Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists

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By Stacy Malkan

DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, became the first person to face Monsanto in trial this week over allegations the company hid evidence about the cancer-causing dangers of its Roundup weedkiller. Johnson is the first of some 4,000 people suing Monsanto in state and federal courts claiming their cancers were caused by glyphosate-based Roundup. The litigation, and documents coming to light because of it, are shining light on the heavy-handed tactics Monsanto (now a subsidiary of Bayer) has used to deny cancer risk and protect the chemical that is the lynchpin of its profits.

“Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. An investigation in Le Monde details Monsanto’s effort “to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible” to save glyphosate.

Two recent journal articles, based on reviews of the Roundup trial discovery documents, report corporate interference in a scientific publication and a federal regulatory agency, and other examples of “poisoning the scientific well.”

“Monsanto’s ghostwriting and strong-arming threaten sound science and society,” wrote Tufts University Professor Sheldon Krimsky in a June essay. The discovery documents, he said, “uncover the corporate capture of science, which puts public health and the very foundation of democracy at risk.”

This corporate war on science has major implications for all of us, considering that half of all men in the U.S. and a third of women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The documents the food industry doesn’t want you to see

For years, the food and chemical industries have set their sights on one particular target in the science world: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the independent research group that for 50 years has worked to identify cancer hazards to inform policies that can prevent cancer.

“I’ve been fighting IARC forever!!! :)” one former Kraft Foods scientist wrote to a former Syngenta scientist in an email obtained through a state open records request. “Foods and ag are under siege since Glyphosate in March 2015. We all need to gather somehow and expose IARC, as you guys did in the paper. Next priorities are all food ingredients: aspartame, sucralose, dietary iron, B-carotene, BPA, etc. IARC is killing us!”

The IARC expert panel decision to classify glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” created a rallying point for the panel’s foes to gather forces. A key Monsanto document released via litigation reveals the plan of attack: discredit the cancer scientists with the help of allies across the food industry.

Monsanto’s public relations plan assigned 20 corporate staffers to prepare for the IARC carcinogenicity report on glyphosate, with objectives including “neutralize impact,” “establish public perspective on IARC,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “engage industry associations” in “outrage.”

The document identified four tiers of “industry partners” to help advance the three objectives named in the PR plan: protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies” to keep allowing the use of glyphosate.

Uncovering Monsanto’s network of “industry partners”

The industry partner groups Monsanto tapped to discredit the IARC scientists included the largest pesticide and food industry lobby organizations, CropLife International, BIO and the Grocery Manufacturers Association; industry-funded spin groups such as GMO Answers and the International Food Information Council; and “science-y” sounding front groups like Sense about Science, the Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review – all using similar messaging and often referring back to each other as sources.

Documents obtained by the U.S. Right to Know investigation illuminate on how these partner groups work together to promote the “MON POV” about the safety and necessity of pesticides and GMOs.

One set of documents revealed how Monsanto’s PR operatives organized “Academics Review” as a neutral-sounding platform from which they could launch attacks against a target list of foes, including the Sierra Club, author Michael Pollan, the movie Food, Inc. and the organic industry.

The architects of Academics Review – co-founders Bruce Chassy and David Tribe, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs, former Monsanto communications director Jay Byrne, and former VP of the biotech industry trade group Val Giddings – talked openly in the emails about setting up Academics Review as a front group to promote industry interests and attract industry cash, while keeping corporate fingerprints hidden.

Email from Jay Byrne, former director of corporate communications for Monsanto, to Bruce Chassy.

Email from Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s Science, Technology & Outreach Lead, to Bruce Chassy

Even now with their playbook exposed – and their primary funding identified as coming from a trade group funded by Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and DowDuPont – Academics Review still claims on its website to accept donations only from “non-corporate sources.” Academics Review also claims that the “IARC glyphosate cancer review fails on multiple fronts,” in a post sourced by the industry-funded PR website GMO Answers, the industry-funded front group American Council on Science and Health, and a Forbes article by Henry Miller that was ghostwritten by Monsanto.

Miller and the Academics Review organizers Chassy, Tribe, Byrne, Sachs and Giddings are all also members of AgBioChatter, a private listserver that appeared in Monsanto’s PR plan as a tier 2 industry partner. Emails from the AgBioChatter list suggest it was used as a forum to coordinate industry allies on messaging and lobbying activities to promote GMOs and pesticides. Members included senior agrichemical industry staff, PR consultants and pro-industry academics, many of whom write for industry media platforms such as GMO Answers and Genetic Literacy Project, or play leadership roles in other Monsanto partner groups.

Genetic Literacy Project, led by longtime chemical industry PR operative Jon Entine, also partnered with Academics Review to run a series of conferences funded by the agrichemical industry to train journalists and scientists how to better promote GMOs and pesticides and argue for their deregulation. The organizers were, again, dishonest about the sources of their funding.

These groups cast themselves as honest arbiters of science even as they spread false information and level near hysterical attacks against scientists who raised concerns about the cancer risk of glyphosate.

A search for “IARC” on the Genetic Literacy Project website brings up more than 220 articles with industry messaging, maligning the cancer scientists as “anti-chemical enviros” who “lied” and “conspired to misrepresent” the health risks of glyphosate, and arguing that the global cancer agency should be defunded and abolished.

Many of the anti-IARC articles posted on that site, or pushed by other industry surrogates, ignore the many news reports based on the Monsanto Papers documenting corporate interference in the scientific research, and focus instead on the misleading reporting of Kate Kelland, a Reuters’ reporter who has close ties to the Science Media Centre, the sister organization of Sense About Science, a group Monsanto suggested in its PR plan to “lead industry response” in the media.

The battle against IARC, based on these attacks, has now reached Capitol Hill, with Congressional Republicans led by Rep. Lamar Smith investigating and trying to withhold U.S. funding from the world’s leading cancer research agency.

Who is on the side of science?

Monsanto’s lobbying and messaging to discredit the IARC cancer panel is based on the argument that other agencies using risk-based assessments have exonerated glyphosate of cancer risk. But as many news outlets have reported, along with the two recent journal articles based on the Monsanto Papers, evidence is piling up that the regulatory risk assessments on glyphosate, which rely heavily on industry-provided research,  have been compromised by undisclosed conflicts of interest, reliance on dubious science, ghostwritten materials and other methods of corporate strong-arming that puts public health at risk, as the Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky wrote.

“To protect the scientific enterprise, one of the core pillars of a modern democratic society, against the forces that would turn it into the handmaiden of industry or politics, our society must support firewalls between academic science and the corporate sectors and educate young scientists and journal editors on the moral principles behind their respective professional roles,” Krimsky wrote.

Policy makers must not allow corporate-spun science to guide decisions about cancer prevention. Media must do a better job reporting and probing into conflicts of interest behind the corporate science spin. It’s time to end the corporate war on cancer science.

Stacy Malkan is co-director of the consumer group U.S. Right to Know and author of the book “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.” 

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.

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

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 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 PR document lists four tiers of industry partners to engage in its public relations efforts. IFIC is listed 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.

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 early education about glyphosate levels and “describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypothesis” of the independent cancer panel.

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.”

Big budget food industry spin 

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.

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  

A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes.

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.” 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.

Solicits corporate funding to confront negative perceptions of processed foods

  • This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of IFIC corporate board members describes the IFIC Foundation’s “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer perceptions of processed foods. The emails asks for $10,000 contributions for updated materials and notes that 19 corporate sponsors stepped up in 2014 including Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.

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.

Center for Food Integrity Partners with Monsanto

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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 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 $23,225,098 on various marketing and messaging programs to promote industry messaging to build trust in genetically engineered 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 Company, CropLife America and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

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

This 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 “describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypothesis” of the independent cancer panel.

Look East/CMA partnership with Monsanto and Genetic Literacy Project

The CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, Charlie Arnot, is also CEO of Look East (formerly CMA), a PR and communications agency for food and agriculture. CFI contracts with Look East 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.”

Grocery Manufacturers Association — key facts

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Summary


* GMA is the leading trade group for the junk food industry

* GMA hides list of its own corporate members

GMA was found guilty of money laundering

Opposed legislation to combat child slavery

* Out of touch: 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, but GMA opposes it

Opposes mandatory food labeling, supports voluntary regulation

Pure double-talk on ending childhood obesity

Supported use of rBST/rBGH in milk, an artificial hormone banned in EU/Canada

Funded fake “grassroots” anti-ethanol campaign

GMA Hides List of Own Corporate Member Companies

GMA no longer lists its member companies on its website. Here is the most recent publicly available list of the [GMA’s members. GMA website via archive.org, archived 12/23/13]

GMA’s President Makes Over $2 Million a Year

Since January 2009, Pamela Bailey has served as the President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. As of April 2014, Bailey made $2.06 million per year. [Government Executive, 4/14] Bailey announced in 2018 she will retire after 10 years at the helm of GMA. [Progressive Grocer, 2/12/2018]

GMA Found Guilty of Money Laundering

In October 2013, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the GMA for money laundering. The suit alleged that GMA “illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.” [Attorney General press release, 10/16/13]

In 2016, GMA was found guilty of money laundering and ordered to pay $18 million, which is believed to be the highest fine for campaign finance violations in the history of the United States. [Seattle PI, 11/2/2016]

GMA Revealed Donors Under Pressure, Showing More Than $1 Million Each from Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola

In October 2013, GMA released its list of funders under pressure, showing that Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola each gave more than $1 million.

“The Grocery Manufacturers Association on Friday revealed that PepsiCo, Nestle USA and Coca-Cola each gave hidden donations of more than $1 million to the campaign against a Washington initiative that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food. The association agreed to make public a long list of donors to its anti-labeling campaign after being sued this week by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.” [The Oregonian, 10/18/13]

GMA Accused of Hiding Millions of Dollars More Than Originally Believed

In November 2013, Attorney General Ferguson amended the original complaint to increase from $7.2 million to $10.6 million the amount that GMA allegedly concealed. [Seattle Times, 11/20/13; Attorney General press release, 11/20/13]

Filed Counter-Suit Seeking to Invalidate Campaign Finance Laws that Required Disclosure of Donors

In January 2014, GMA responded to the Washington Attorney General’s lawsuit with a countersuit seeking to invalidate the state’s campaign finance laws regarding disclosure of donors.

“After trying to secretly influence the outcome of the vote on Initiative 522, the Grocery Manufacturers Association now is challenging the state’s campaign finance laws. On Jan. 3, the GMA responded to the Washington State Attorney General’s campaign disclosure lawsuit against the GMA with a counterclaim. The GMA also filed a separate civil rights complaint against Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The GMA claims Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing Washington’s laws and challenges the constitutionality of requiring the GMA to register as a political committee before requesting and receiving contributions to oppose Initiative 522, a measure would have required labeling of genetically engineered foods.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/13/14]

GMA Claimed Law Requiring Disclosure of Donors was Unconstitutional

GMA’s countersuit claimed that being required to disclose its donors was unconstitutional.

“In its counterclaim and civil rights suit, the GMA claims the following are unconstitutional as they have been applied in this case: Washington’s law requiring the GMA to file a political committee before collecting funds from its members for specific political activity in Washington; Washington’s law requiring the GMA to disclose the organizations who contributed to its special political fund and how much they donated; and Washington’s law requiring the GMA to secure $10 in donations from 10 separate registered Washington voters as part of its political committee before donating to another political committee. [Washington State Office of the Attorney General press release, 1/13/14]

Judge Rejected Effort to Dismiss Lawsuit in June 2014

In June 2014, Thurston County Judge Christine Schiller rejected a motion from GMA to dismiss the money laundering charge it was facing.

A Thurston County judge on Friday rejected efforts by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to squelch a lawsuit in which state Attorney General Bob Ferguson accuses the Washington, D.C.-based lobby of laundering millions of dollars in last fall’s campaign. … Judge Christine Schaller rejected the association’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “Today’s ruling is an important step in our work to hold the Grocery Manufacturers Association accountable for the largest campaign finance concealment case in Washington history,” said Ferguson. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/13/14]

Attorney General Said Judge’s Ruling Meant Case Would Continue to Trial

Following Judge Schaller’s ruling, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the GMA case would continue to trial “on its merits.”

“[Judge Christina] Schaller rejected the motion to dismiss, ruling the state’s campaign finance laws requiring the formation of a political committee and associated disclosures were constitutionally applied in this case. The case will now move forward on its merits.” [Washington State Office of the Attorney General press release, 6/13/14]

Opposed Bill That Exposed Slave-like Child Labor in Cacao Plantations

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, in 2001 the GMA, along with the chocolate industry, lobbied against legislation in the U.S. Congress that would have exposed slave-like child labor practices on cacao plantations in Africa. [Spokane Spokesman-Review, 8/1/01]

The proposed legislation was a response to a Knight Ridder investigation that found that some boys as young as 11 are sold or tricked into slavery to harvest cocoa beans in Ivory Coast, a West African nation that supplies 43 percent of U.S. cocoa. The State Department estimated that as many as 15,000 child slaves work on Ivory Coast’s cocoa, cotton and coffee farms. [Spokane Spokesman-Review, 8/1/01, Congressional Research Service, 7/13/05]

GMA is Out of Touch: 93 Percent of Americans Support Labeling…

According to the New York Times in 2013, “Americans overwhelmingly support labeling foods that have been genetically modified or engineered, according to a New York Times poll conducted this year, with 93 percent of respondents saying that foods containing such ingredients should be identified.” [New York Times, 7/27/13]

… But GMA Opposes Mandatory Labeling Laws

In June 2014, GMA and three other food industry organizations challenged Vermont’s law requiring food labels to identify products with GMO ingredients.

“Today, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), along with the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont challenging the state’s mandatory GMO labeling law. GMA issued the following statement in conjunction with the legal filing.” [GMA press release, 6/13/14]

Supported Federal Ban on State GMO Labeling Laws

In April 2014, the GMA advocated for a federal ban on state laws to require mandatory GMO labeling.

“The giants of the U.S. food industry who have spent millions fighting state-by-state efforts to mandate new labels for genetically modified organisms are taking a page from their opponents and pushing for a federal GMO law. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such food and beverage leaders as ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, isn’t exactly joining the anti-GMO movement. It’s advocating for an industry-friendly, law with a voluntary federal standard — a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.” [Politico, 1/7/14]

2014 Bill Introduced to Prevent States from Requiring GMO Labels

In April 2014, a bill was introduced in Congress that would ban states from enacting their own GMO labeling laws.

“A bill introduced Wednesday would put the federal government in charge of overseeing the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, preventing states from enacting their own requirements to regulate the controversial ingredients. … But consumer groups vowed to fight the legislation, which they see as an attempt to undermine efforts to pass state ballot initiatives mandating labeling of most products with genetically modified ingredients.” [USA Today, 4/9/14]

GMA President Called Defeating Prop 37 “Single-Highest Priority”

In 2012, GMA President Pam Bailey said that defeating Prop 37 was the GMA’s highest priority for 2012.

“In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative ‘is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.’” [Huffington Post, 7/30/12]

Supports Voluntary, Not Mandatory, Food Labeling

2014: GMA and Food Marketing Institute Launched $50 Million Voluntary Labeling Campaign

In March 2014, GMA and the Food Marketing Institute launched a $50 million marketing campaign to promote the industry’s voluntary “Facts Up Front” nutrition facts system.

“The food industry appears poised to one-up the Obama administration with the launch of a national media blitz to promote its own nutrition labels on the front of food packages. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, which represent the biggest food companies and retailers, will roll out a coordinated marketing campaign, spending as much as $50 million, on Monday to promote their ‘Facts Up Front,’ the industry’s own voluntary program for providing nutrition information on the front of food and beverage packages, POLITICO has learned.” [Politico, 3/1/14]

GMA Pressed for Voluntary Federal GMO Labeling Standard

In 2014, the GMA, along with other food industry organizations, called for a voluntary federal genetically-modified-organism labeling standard.

“The giants of the U.S. food industry who have spent millions fighting state-by-state efforts to mandate new labels for genetically modified organisms are taking a page from their opponents and pushing for a federal GMO law. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such food and beverage leaders as ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, isn’t exactly joining the anti-GMO movement. It’s advocating for an industry-friendly, law with a voluntary federal standard — a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.” [Politico, 1/7/14]

GMA’s Double Talk on Ending Childhood Obesity

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has boasted of its “commitment to do its part to help reduce obesity in America – especially childhood obesity.” [GMA Press Release, 12/16/09]

… But Opposes Restrictions on Sale of Junk Food, Soda in Schools

According to Michele Simon’s book Appetite for Profit, “GMA is on record opposing virtually every state bill that would restrict the sale of junk food or soda in schools.” [Appetite for Profit, page 223]

 … And Worked to Defeat California School Nutrition Guidelines, Sending Bill to Defeat with Last-Minute Lobbying

In 2004, nutrition guidelines for California schools failed narrowly following last-minute lobbying from GMA.

“Just last month, California tried to set nutrition guidelines on foods sold outside the federal meal program. But thanks to last-minute lobbying by the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), that bill failed by just five votes, despite having the support of 80 nonprofit organizations. Only five groups opposed the measure — all of whom profit from selling junk food to kids.” [Michele Simon, Pacific News Service, 9/3/04]

… And Opposed School Nutrition Guidelines in Other States

According to the book Appetite for Profit, GMA opposed school nutrition guidelines in other states, including Texas, Oregon, and Kentucky.

“A search for the word ‘schools’ on the GMA web site resulted in no fewer than 126 hits, most of which are either submitted testimony or a letter filed in opposition to a school-related nutrition policy. Here are just a few examples of document titles: GMA Letter in Opposition of Texas Food and Beverage Restrictions, GMA Letter in Opposition to Oregon School Restrictions Bills, GMA Requests Veto of Kentucky School Restrictions Bill, and GMA Letter in Opposition to California School Nutrition Bill.” [Appetite for Profit, Page 223]

… And Has Lobbyists Around the Country Aiming to Defeat Legislation

In addition to its federal lobbying (which spiked to $14 million in 2013), GMA has lobbyists around the country aiming to defeat legislation that would restrict the food industry. Below are just some of their state lobbyists. [Center for Responsive Politics, opensecrets.org, accessed 12/22/14; State sources linked below]

Lobbyist State
Louis Finkel California
Kelsey Johnson Illinois
7 lobbyists with Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver Maryland
Kelsey Johnson Minnesota
Capitol Group Inc. New York

GMA Sought to Weaken Enforcement of Labeling Rules

In December 2011, GMA asked the Food and Drug Administration to selectively enforce labeling rules regarding basic nutrition facts.

“You have requested that FDA exercise enforcement discretion with respect to certain aspects of its nutrition labeling regulations in order to facilitate implementation of the Nutrition Keys program, namely: [1] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons (calories, saturated fat, sodium, and total sugars), alone or accompanied by up to two Nutrition Keys Optional Icons, without declaration of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat in the Nutrition Facts panel as required by 21 CFR 101.9(c)(2)(iii) and (iv). [2] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons, unaccompanied by any Optional Icons, without the disclosure statement required by§ 101.13(h) when the nutrient content of the food exceeds specified levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium. [3] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons, alone or accompanied by up to two Nutrition Keys Optional Icons, without disclosure of the level of total fat and cholesterol in immediate proximity to the saturated fat icon as required by § 101.62(c).” [FDA letter to GMA, 12/13/11]

Supported Use of Hormone Banned in Canada, EU to Boost Milk Production in Cows

In 1995, GMA said that the Food & Drug Administration had found that the synthetic hormone rBST was “completely safe.” [GMA press release, 4/25/95]

rBST/rBGH Banned in EU, Canada

rBST/rBGH is banned from dairy products in the European Union and Canada.

“Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a synthetic (man-made) hormone that is marketed to dairy farmers to increase milk production in cows. It has been used in the United States since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, but its use is not permitted in the European Union, Canada, and some other countries.” [American Cancer Society website, cancer.org]

Co-Plaintiff in Vermont Lawsuit Regarding Labeling for rBST/rBGH

According to FindLaw.com, GMA was a co-plaintiff in IDFA vs. Amnestoy, a case regarding the labeling of dairy products produced from cows treated with rBST/rBGH. [FindLaw.com, accessed 12/17/14; United States Court of Appeals, International Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, Case No. 876, Docket 95-7819, decided 8/8/96]

“‘Vermont’s mandatory labeling law flies in the face of FDA’s determination that rBST is completely safe and that mandatory labeling should not be required,’ stated John Cady, president of NFPA. ‘The law will likely convey to consumers a false and misleading impression concerning the safety and wholesomeness of milk from rBST-supplemented cows.’” [GMA press release, 4/25/95]

Opposed Labeling Dairy Produced with Growth Hormone

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in 1993-94, GMA opposed labels on dairy products derived from cows injected with Monsanto’s controversial Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/3/94]

GMA Opposed Ohio Labeling Rule that was Struck Down

According to FoodNavigator-USA, GMA and other food industry groups opposed the Ohio labeling rule that was struck down by the appeals court. [FoodNavigator-USA, 4/25/08]

The Ohio state rule in question banned statements such as “rbGH Free,” “rbST Free” and “artificial hormone free,” aimed at providing consumers with the information needed to make informed choices. Center for Food Safety, 9/30/10

Funded Fake “Grassroots” Anti-Ethanol Campaign

In May 2008, Sen. Chuck Grassley revealed that an anti-ethanol campaign that was supposedly “grassroots,” was in reality backed by a PR firm hired by GMA.

“According to two documents posted on Sen. Charles Grassley’s, R-IA, congressional website, the ‘grassroots’ anti-ethanol media blitz that’s hitched today’s climbing food prices to farmer-backed biofuels is as fake as astro-turf. Indeed, Grassley explained to Senate colleagues during his May 15 endorsement of the new farm bill, ‘It turns out that a $300,000, six-month retainer of a Beltway public relations firm is behind the smear campaign, hired by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.’” Aberdeen News, 5/30/08

GMA Sought to Take Advantage of Rising Food Prices

In its request for proposals, GMA said that it believed rising food prices provided the organization with an opportunity to hit ethanol.

“GMA has been leading an ‘aggressive’ public relations campaign for the past two months in an effort to roll back ethanol mandates that passed in last year’s energy bill. The association hired Glover Park Group to run a six-month campaign, according to GMA’s request for proposal and Glover Park’s response. ‘GMA has concluded that rising food prices … create a window to change perceptions about the benefits of bio-fuels and the mandate,’ reads the three-page RFP, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.” [Roll Call, 5/14/08]

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)