By Katherine Paul and Zack Kaldveer, AlterNet Monsanto and Big Food are taking the battle for consumers’ hearts and minds to the next level. And it’s no coincidence that they’re pulling out the big guns just as the Washington State I-522 campaign to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products is gaining steam. Can industry front groups and slick public relations firms convince us that the products they’re peddling are not only safe, but good for us? Will the millions they spend on websites and advertorials pay off? We’re guessing not, given the latest New York Times poll stating that 93 percent of Americans want labels on foods containing GMOs. Still, it can’t hurt to know who’s behind the latest salvo of lies and misinformation. In this case, it’s a new website and forum, introduced by biotech trade groups no doubt with the help of a new PR firm. And a new front group. The freshly launched GMOAnswers.com is funded by the biotech industry, which claims it just “wants to talk.” And the recently formed Alliance to Feed the Future, representing more than 50 multinational food, agribusiness and biotech companies, wants to give us the “real” scoop on our food system. Monsanto Has All the Answers Last month the Holmes Report revealed that Monsanto was interviewing public relations firms to spruce up its image. A tall order given Monsanto’s status as “most evil corporation in the world.” (A Google search of “Monsanto most hated corporation” returns over 823,000 results). This week, the New York Times reported on the launch of GMOAnswers.com, a new website intended to “answer virtually any question posed by consumers about genetically engineered crops.” Except, of course, where they’re hidden in our food. You’ve got to hand it to the PR firm – new, old, Monsanto’s or otherwise – that landed that article. Who gets a mention in the Times these days just for launching a website? Organizations that are funded by Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, apparently. The Times quoted, extensively, Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information and also vice president for food and agriculture at another trade group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Enright told the Times that: “We have been accused of purposely hiding information. We haven’t done that but now we will open the doors and provide information.” Say what? Enright couldn’t emphasize enough how this was all a result of the biotech industry being misunderstood by the public, and how Monsanto and the rest of the industry just wants to be open. Whoever registered the website domain name for GMOAnswers.com doesn’t share Enright’s new touchy-feely enthusiasm for openness and transparency. The domain’s ownership is hidden behind Network Solutions LLC. Maybe the new PR firm isn’t all that proud of its new clients? Big Food Is Dishing up the Lies, Too It isn’t just the biotech industry spinning the facts. Big Food is dishing up its share of lies, too. To counter the steady drumbeat of public relations defeats, damning scientific research and grassroots political pressure, Monsanto and over 50 other multi-national food, agribusiness, and biotech companies created the “Alliance to Feed the Future” (AFF). The AFF’s stated mission? To “balance the public dialogue on modern agriculture and large-scale food production and technology” and to serve as a source for accurate and “real” information about our food system. In fact, the AFF is nothing more than a few high paid consultants doing the bidding of the American Meat Institute, CropLife America, Grocery Manufacturers Association, United Egg Producers, Biotechnology Industry Organization, and the International Food Additives Council, among others. Dave Schmidt coordinates the alliance. Schmidt, who is also CEO at the International Food Information Council, recently told Sustainable Food News that “the alliance’s aim is to educate who he called ‘opinion leaders,’ including those in the university sector, professional societies, journalists and government officials.” Of course, he said, the group also aims to “inform” consumers, too. But a close look at the AFF reveals all the hallmarks of a typical “astroturf” group. A deceptive-sounding name designed to create a positive public impression. A sophisticated public relations plan designed to control and shape the public discourse. Obfuscation around its main sources of funding. And a tendency to attack industry critics, create the perception of doubt regarding previously accepted science, and exploit consumers legitimate economic fears. And, like most front groups, the AFF’s seemingly unlimited resources guarantee it can churn out one lie after another, faster than the independent fact-checkers can debunk them. Big Food recognizes its stranglehold on our food supply is threatened. A critical mass of educated consumers, food and natural health activists, environmentalists, social justice advocates, and animal cruelty groups are organizing a powerful movement capable of overthrowing North America’s trillion-dollar junk food empire. Consumers are increasingly wary of foods that have been genetically engineered by the same companies that brought us toxic pesticides, DDT, Agent Orange, dangerous pharmaceuticals and PCBs. Sales of organic foods are projected grow this year at twice the rate of conventional food sales, and exceed $35 billion in 2013. Proof that consumers by the millions are rejecting an industrial food and farming system that relies on toxic pesticides, animal drugs, antibiotics, growth hormones, climate disrupting nitrate fertilizer, and inhumane, polluting, and disease-ridden factory farms. More and more critics and journalists are exposing the hazards and cruelty of our food supply system. Even the New York Times recently revealed that for decades, processed foods have been diabolically engineered and laced with synthetic chemicals and additives designed to turn consumers and children into obese, cancer- and heart disease-prone junk food addicts. The writing is on the wall. No amount of industry smoke and mirrors can change the fact that more and more people are looking at food with their eyes wide open. Will corporations win our hearts and minds with their website propaganda and front groups? We think not. This article was written by Katherine Paul and Zack Kaldveer, and published at AlterNet on August 1, 2013. Photo by Kathy/ Flickr.
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