Engage Henry Miller” to “inoculate / establish public perspective on IARC and reviews.”

“I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.”

Henry I. Miller, MD, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has a long documented history of working with corporations to defend hazardous products. The Monsanto plan identifies the “MON owner” of the task as Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s science, technology and outreach lead.

Documents later reported by The New York Times reveal that Sachs emailed Miller a week before the IARC glyphosate report to ask if Miller was interested in writing about the “controversial decision.” Miller responded, “I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.” On March 23, Miller posted an article on Forbes that “largely mirrored” the draft provided by Monsanto, according to the Times. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller in the wake of the ghostwriting scandal and deleted his articles from the site.

Follow the findings of U.S. Right to Know and media coverage about collaborations between food industry groups and academics on our investigations page. U.S. Right to Know documents are also available in the Chemical Industry Documents Library hosted by the University of California, San Francisco.

Trump Talk Of Pompeo For Cabinet Could Spell Setback For Consumers

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News that President-elect Donald Trump is considering U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo for a cabinet slot illustrates just how dark the days ahead might be for America’s burgeoning “food movement,” which has been advocating for more transparency and fewer pesticides in food production.

Pompeo, a Republican from the farm state of Kansas, was the designated hitter for Monsanto Co. and the other Big Ag chemical and seed players in 2014 when the industry rolled out a federal effort to block states from mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. Pompeo introduced the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” in April of that year with the intention of overriding bills in roughly two dozen states.

In bringing the bill forward, Pompeo was acting on behalf the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies. The bill, which critics called the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act, or the “DARK Act,” went through two years of controversy and compromise before a version passed and was signed into law by President Barack Obama this summer. The law nullified a mandatory labeling bill set to take effect in Vermont in July of this year, and it offered companies options to avoid stating on their packaging whether or not a product contained GMO ingredients.

Pompeo has shown himself to be a “puppet” for special interests, and if he is named to a top position in the new administration, it could spell a significant setback for consumers, according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

“The worst choice I can think of,” Kimbrell said of Pompeo. “Far from draining the swamp, Pompeo is the ultimate “swamp” creature. He is little more than a puppet for the big chemical and biotech companies.”

Consumer groups have pushed for mandatory labeling for years because of concerns that genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. A chief concern has to do with the fact that most GMO crops are sprayed with glyphosate herbicide, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup brand. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and residues of glyphosate are increasingly being detected in commonly consumed foods.

The Trump transition team answer for those consumer concerns about pesticides doesn’t look reassuring either. Trump has named Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead transition efforts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s happy news for the agrichemical industry because Ebell appears to be a big fan of pesticides.His group’s SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website champions the safety and benefits of chemicals used in agriculture and elsewhere, and discounts research that indicates harm.

“The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency,” the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.

(This article first appeared in The Huffington Post)

For GMO Labeling Advocates, It Doesn’t Get Much Darker Than This

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This article was original published in Huffington Post.

By Carey Gillam

News Thursday that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and the committee’s ranking Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow had finally sewn up a deal on nationwide GMO labeling left the food industry celebrating – but GMO labeling backers cursing – a law that will continue to leave consumers largely in the dark about the GMO content of their groceries.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies and has been the chief architect of legislation to pre-empt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law, said Thursday that it “fully supports” the terms of the newly proposed legislation.

Senate Ag Democrats quickly took to social media to try to defend the deal, calling it a “win for consumers.” A prior measure pushed by Roberts, referred to by critics as Deny Americans the Right to Know Act, or the DARK Act,  was blocked by Senate Democrats in March.

But consumer advocates who were merely days away from seeing the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law implemented – set to take effect in Vermont on July 1 – said the bill was no better than the prior version, and they vowed to do all they could to block its passage.

“This is not a labeling bill; it is a non-labeling bill,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “We are appalled that our elected officials would support keeping Americans in the dark about what is in our food and even more appalled that they would do it on behalf of Big Chemical and food corporations.

The chief objection is that while the bill nullifies Vermont’s law, and any other similar state labeling efforts, it also allows companies to avoid the main thing consumers have demanded – a fast and easy way to determine if a food product they are purchasing was made using genetically engineered crops.

To appease consumer concerns about GMOs, many national food companies have already started providing simple and clear on-package GMO labeling. But under the law now proposed, food companies could avoid any mention of genetic engineering on their packages and “disclose” GMO ingredients through digital codes rather than on-package language. Consumers would be directed to “scan here for more food information” with a smartphone to find information about the food they want to buy. Another option would allow food companies to provide a phone number along with language that states “call for more food information.”

And, while the Vermont law would be nullified immediately, the law gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) two years to finalize a rule laying out the disclosure requirements. Food manufacturers defined as “very small” would be exempt from the disclosure requirement entirely.

The law provides no federal penalties for violations of the labeling requirements. It calls for the USDA to determine the amounts of GMO “substance that may be present in food” to be considered a bioengineered food. Foods that have meat, poultry, and egg products as main ingredients are exempted.

And, some consumer advocates say that a provision setting a definition of genetic engineering, or “bioengineering,” would be limited to such an extent that some interpretations might mean that foods made with herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans, the main GMO crops grown in the United States, would not be subject to the labeling requirements.

Consumer groups are vowing to blitz members of Congress with demands that they block the law, reminding them that this isn’t about politics – it’s about a consumer’s fundamental right to make an informed decision about the food they are buying for themselves and their families.

Many consumers worry that the genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. They worry that because most GMO crops are sprayed with glyphosate herbicide, which the World Health Organization has declared a probable human carcinogen, that GMO foods might contain dangerous levels of that pesticide. And they lack confidence in the regulatory and corporate entities that say those concerns are unsubstantiated even though the regulators require no independent safety testing of genetically engineered crops before they are commercialized for food.

The food and agrichemical and seed industry interests have brushed aside those concerns, and have acknowledged that they fear consumers will turn away from foods clearly labeled GMO in favor of non-GMO, natural or organic products.

Consumer advocates accused Stabenow of selling out consumer interests to appease food and big agriculture interests, such as Monsanto Co., the chief purveyor of GMO seed technology. But Stabenow defended the deal.

“For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Throughout this process I worked to ensure that any agreement would recognize the scientific consensus that biotechnology is safe, while also making sure consumers have the right to know what is in their food.”

The Senate is in session next week and could take the bill up, while the U.S. House of Representatives is in recess until after the Fourth of July holiday. Consumer advocates promise not to let labeling go down without a fight.

“This is still completely unacceptable to the nine out of ten Americans who want to be able to understand what they are buying,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union. “It doesn’t give people the choice they want. What has to be done now is stop this bill from getting through the Senate.”

Big Campaign Cash for Clinton from Monsanto Lobbyist

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A Monsanto Co. lobbyist, who is seen as Hillary Clinton’s “main man” in Iowa, was among the top financial bundlers of contributions to benefit Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House in the most recent quarter, new Federal Election Commission reports show.

Jerry Crawford of the Crawford & Mauro Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa, bundled $151,727 for the campaign over the quarter ending Dec. 31, FEC documents show. Crawford is senior adviser to Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and was the Midwest Co-Chair of the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign in 2007-08. His firm listed Monsanto as a client in the most recent quarter, reporting $60,000 in lobbying income from Monsanto. Monsanto is known as one of the nation’s most powerful corporations, and is currently engaged in a range of public policy debates over regulation of its genetically modified crops and top herbicide product, Roundup.

Another Monsanto lobbyist, Steve Elmendorf, bundled $20,295 in contributions for the Hillary for America organization during the quarter, FEC documents show.  Elmendorf also does work for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has been battling against mandatory labeling laws for foods made with GMOs.

The total of all bundlers for Clinton campaign over the quarter was $716,981, according to the FEC documents.

Clinton is widely seen as a friend to genetically engineered crop technology and agrichemical interests, while her chief competitor for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, has been a supporter of mandatory GMO labeling.

Fearful Food Industry Jeopardizing Public’s Right to Information

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I just don’t get it.

Over the more than 20 years I have worked as a business journalist, I’ve always been motivated by a simple premise: Knowledge is power, and that power belongs with the public. The spread of information that people can use to make decisions – what to buy, what to eat, where to invest, etc. – helps support and promote the principles of freedom and democracy, I believe.

That’s why the fear and loathing emanating from the food industry over the public’s right to information about the food they consume is so hard for me to grasp.

As we kick off 2016 the leaders of many of the nation’s largest and most powerful food companies are doubling down on their commitment to block mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically engineered crops, and they are seeking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s help to do so. The issue has become urgent for the industry as what would be the nation’s first mandatory labeling measure is set to go into effect July 1 in Vermont. The industry has thus far failed to convince a federal court to block the law’s implementation, though the fight could go to trial this spring.

Citizens in many other states continue to try to pass similar mandatory labeling measures. A GMO label would allow a consumer to know at a glance information that many consider important. Given that knowledge, some people might shy away from GMO-labeled foods; others may not care. Some may seek out GMO-labeled foods if they feel they provide special value or are helping “feed the world,” as GMO seed developers such as Monsanto Co. claim.  But the public’s right to that knowledge – to that decision-making ability – terrifies many in an industry that generates sales of roughly $2.1 trillion annually. The fear is so strong that they have enlisted teams of legal and public relations professionals to help try to convince regulators and federal lawmakers to override Vermont’s law and prohibit any future laws like it.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose members include PepsiCo., Kellogg Co. and hundreds of other large food companies, leads the charge against GMO labeling, saying it would be too costly to implement and is unnecessary because GMOs are proven safe. The organization says it is “hopeful that compromise will establish a uniform national standard for foods made with genetically engineered crops.” The group recently put forth a proposed initiative that would add barcodes to products that consumers could scan with their smartphones to access information. But whether or not the presence of GMO ingredients would ever be required to be included in that information is unclear.

Those fighting for mandatory labeling include members of the organic and natural foods industry, but also consumer groups, environmentalists and lots of regular moms and dads who want to know what they are feeding their children. Many of these labeling supporters cite pesticide residues on GMO foods as a concern, and contradictory science on the safety of GMOs. Some opponents say they don’t want to buy products that they feel contribute to corporate control of the world’s food supply. A barcode won’t cut it, many of the leading GMO labeling proponents say.  They point to a national survey conducted in November by the Mellman Group that concluded 88 percent of people want a printed GMO label rather than having to use a smartphone app to scan a bar code.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack looks set to sit down with representatives from both sides of the issue in January to try to forge a compromise if one can be found. Both sides say they are willing to meet in the middle. Millions of dollars have been spent lobbying for and against labeling and fighting the issue out in the courts, and both sides are weary of the war. Details of the discussions to be held are being kept confidential, according to some participants, to give the process the greatest chance of success.

As the discussions loom, we should not lose sight of the fact that this issue – and many others – come down to the power of information, and the critical nature of who controls that information.  Those companies developing and profiting from GMOs have the information they need to patent their creations and track where and how they are used. Farmers planting GMOs are provided a range of information about the seeds, their limitations and their benefits, and can easily choose non-GMO seeds because varieties are labeled and tracked. Systems are in place to allow food manufacturers to know whether or not they are purchasing ingredients made from GMO crops. It seems consumers are the only ones left out of the information pipeline.

Indeed, some advocating against GMO labeling argue that consumers aren’t smart enough to understand or use GMO labeling information effectively. They argue that consumers are being conned into fearing GMOs. In a Dec. 27 blog posting opposing GMO labeling, GMO supporters Jon Entine and retired University of Illinois professor Bruce Chassy wrote of consumers “who can’t define what a GMO is” and said that pro-labeling efforts are driven by “small groups of well-financed professional activists.” Chassy and Entine argue that these “activists” use “misinformation and fear-mongering to whip up support for their agenda.”

Such pro-GMO advocates may hope consumers also are not well informed about their connections to the corporate food industry. Chassy doesn’t mention in that blog, for instance, that for years while working as a professor of food safety at the University of Illinois, he collaborated quietly with Monsanto executives on multiple projects aimed at countering concerns about health and environmental impacts of GMOs. Monsanto has acknowledged that it provided several unrestricted grants to the biotechnology outreach program that Chassy helped lead, but said there was nothing improper about the relationship.

That is information some might want to know. But it only became public after the non-profit group U.S. Right to Know obtained emails between Chassy and several other university professors and Monsanto, and shared them with media outlets.

Another batch of emails recently disclosed shows discussions between Kevin Folta, chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, and a public relations agency about how to counter a Canadian teenager who developed a website questioning the safety of genetically modified foods. Folta also received grant money from Monsanto.

I don’t know about you, but this is all information I think is important. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes helps me make decisions about who I trust and what I believe about the food I buy for myself and my family. As a journalist I’ve been fortunate enough to get behind those scenes a time or two myself: I’ve toured Monsanto’s laboratories, visited Dow AgroSciences’ test plots; and spent more time than I can calculate with farmers in their fields. I’ve also spent countless hours with scientists on both sides of this debate; waded through stacks of legal and regulatory documents; and sat down with government regulators to talk over the myriad issues.

The knowledge I have gained leaves me straddling the fence a bit. I see benefits to GMOs, and I see risks. And I know with certainty that I want more information, not less.

Whatever one’s views are about GMOs, or other aspects of the food industry, the right to information is essential, and not one to be abridged.

Carey Gillam has been recognized as one of the top food and agriculture journalists in the United States, winning several awards for her coverage of the industry, and appearing as an expert commentator on radio and television broadcasts. After a 17-year career at Reuters, one of the world’s largest news organizations, Gillam joined U.S. Right to Know as Research Director on Jan. 4.

Jack Abramoff’s Old Law Firm Now Lobbying Against GMO Labeling

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Food company CEO’s worried about losing the trust of the American publicnot to mention huge market shares – might want to take note: their trade association has taken another tone-deaf step into the abyss by hiring a the law firm of a famous felon to do their dirty work.

Yesterday, Politico reported that the Grocery Manufacturers Association has retained the law firm K&L Gates to lobby against GMO labeling.

K&L Gates was formed in a 2007 merger between Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and Preston Gates – which was Jack Abramoff’s law firm from 1994 to 2000.

Jack Abramoff, as we know, was sentenced to four years in prison for political corruption, and ended up as the poster child for corruption in Washington.

Incidentally, the Senate investigation of Abramoff uncovered that he targeted me personally, because of my work as a public health advocate for American children. I ran a campaign against one of Abramoff’s clients — Channel One — which compelled 8 million kids to watch two minutes of ads in school each day, including ads for junk food and soda pop.

What can we expect from the GMA now?

The Grocery Manufacturers Association represents many consumer-facing companies that are trying to convince us that junk food is just fine for our kids and we don’t need to know everything that’s in it, such as GMOs. It wants to convince us that GMOs are safe.

In these efforts, it makes little sense for the GMA and the agrichemical industry to run campaigns replete with deceptions and dirty tricks, to engage in an apparent massive political money laundering scheme, to retain Russia’s PR firm to conduct their public relations, to falsely deny that their products are banned in the European Union, and to have some of the most disreputable front groups and corporate shills act as their public face.

Hiring Jack Abramoff’s old law firm isn’t going to help either.

An Open Letter to Professor Kevin Folta on FOIA Requests

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Dear Professor Folta:

Yesterday there was some news coverage and commentary about our use of the state Freedom of Information Acts to obtain the correspondence of professors who wrote for the agrichemical industry’s PR website, GMO Answers. We’re glad to have a public conversation about this topic with the professors involved. We believe that transparency and open dialogue are fundamental values by which we must operate in a democratic society and a truly free market. To that end, I thought it would be useful to explain why we FOIA.

Since 2012, the food and agrichemical industries have spent at least $103 million dollars on a massive PR and political campaign to deceive the public about genetically engineered foods. As the public relations firm Ketchum bragged in a recent video, “positive media coverage had doubled” on GMOs following this PR campaign, and it has put agrichemical industry spin front and center in the debate over GMOs. The purpose of this PR campaign is to repel grassroots efforts to win GMO labels that are already required in 64 countries, and to extend the profit stream from GMOs, and the pesticides that go with them, for as long as possible – not to foster an authentic public dialogue about GMOs.

This anti-consumer campaign has been dirty in more ways than one. It has been packed with numerous deceptions and well-documented efforts to trick voters. In connection with such efforts, the Washington State Attorney General is suing the Grocery Manufacturers Association for the largest instance of campaign money laundering in the history of the state.

At U.S. Right to Know, we believe the food and agrichemical industries must have a lot to hide, because they spend so much money trying to hide it. We try to expose what they’re hiding.

As part of our effort, we made the state FOIA requests to obtain the correspondence of professors who wrote for the agrichemical industry’s PR website, GMO Answers.

These professors are public employees. They are paid by the taxpayers to work for the public good; their university affiliations give them the status of “independent” experts, and they are often quoted in the media as independent experts. But when these professors are closely coordinating with agrichemical corporations and their slick PR firms to shape the public dialogue in ways that foster private gain for corporations, or when they act as the public face for industry PR, we have the right to know what they did and how they did it.

Through the FOIA requests, we are attempting to understand the work these professors did for Ketchum, (as well as agrichemical companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, DuPont and Dow; trade groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Council for Biotechnology Information; other PR firms like Fleishman Hillard and Ogilvy & Mather, and the political firm Winner & Mandabach) on the GMO Answers website which was created as a PR tool for the agrichemical companies.

There are reasons to be concerned about GMO Answers. The website was created by and is run by the public relations firm Ketchum, which also represents Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Ketchum is linked to an espionage effort conducted years ago against nonprofit organizations concerned with GMOs, including the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth. Ketchum also targeted Greenpeace with espionage.

The professors whose documents we requested are using the prestige of our public universities to burnish the image of an industry that has repeatedly hidden from consumers and workers the truth about the dangers of their products and operations. Entire books have been written documenting their reprehensible conduct. Public relations on behalf of private corporations is not academic work. It is not work for the public good. It is the use of public funds for private gain.

Federal and state Freedom of Information Acts exist, in part, to uncover such potential misuse of public funds for private ends.

We are also interested in failures of scientific integrity. To use one obvious example, one of the professors whose records we requested closely mirrored industry talking points in an op-ed he wrote against GMO labeling for the Woodland Daily-Democrat. Did that professor write the op-ed himself? Or was it written by a PR firm hired by the agrichemical industry?

Repeating industry talking points is not integrity in science; in fact, it is the opposite.

We believe that transparency and openness are good remedies for the lack of integrity in science.

We are glad to live in America, where the tools of the FOIA are open to all citizens. And so our work is guided by the ideals of James Madison: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Sincerely,

Gary Ruskin
Executive Director
U.S. Right to Know

The Junk Food Industry Loved FDA’s Margaret Hamburg

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Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, announced yesterday that she would soon leave her post.

Here’s one easy way to tell that she was a greater friend to the junk food industry than to consumers:

Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told Food Business News “I commend Dr. Hamburg for her years of dedicated service as F.D.A. Commissioner…Under her leadership, the agency successfully ushered in the most sweeping set of reforms to our nation’s food safety system in a generation through the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.). She was an activist commissioner in the best sense of the term: personally engaged in the important issues and always seeking the views of all stakeholders.”

That’s high praise from the leading trade association of the junk food industry.

American Beverage Association — key facts

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Summary

* The American Beverage Association is a trade group for the soda, soft drink and junk food industries

ABA was previously called the National Soft Drink Association

Some U.S. soft drinks contained BVO, a flame retardant; ABA says “so is water!”

While ABA defends use of a flame retardant in soda, Coke and Pepsi announced they would remove it from their products

Downplayed risks of benzene discovered in soft drinks

Referred to articles raising risks of artificial sweeteners as “internet myths”

Bashed study showing link between caramel coloring and cancer, yet companies changed drink formulation shortly after study released

* One-third of Americans are obese, but the ABA wants to take another ten years before cutting calories in its products

“The Masterminds Behind the Phony Anti-Soda Tax Coalitions”

Fought disclosure of donors to anti-tax campaign

Spent nearly $30 million on lobbying in 2009 and 2010

Previously Known as National Soft Drink Association

The American Beverage Association was founded in 1919 as the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages, and renamed the National Soft Drink Association in 1966.

The organization changed its name in 2004. [http://www.ameribev.org/about-aba/history/]

ABA Defends the Use of BVO Because Water is Also a Flame Retardant     

According to Environmental Health News, the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in food has been banned in Europe and Japan.

Yet on its website, ABA defends use of BVO in soft drinks, even noting that while BVO is a flame retardant, “so is water!”

“For example, you may have heard, seen or read some media coverage of the ingredient brominated vegetable oil, or BVO for short. Some have reported that it is a flame retardant (so is water!), and unsafe for use in foods and beverages. Well, we wanted to make sure that our readers got the facts: BVO is an emulsifier which is used in some fruit-flavored beverages to improve the stability of the beverage by preventing some ingredients from separating. Readers can rest assured that our products are safe and our industry adheres to all government regulations.” [American Beverage Association website, ameribev.org, posted 8/18/14]

While ABA Defends Use of BVO, Coke and Pepsi Stopped Using It

In May 2014, USA Today reported that “Coca-Cola and PepsiCo said Monday they’re working to remove a controversial ingredient from all their drinks, including Mountain Dew, Fanta and Powerade.”

“The ingredient, called brominated vegetable oil, had been the target of petitions on Change.org by a Mississippi teenager who wanted it out of PepsiCo’s Gatorade and Coca-Cola’s Powerade. In her petitions, Sarah Kavanagh noted that the ingredient has been patented as a flame retardant and isn’t approved for use in Japan and the European Union.” [USA Today, 5/5/14]

ABA Downplayed Presence of Benzene Discovered in Soft Drinks

In 1990, and again in 2006, the ABA downplayed health risks from benzene discovered in soft drinks in both years.

“When small amounts of benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical, were found in some soft drinks 16 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration never told the public. That’s because the beverage industry told the government it would handle the problem, and the FDA thought the problem was solved. A decade and a half later, benzene has turned up again. The FDA has found levels in some soft drinks higher than what it found in 1990, and two to four times higher than what’s considered safe for drinking water. Both the FDA and the beverage industry said the amounts were small and that the problem didn’t appear to be widespread. ‘People shouldn’t overreact,’ said Kevin Keane, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association. ‘It’s a very small number of products and not major brands.’” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/4/06]

Benzene is a Known Human Carcinogen

Benzene is classified as a known carcinogen based on occupational studies in adults that demonstrated increased incidence of several types of leukemia in exposed adults. Benzene has also been shown to be genotoxic (cause damage to DNA) in experimental animal studies. The primary targets of benzene exposure in humans are the hematopoietic (blood cell-forming) system and the immune system.  [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]

ABA Rejected Report Linking Caramel Color Ingredient to Cancer…

In March 2012, the ABA called a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest linking soft drinks’ caramel coloring to cancer “outrageous.”

“Can drinking soda cause cancer? A report Monday from the U.S. consumer watchdog The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said popular sodas contain high levels of a chemical that’s used to give cola its caramel coloring – and that chemical could raise a soda-drinkers’ cancer risk. … The American Beverage Association also slammed CSPI’s findings. It said in a statement, ‘This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous. The science simply does not show that 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human health.’” [WLTX, 3/6/12]

… Then Coke and Pepsi Changed Formulation Shortly After Study

Despite ABA’s description of a study that linked caramel coloring with cancer as “ridiculous,” both Coke and Pepsi changed their drinks’ formulations shortly after its release.

“Coca-Cola and PepsiCo (PEP) are changing the way they make the caramel coloring used in their sodas as a result of a California law that mandates drinks containing a certain level of carcinogens bear a cancer warning label. The companies said the changes will be expanded nationally to streamline their manufacturing processes. They’ve already been made for drinks sold in California. The American Beverage Association, which represents the broader beverage industry, said its member companies will still use caramel coloring in certain products but that adjustments were made to meet California’s new standard.” [Associated Press, 3/8/12]

Talking Loud and Saying Nothing: ABA Promises 25 Percent Calorie Cut… by 2025

In 2014, the American Beverage Association pledged to cut sugary drink calories by 20 percent in 10 years through education, marketing and packaging. [Reuters, 9/23/14]

34.9% of Americans over 20 years of age are obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

ABA Says that Stories about Risks of Artificial Sweeteners Are Just “Internet Myths”

On a website aimed at dispelling what it sees as misconceptions about its products, the ABA refers to stories about the risks of artificial sweeteners as “internet myths.”

Foods and beverages use many types of low-calorie sweeteners. Despite some of the internet myths that may end up in your inbox, these low-calorie sweeteners are safe. In fact, they have been approved by regulatory agencies around the world, including the World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as safe for use in foods and beverages.” [ABA’s “Let’s Clear It Up” website, letsclearitup.org, accessed 12/20/14]

Called Harvard Study Linking Sugary Drinks to Obesity-Related Deaths “Sensationalism”

In March 2013, the ABA said that a new study linking consumption of sugary beverages to more than 180,000 annual obesity-related deaths worldwide amounted to “sensationalism.”

“Sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to more than 180,000 obesity-related deaths worldwide each year, according to new research presented this week at an American Heart Association conference. … Among the world’s 35 largest countries, Mexico had the highest death rates from sugary drinks, and Bangladesh had the lowest, according to the study. The United States ranked third. However, the American Beverage Association dismissed the research as ‘more about sensationalism than science.’” [CNN, 3/19/13]

Downplayed Yale Study Showing Ingestion of Fructose (Often Added to Soft Drinks) Promoted Overeating

In January 2013, the ABA downplayed the results of a Yale study showing that ingestion of fructose helped to promote overeating, calling for the findings to “be kept in perspective.”

“Ingesting fructose can lead to brain activity that promotes overeating, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine. The study, published Jan. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, suggests that obesity is linked to consumption of fructose, a simple sugar found in foods containing high-fructose corn syrup. … Given the study’s limitations, the American Beverage Association downplayed the significance of the research findings, according to an email they sent to CBS News. ‘These findings should be kept in perspective,’ the ABA wrote. ‘The researchers gave 20 adults a beverage sweetened with either fructose or glucose — neither of which are found alone in any sweetened beverage.’” [Yale Daily News, 1/15/13]

“The Masterminds Behind the Phony Anti-Soda Tax Coalitions”

A 2012 column in the Huffington Post entitled, “The Masterminds Behind the Phony Anti-Soda Tax Coalitions” exposed the numerous front groups created by the American Beverage Association.

“The deep-pocketed American Beverage Association, which is funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper/Snapple and others, has been successfully framing the sugary beverage tax issue across the nation with the help of astroturf coalitions created by Goddard Claussen/Goddard Gunster.” [Huffington Post, 7/3/12]

Among the projects highlighted on Goddard Gunster’s web page are:

NO ON QUESTION 2: STOP FORCED DEPOSITS
In a campaign one top Massachusetts pollster characterized as “a work of art,” Goddard Gunster delivered a 73% victory over bottle bill expansion proponents. See more here.

NO ON E: STOP UNFAIR BEVERAGE TAXES
In the days leading up to Election Day 2014, we helped remind voters that the last thing they needed was a tax that made San Francisco an even more expensive place to live and work. See more here.

NEW YORKERS FOR BEVERAGE CHOICES
With more than 600,000 members and nearly 4,000 businesses, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices is taking a stand for consumer freedom of choice. See more here.

NO ON “H” / NO ON “N” CALIFORNIA
In 2012, proposals to levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages popped up on ballots in both El Monte and Richmond, California. But by reaching out early to key Hispanic and African American communities, we helped ensure both measures were defeated by huge margins. See more here.

STOP THE TELLURIDE BEVERAGE TAX
With the help of our local Telluride business partners, Ballot Issue 2A, the Telluride beverage tax, was defeated by an overwhelming 69% of the vote.

AMERICAN BEVERAGE ASSOCIATION
With politicians pushing for new beverage taxes and bans across the country, it was time to take a stand for consumer freedom of choice and say, “Gimme a break!” Our 2013 campaign sent a clear message that Americans have the right to make their own food and beverage choices. View more here.

[http://goddardgunster.com/work]

ABA Spearheaded Super Bowl Ad for Front Group

In 2011 during the Super Bowl, the ABA ran an ad (via a group called Americans Against Food Taxes) that opposed taxes on food and soft drinks.

“Along with Doritos and Bud Lite commercials on Super Bowl Sunday, viewers in the Washington area saw a political ad against taxes on food and soft drinks.…First, some background on the group airing the ad, Americans Against Food Taxes. The group is spearheaded by the American Beverage Association, which represents the makers of sodas and other drinks. According to Advertising Age,  the American Beverage Association decided to form the coalition in June 2009, when the idea of taxing sodas and other sweet beverages was being considered as a way to fund the Democratic health care bill. The coalition includes dozens of members, including 7-Eleven, Inc., Burger King Corp., Domino’s Pizza, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, McDonalds, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Snack Food Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, Inc.”  [Tampa Bay Times, 2/7/11]

ABA Front Group Successfully Sued to Block Disclosure of Funders in California

In September 2012, a federal judge blocked disclosure of the donors of the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, a group funded by ABA aimed at blocking a one-cent sugary beverage tax.

“A federal judge in San Francisco on Friday blocked the city’s attempt to force a beverage industry-funded campaign group to comply with campaign-disclosure rules on its political mailers. The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, which is funded by the American Beverage Association, has spent more than $350,000 in an effort to defeat Measure N, a November ballot measure that could force local businesses to pay a penny-per-ounce tax on sales of sugar-sweetened beverages. A companion measure advises the city to spend the estimated $3 million in annual revenues on recreation and anti-obesity programs.” [Contra Costa Times, 9/7/12]

Spent Nearly $10 Million Fighting Beverage Taxes in California in 2014

According to National Public Radio, the ABA spent nearly $10 million fighting referendums to impose a one or two cent tax on sugary beverages in some California cities.

“The measures, which voters will decide on Nov. 4, would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in Berkeley and a two-cent-per-ounce tax in San Francisco. … Along Berkeley’s main streets and in the underground subways here, advertisements blasting the proposed soda tax are everywhere. The American Beverage Association, the soda industry’s lobbying group, has spent some $1.7 million fighting the measure in Berkeley and $7.7 million in San Francisco, according to campaign filings.” [National Public Radio, 10/27/14]

Deluged Washington State with $16.7 Million in Spending to Repeal Soda Tax in 2010

In 2010, the ABA spent a state-record $16.7 million to repeal the state’s two-cent soda tax.

“The American Beverage Association has poured a state-record $16.7 million of industry resources into the Initiative 1107 campaign to repeal Washington’s temporary two-cent tax on soda pop and a few other new taxes. … Yes on 1107 campaign spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger has said for months that the initiative would stop taxes recently enacted on ‘the grocery cart,’ which the campaign hammers home incessantly in its flood of ads. The campaign, which has spent $11.8 million, also claims the new sales tax on candy is confusing and arbitrary, because some similar products are treated dissimilarly.” [The Olympian, 10/23/10]

Fought Bottle Deposit Referendum in Massachusetts

In 2014, the ABA contributed $5 million to “No on Question 2: Stop Forced Deposits,” a group in Massachusetts trying to defeat the expansion of the state’s bottle deposit law.

“A coalition of opponents to a ballot initiative that would expand the state’s bottle deposit law released their first television ad Monday, funded by a $5 million donation from the American Beverage Association. … The opposition group, ‘No on Question 2: Stop Forced Deposits,’ is funded by the beverage and grocery industry and has far more money than the supporters of the ballot initiative. The American Beverage Association donated $5 million to the campaign. Stop and Shop gave another $300,000. The Springfield-based Big Y Foods gave $90,000.” [The Republican (Springfield, MA), 9/15/14]

Spent Millions Trying to Make Fee Hike Harder in California

In the 2010 election, the ABA contributed $2,450,000 to the “No on 25 Yes on 26” campaign. [National Institute on Money in State Politics, followthemoney.org, accessed 12/20/14]

Prop 25 Allowed Budget Passage by Simple Majority, Prop 26 Required Voter Approval on Fees

According to the Associated Press, passage of Prop 25 would allow the state budget to pass by a simple majority, while Prop 26 would make it more difficult to raise fees.

“Proposition 25 seeks to put an end to the stalemates by allowing the Legislature to pass a budget by a simple majority vote, instead of the current two-thirds threshold. … Proposition 26, which is being pushed by the California Chamber of Commerce and businesses, would make it harder for state and local governments to levy fees. Seeking to close loopholes allowing governments to disguise taxes as fees, supporters want to make fees subject to the same rules as taxes: two-thirds approval by the Legislature for state fees and voter approval for local fees.” [Associated Press, 10/1/08]

ABA Spent $18.9 Million on Lobbying in 2009 and $9.9 Million in 2010

According to OpenSecrets.org, the ABA spent $18,850,000 on federal lobbying in 2009, and another $9,910,000 in 2010. This marked a massive increase over its past expenditures, which did not top $1 million from 2003 to 2008.

In 2014, the American Beverage Association spent $890,000 on lobbying. [Center for Responsive Politics, openscrets.org, accessed 12/20/14]

Lobbying Centered on Preventing Beverage Tax from Becoming Method of Funding Obamacare

According to The Fiscal Times, the ABA’s lobbying efforts were aimed at preventing the creation of a federal tax on sugary beverages to partially fund Obamacare.

“2009 was both a successful and expensive year for the beverage lobby, which was victorious in crushing federal proposals to impose a federal excise tax on sugary drinks as a means of paying for a health care overhaul package. This nationally televised ad is from The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr. Pepper Snapple. They spent at least $18 million on lobbying and millions more in campaign donations in 2009 in an effort to keep the government from becoming the nation’s food nanny.” [The Fiscal Times, 3/15/10]