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]