May 19, 2015
- When an industry lobbies to defend its market or interest, that is a normal part of the policy dialogue mechanism.
- When an industry lobbies to undermine trust in its competition, then we should have serious ethical questions about how that industry monitors its practices.
- When an industry knowingly spreads lies, or encourages others to do so, to achieve its goals, we need to stand up and act against it.
This is the situation with the organic food industry. When one begins to see the corporate coalitions the organic food complex (farmers, food producers, retailers, restaurant chains) are building, the NGO mercenaries they engage and the social media food gurus they fund, it makes the Koch brothers or big industry lobbyists look pretty amateur. Some examples:
- The “Just Label It” campaign is an attempt to create doubt about GMOs and crop protection products in the US. Using Hollywood star power and emotive messages (and a lot of myths and half-truths), they are aiming at American deep hearts and deeper pockets. It should come as no surprise that this “pro-nature” campaign group is funded by 757 corporations, publishing groups and organisations most of whom have a business interest in organic food. While the Risk-Monger was counting all 757 groups, he noticed some anomalies like silver sponsor, Ben and Jerry’s (owned by the big, bad non-organic food multinational, Unilever) or platinum sponsor, Annie’s (which makes organic junk food like frozen pizzas and ‘mac and cheese’). There is a market interest in these corporations giving conventional agriculture a bad reputation and making everyone pay more for their food products, but do they have to fund a band of biased and emotional scaremongers?
- The US Co-op chain is a platinum sponsor of this anti-farming organisation, but different versions of the Co-op have been funding and spreading half-truths about crop protection methods for generations. Take the recent campaign from the Swedish Coop that played all of the chemophobia tricks we haven’t seen since the glory days of REACH scare-mongering. While playing up images of a concerned mother and cute but disgusted children, they pooh-pooh the data (pointless biomonitoring results in the parts per trillion range), fostering doubt with the “we just don’t know” lines (on chemical cocktails and low-dose exposures).
- The campaign on the pesticide threat to honeybees was grounded on a pre-conceived activist science strategy funded by pro-organic food financial groups and foundations led by the Triodos bank. See my assessment of the different groups funding the activities of the B-grade IUCN Taskforce on Systemic Pesticides. Note that since that exposé, the activists still have not answered my question put publicly to them on exactly how much funding they have received from this group of interested and biased organisations. So much for transparency.
Obviously organic farmers, food producers and retailers like the Co-op will do much better if pesticides are banned and to achieve that they have been investing in significant lobbying campaigns. Since farmers have a voice in such policy decisions (except in the EU, where the anti-chemicals activists seem to be running the show in DG Santé), these lobbyists have found more success funding bottom-up campaigns getting consumers absolutely terrified about pesticides and GMOs. Certain food producers, restaurant chains and retailers have recently caved to the social and social media pressure making some dubious commitments of getting the chemicals and GMOs out of their food. They confuse caving in to pressure groups with being socially responsible – in reality, it is anything but responsible as they are putting greater stresses on agriculture for a short-term marketing and PR gain.
Enter the NGO and social media mercenaries who provide a flanking campaign for the organics lobbyists. There is also money to be shared among these foot soldiers. The American “Mistrust Mistress”, the Food Babe, for example, has become so popular spreading mythic solutions to frightened food consumers that she is able to receive a financial cut to every organic product click-through that she endorses on her site. Note her “disclaimer”:
Posts may contain affiliate links for products Food Babe has approved and researched herself. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same (or at a discount if a special code is offered) and Food Babe will automatically receive a small referral fee. Your support is crucial because it helps fund this blog and helps us continue to spread the word. Thank you.
I have a blog in the early research stage on how militant social media armies are doing the front-line heavy lifting for these organic lobbyists, in spreading half-truths and urban legends. There is a lot of money in fear and we know the expression about a fool and his money. But is the fool and his organic lobbyist being unethical?
Take for example the study mentioned above that the Swedish Coop funded (of one family – four people – that went organic for a week). This “story” has been making the social media rounds over the last month letting everyone conclude that conventionally grown food is bad. But on page 19, the report acknowledged:
The levels that we found in urine during the period of conventionally grown food are well within acceptable levels, which means that it is unlikely that a single substance would pose any risk to humans.
They admit there is no risk to conventionally grown food. So why then did they still publish the report and why do we need to constantly see the fear campaigns and social media viral spreading of this cute Swedish family? Not just that page 19 is far outside of our 140-character cognitive capacity limit, but also, as most deceptive PR professionals know, any whiff of fear always delegitimises facts.
Is it lying or just being selective with the truth? When a lot of money starts looking for support, we should not be surprised that those with agendas and anti-pesticides interests start to say and do some unsavoury things, including lying.
The honeybee campaign has become one of the greatest anti-pesticides lies of the millennium, and as the facts continue to discredit their save-the-bees campaign claims (the honeybees have confounded the dire scare predictions and have recently prospered), the anti-pesticides activists are hyping it up even harder. For them, it is not about truth or fair lobbying, but rather on continuing to make consumers (and food producers, restaurants and retailers) afraid of pesticides and GMOs. While 757 corporate organic lobbyists will not (accept to) be wrong, even if it causes serious economic, environmental and health consequences, it does not make their scaremongering ethically tolerable.
The Risk-Monger has decided, on ethical grounds, to boycott all of the products from these 757 organic lobbyists, including Unilever and, gulp, Clif Bar (the latter will hurt as Clif Shot Bloks had saved me on many endurance races). But you can forget about Annie’s (I don’t eat crap food, even if they call it natural and organic).
Of course we also cannot forget man’s capacity to tolerate hypocrisy (Corporate Europe Observatory would never have the integrity to look into the organics industry lobbying practices). Most people are comfortable with the double standard that allows them to overlook the unethical practices of the organic industry lobbyists, in part because much of the lobbying money has been spent black-balling and demonising crop protection companies and conventional farmers. Most people want a simplistic world of good versus evil and need to vilify something (they still need to anchor their post-religious “enlightenment”). The NGO and the organic producer have claimed the sanctity slot in public perceptions, heroically standing up against evil industry. It is hard enough for facts to withstand the force of social media manipulation, but when moral righteousness is added to the mix, then that wall of stupid becomes insurmountable.
In fighting facts with fear, even some thinking people I know have shared or favorited some of the pro-organic nonsense. It is time we go back to school and recall some basic information (my challenge for this spring’s blogging season). On pesticides, we need to remind ourselves of the work of the renowned scientist, Bruce Ames:
- There are more known carcinogens in a single cup of coffee than the pesticide residues found in an entire year of the average human’s consumption of fruit and vegetables (of the few of the 1000+ natural chemicals in coffee that we have actually tested).
- The best way to prevent cancer is to encourage more daily fruit and vegetable consumption – minimum five servings (something that the promotion of organic farming is making impossible for the poorest quarter of the American population).
Please don’t share or favorite stories from the organic industry lobbyists. When you do so, you are promoting cancer and a further dumbing down of Western consumer knowledge. You are also rewarding an unethical lobbying force.
Disclaimer: The Risk-Monger does not receive any money for endorsements or click-throughs. He finds spreading lies for money to be offensive.David Zaruk