The PR War
A new report from food industry watchdogs outlines shady communications strategies from food and agriculture industry groups to counteract increasing concern about the industrial food system.
The report from Real Food Media Project, Friends of the Earth, and U.S. Right to Know tracks the efforts of companies like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and DuPont, which spend millions of dollars to create front groups that woo food bloggers, attack critical journalists, spread industry messages over social media and place advertorials that are often poorly labeled.
Anna LappÃ©, founder of the Real Food Media Project and a co-author of the study, said these tactics are an aggressive response from food and ag companies against increasing demand for organic and sustainable food.
"Of course we are all familiar with food advertising. We all see it every day. But I think we're a lot less familiar with what we call food industry spin," she said, "everything from how the food sector is funding organizations, funding think thanks as well as putting money into communications campaigns to infiltrate social media."
Hearts and Minds
The report includes profiles of 14 front groups with industry funding such as the U.S Farmers and Rancher's Alliance, The Alliance for Food and Farming and the Center for Food Integrity that spent $125 million from 2009 to 2011 to push industry messages.
Examples include a 2013 campaign, GMOAnswers.com, which purports to be a Q&A forum with biotech experts. Some of the participantsÂ are paid employees from companies like Monsanto.
Last year, CondÃ© Nast scrapped a web video series about food and sustainability after Gawker uncovered the project's undisclosed funding ties to Monsanto. Food Politics author Marion Nestle was offered $5000 to participate, but she declined after noticing Monsanto's patronage in the fine print.
"I think that as more people learn about these kinds of tactics that the food industry uses and how much misinformation is out there, I hope that that really helps inspire people to really absorb the media that they hear -- both on traditional media as well as on social media â absorb it with a more critical eye,"Â LappÃ© said.
Groups mentioned in the report were quick to push back against the findings, saying the authors unfairly used loaded words like "propaganda" and "spin" to describe their public relations campaigns.
The Alliance for Food and Farming said groups like Friends the Earth are well funded and biased against conventional farming.
Initial responses from industry groups did not address the issue of transparency.
- Spinning Food (Friends of the Earth)
- Big Food Is Trying To Dupe You Into Loving Industrial Agriculture (Takepart)
- Friends Of The Earth Report Is Another Indicator Of AFF's Success (Alliance for Food and Farming)