The American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group

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The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is a front group for the tobacco, agrichemical, fossil fuel, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Emails released from lawsuits against Monsanto in 2018 and leaked financial documents from 2012 reveal the ACSH’s corporate funding and its strategies to spin science in defense of corporate products to secure financial support from corporations.

Monsanto funding for Monsanto defense

August 2017: A series of emails about the American Council on Science and Health released via lawsuits against Monsanto reveal that Monsanto paid ACSH on an ongoing basis to help defend its embattled products. Monsanto executives described ACSH’s materials promoting and defending agrichemical products as “EXTREMELY USEFUL” [sic] and noted that ACSH was working with Monsanto to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer panel report about the cancer risk of  glyphosate (read more about Monsanto PR strategy to discredit IARC here).

The emails show that ACSH staff wrote to Monsanto requesting “Monsanto’s continued, and much needed, support in 2015.” Some Monsanto staffers were uncomfortable working with ACSH but decided to pay them anyway, according to the emails. Monsanto’s senior science lead Daniel Goldstein wrote to colleagues: “I can assure you I am not all starry eyed about ACSH- they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH.”

July 11, 2017: Paul Thacker reported in the Progressive: “Monsanto ignored repeated questions about their financial support for the American Council on Science and Health.” ACSH Director Hank Campbell responded in a post: “I don’t care. If a large food corporation, like Whole Foods, or a smaller one, like Monsanto, wants to buy an ad here, they can. We will cash that check.”

June 1, 2017: Le Monde investigation into Monsanto’s “war on science” described ACSH as a key player in Monsanto’s communication and lobbying network (see English translation).

May 2017: Plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a brief:

“Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the ‘Genetic Literacy Project’ and the ‘American Council on Science and Health,’ organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”

August 2013: Emails reveal that Monsanto tapped ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers assigned to professors by Monsanto and merchandized by a PR firm:

Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to the professors: “To ensure that the papers have the greatest impact, the American Council for Science and Health is partnering with CMA Consulting to drive the project. The completed policy briefs will be offered on the ACSH website … CMA and ACSH also will merchandize the policy briefs, including the development of media specific materials, such as op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.”

The papers were published in the end by Jon Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project (a close ally of ACSH) with no disclosure of Monsanto’s role.

Leaked ACSH docs reveal corporate-defense funding strategy

A leaked 2012 ACSH financial summary reported by Mother Jones revealed that ACSH has received funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the science messaging ACSH promotes — and showed how ACSH solicits corporate donations for quid pro quo product-defense campaigns. For example, the document outlines:

  • Plans to pitch the Vinyl Institute which “previously supported chlorine and health report”
  • Plans to pitch food companies for a messaging campaign to oppose GMO labeling
  • Plans to pitch cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures” from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
  • Efforts to court tobacco and e-cigarette companies

Mother Jones reported, “ACSH’s donors and the potential backers the group has been targeting comprise a who’s-who of energy, agriculture, cosmetics, food, soda, chemical, pharmaceutical, and tobacco corporations.” Funding details:

  • ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron, Coca-Cola, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, Syngenta, 3M, McDonald’s, and tobacco conglomerate Altria. ACSH also pursued financial support from Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust.
  • Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were the two largest donors listed in the documents.

Syngenta funding, Syngenta defense

In 2011, ACSH published a book about “chemophobia” written by Jon Entine, who also has many close ties to Monsanto. Entine’s book defended atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.

A 2012 Mother Jones article describes the circumstances leading up to the publication. The article by Tom Philpott is based in part on internal company documents, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describing Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.

In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.

Email from ASCH staffer Gil Ross to Syngenta seeking funding for science project on atrazine “controversy” to include a peer reviewed paper and accompanying “consumer friendly booklet”:

A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’s book with this release: “The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper … authored by Jon Entine.” Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

ACSH personnel

  • ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” Dr. Gilbert Ross was convicted in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system prior to joining ACSH. See court documents about Dr. Ross’ multiple fraud convictions and sentencing, and article in Mother Jones “Paging Dr. Ross” (2005). Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for 10 years (see additional references and court document).
  • In June 2015, Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from acting president (and convicted felon) Dr. Gilbert Ross. Campbell worked for software development companies before starting the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his 2012 book with Alex Berezow, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left,” Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet … with nothing but enthusiasm and a concept, I approached world famous people about helping me reshape how science could be done, and they did it for free.”

Incorrect statements about science 

ACSH has:

  • Claimed that “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.” Winston-Salem Journal, 2012
  • Argued that “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming.” ACSH, 1998
  • Argued that fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.” Daily Caller, 2013
  • Claimed that “There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.” Tobacco Documents Library, UCSF, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition document page 9, 1995
  • Declared that “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.” ACSH, 2012
  • Argued that the exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.” ACSH, 2010.

Recent ACSH messaging continues in the same theme, denying risk from products that are important to the chemical, tobacco and other industries, and making frequent attacks on scientists, journalists and others who raise concerns.

  • A 2016 “top junk science” post by ACSH denies that chemicals can cause endocrine disruption; defends e-cigarettes, vaping and soda; and attacks journalists and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

USA Today gives ACSH a platform 

USA Today continues to publish columns by ACSH president Hank Campbell and senior fellow Alex Berezow, who is also member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, without disclosing their funding ties to corporations whose interests they defend. In February 2017, 30 health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today asking the paper to stop providing a platform of legitimacy to ACSH or at least provide full disclosures about who funds the group.

The letter states:

  • “We are writing to express our concern that USA Today continues to publish columns written by members of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate-funded group with a long history of promoting corporate agendas that are at odds with mainstream science. USA Today should not be helping this group promote its false identity as a credible, independent source on science. Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.”
  • “These are no idle allegations. Many of the undersigned health, environmental, labor and public interest groups have been tracking ACSH’s work over the years. We have documented instances in which the group has worked to undermine climate change science, and deny the health threats associated with various products, including second-hand smokefrackingpesticides and industrial chemicals – all without being transparent about its corporate backers.”
  • We note that financial documents obtained by Mother Jones show that ACSH has received funding from tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical and oil corporations. Public interest groups have reported that ACSH received funding from the Koch Foundations between 2005-2011, and released internal documents showing that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta in 2009 to write favorably about its product atrazine – a donation that was to be “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years.”
  • “At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of the news media, we believe it is vital for publications such as USA Today to follow the highest standards of journalistic ethics and serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible. We respectfully ask you to refrain from publishing further columns authored by members of the American Council on Science and Health, or at the very least require that the individuals identify the organization accurately as a corporate-funded advocacy group.”

As of December 2017, USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg has declined to stop publishing ACSH columns and the paper has repeatedly provided inaccurate or incomplete disclosures for the columns, and failed to notify its readers about ACSH’s funding from corporations whose agenda they promote.

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]

Will Senate Democrats Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory on GMO Labeling?

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Update June 27: A new “compromise” bill announced by Senator Stabenow is “completely unacceptable” and worse than the original bill, say consumer advocates. Read the latest news here.

By Stacy Malkan

Nearly 90% of Americans say genetically engineered food should be labeled, with high support across all ages, races and political affiliations, according to a December 2015 Mellman Group poll. It’s hard to think of a political issue that shares such broad appeal. Belief in our right to know what’s in our food is as American as apple pie.

Now, after a hard-fought battle led by millions of consumers and the nation’s largest environmental, health and consumer groups, we are winning that right. Large food companies from General Mills to Kellogg to Campbell’s have said they are putting labels on food products to indicate if they are produced with genetic engineering.

Is it possible to undo this progress? Could the new food labels actually roll back to the factories to be replaced by incomprehensible black blobs called QR codes?

Are Senate Democrats, led by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, about to make a deal that will stop GMO labeling in its tracks?

spaghettiosThe agrichemical industry is swarming the U.S. Senate right now with a last-ditch lobbying effort to pass the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, and thereby nullify state labeling efforts. They have just a few weeks left to get this done before Vermont implements the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law July 1.

The House of Representatives passed the DARK Act last year. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said at the time in a CNN op ed, “The fact that Congress is even considering a proposal to deny Americans basic information about their food speaks to overwhelming power of these corporate lobbyists over the public interest.”

All eyes are now on Sen. Stabenow, who, according to the Hagstrom Report, just proposed new language for a “compromise.” This may or may not include QR codes, an 800 number, or some other way of claiming “mandatory” labeling while allowing food companies to remove the words “genetic engineering” from the new labels that are already on their way to a store near you.

Details on the compromise are murky. But one thing is clear: as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Stabenow holds the keys to decide whether or not Americans will finally get clear, on-package GMO labels that are already required in 64 other countries around the world.

Both sides are doing their best to influence her. As Politico reported, organic industry leaders held a fundraiser for Sen. Stabenow in March, just days before the last vote on the DARK Act, and organic industry leaders donated several thousand dollars to her campaign in 2015 and 2016.

A review of Federal Election Commission filings for donations to Sen. Stabenow’s campaign from corporations and trade groups over the past five years found little from the organic industry – just one donation from the Organic Trade Association in 2012 for $2,500.

Big food, chemical and agribusiness groups, meanwhile, donated well over $100,000 to her campaign in that time period, including a combined $60,000 from Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Bayer and ConAgra.

Those corporations were among the top 10 donors to anti-labeling campaigns that spent over $100 million to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon and California – using dirty tricks to do so, such as mailers from fake front groups, false claims in ads and voter guides, and the largest money laundering operation in Washington State election history.

Why are these companies so afraid to give Americans an informed choice about GMOs in our food?

Big agribusiness groups are sending the message that it’s none of our business what’s in our food and how it’s produced. Political cartoonist Rick Friday learned that lesson the hard way when he was recently fired from his job of 21 years at Iowa’s Farm News for pointing out in a cartoon that top executives at Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere made more money last year than 2,129 Iowa farmers.

What else don’t these companies want us to know about our food?

The fact is, most genetically engineered crops are engineered to survive chemical herbicides, which is great for chemical company profits but not so good for farmers and families in GMO-growing communities such as Hawaii, Argentina and Iowa – or for the rest of us who may be eating food every day that contains glyphosate, which was recently classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization’s cancer panel.

The good news is, consumer demand for transparency is now too loud to ignore.

State drives for GMO labeling succeeded in educating millions of people that our most important food crops have been genetically engineered with no transparency. Vermont’s labeling law is a victory for the nation and food companies are already well on their way to labeling GMOs for the first time in the U.S. history.

If the agrichemical lobby succeeds in pushing Democrats to accept a Dark Act deal that involves anything less than mandatory on-package labeling, Sen. Stabenow will be forever remembered for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for our right to know what’s in our food.

This story originally appeared in Huffington Post. Want more food for thought? Sign up for the USRTK Newsletter.

Are Coke and Pepsi Lying to You About Diet Soda?

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fatdietcoke

In what appears to be a truly classic case of false advertising, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo call their artificially sweetened colas Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.

Why false advertising?

It turns out that in recent years, many scientific studies link artificial sweeteners to weight gain, not weight loss.

That’s right. Artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, increased appetite, metabolic disorders, obesity, and other conditions that are the opposite of the meaning of the term “diet.”

Talk about sickeningly sweet.

At U.S. Right to Know, we expose what the food industry doesn’t want you to know.

And we think it’s time to can the false advertising. So, on April 9th, we asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop allowing Coke and Pepsi to use the term “diet” for Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, because they likely cause weight gain, not weight loss.

That might just take the “fizz” out of diet soda sales.

Call us old-fashioned, but we think that if a product is labeled diet, it should actually help you to lose weight – and it most certainly should not make you gain weight

And we don’t want any other kind of artificially sweetened false advertising to bubble up. That’s why we also asked FTC and FDA to investigate all other food products containing artificial sweeteners using the term diet or implying weight loss, to determine whether those products are falsely advertised, branded and labeled.

Diet Coke is sweetened with aspartame, and Diet Pepsi with aspartame and acesulfame potatssium.

There are many reasons to be especially concerned about aspartame. Why? In addition to links to weight gain, aspartame has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, higher rates of mortality, brain damage and shortened pregnancies, among many other things.

Hopefully, one of these days, the FDA will pull aspartame from the market. But until they do so, at a minimum, FDA and FTC should tell Coca-Cola and PepsiCo that they can’t use the word “diet” to advertise, brand or label their artificially sweetened sodas.

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]