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General News    H2'ed 5/27/15

Don't Fall for These Food Front Groups

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How did the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (Proposition 37), get defeated in 2012 despite the state's high level of food awareness of activism? How did a ban on the sale of large soft drinks in New York City fail the same year despite such drinks' complete lack of nutritional value and links to obesity? Welcome to the world of food "front groups"--faux grassroots groups, sometimes called Astroturf, created by Big Food to keep health and safety regulations from cutting into sales and profits.

According to SourceWatch, a classic front group is set up by a public relations agency to provide a populist, human face to an issue at the same time it refocuses the debate. To defeat Prop 37, for example, food giants like Monsanto and chemical companies set up the Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme which screamed that food prices would go up under the proposition. It worked. To defeat Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on large soft drinks, the American Beverage Association set up a "grassroots" group called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices to scream freedom of choice was under attack which also worked. Needless to say "citizens" don't have the $46 million that defeated Prop 37 or the millions the beverage industry "poured" into the pro-soft drink initiative, according to the New York Times.

Even though a front group's phone number or web site may be synonymous with its sponsor industry and it has few or any "members," its funding sources are downplayed or hidden. Despite high budgets, fancy signs and T-shirts and even buses for national tours, front groups seek to appear "grassroots"--as if they simply sprouted up from citizen passion or outrage. Certainly food industry groups campaign under their trade names too---think "the incredible, edible egg" or "Got Milk"--but faux groups intentionally mislead. They usually have "big tent" names like the Alliance for Abundant Food and Oregonians for Food & Shelter, both of which sound populist but do Monsanto's bidding.

Some front groups like the California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) pretend to be little guys taking a stand against excessive lawsuits when they actually work against our right to sue chemical and pesticide companies which harm people or the environment.

Here are some, but by no means all, Big Food front groups and deceptive tactics they use.

The Center for Consumer Freedom

This long-standing front group was set up by former lobbyist and Newt Gingrich crony Richard Berman in 1995 with $600,000 from the Philip Morris tobacco company. Its original mission was to fight smoking bans in restaurants but it went on to fight public health initiatives against junk food, meat and alcohol, even fighting Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) over its proposal to lower the blood alcohol content limits for drivers.

In addition to attacking MADD, the Center has attacked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Science in the Public Interest and set up web sites discrediting animal rights groups. "Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger," admits Berman. "Given the activists' plans to alarm beyond all reason, we've got to attack their credibility as spokespersons." The Center has so aggressively defended junk food, a USA Today editorial said it should rename its site called

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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