Bloggers Beware: Industry Front Groups Are Lobbying For Your Endorsement


The good news: the chemical industries know mom bloggers have power. The bad news: they are fighting back hard.

There are now dozens of industry front groups approaching bloggers with what sound like perfectly wholesome and lovely campaigns. Blog about America’s farmers and we’ll give you a $50 gift card! Come tour a factory to learn about hard-working women! Write about how to save energy – sponsored by a big oil company!

I actually fell for that last one myself. A sponsored campaign on ways to save energy in the home sounded great! But then I read the fine print and realized it was sponsored by a huge gas and oil monopoly with a huge investment in hydraulic fracturing.

For someone who considers herself pretty savvy in the ways of corporate public relations, that shows just how easily consumers – and bloggers – can be duped. And the front groups are banking on it.

front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. And there are loads of them.

Just do a search for #AmericasFarmers. Plenty of well-intentioned mom bloggers were more than happy to write about hard-working farmers. Let’s celebrate these salt-of-the-earth workers! What most of them didn’t realize was that they were celebrating Monsanto. But hey, at least the association actually discloses this in its Twitter handle:

@AmericasFarmers America’s farm families work to feed and clothe the world. To these families, the land is more than a livelihood – it’s a legacy. Brought to you by Monsanto.

Most industry front groups will not be nearly as transparent.

Take The Alliance for Food and Farming, which tauts itself as a resource for science-based information about the safety of organic & conventional produce. It’s “Safe Fruits & Veggies” site is here to reassure you that eating an apple covered with pesticides is no problem – “just wash it!” And if you are a blogger who posted about EWG’s “Dirty Dozen,” rest assured they have probably left you a comment under the guise of “@safeproduce.”

In July 2010, the Alliance for Food and Farming held a webinar and released a paper aiming to “debunk” the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables that should be purchased as organic whenever possible. In September 2010, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced a grant of $180,000 to the Alliance for Food and Farming for a project titled “Correcting Misconceptions about Pesticide Residues.”

Together Counts is a project of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation – as brought to you by Hershey, Coca Cola, Mars, Nestle – you know, health food. These giant junk food companies have banded together to promote the concept of “energy balance” as defined by “calories in and calories out.” And those calories can really just be anything. A Mars bar! A twinkie! A six-pack of Dr. Pepper!

CommonGround is a Pro-GMO advocacy front group created by the agricultural marketing company Osborn & Barr Communications on behalf of the United Soybean Boardand National Corn Growers Association. It calls itself “a group of volunteer farm women” and says “it’s all about starting a conversation between women who grow food, and the women who buy it. The fine print at the bottom of the webpage, however, as well as the group’s Facebook page, explains that this “grassroots movement” is “brought to you by America’s soybean and corn farmers and their checkoffs

Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, a trade association made up of some of the biggest players in the food industry — including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Dupont, and Monsanto has created the “Food Dialogues” campaign. This media campaign was intended as a “preemptive strike” against “a long list of new regulations and restrictions coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Food & Drug Administration, ranging from tighter rules on pesticide applications to a potential ban of routine, preventative use of animal antibiotics.”

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) is an industry funded front group whose tagline is “building trust and confidence in today’s food system.” Enough said.

And let us not forget the American Council on Science and Health, which bills itself as an independent research and advocacy organization devoted to debunking “junk science.” Internal financial documents provided to Mother Jones show that ACSH depends heavily on funding from corporations that have a financial stake in the scientific debates it aims to shape. ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron ($18,500), Coca-Cola ($50,000), the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation ($15,000), Dr. Pepper/Snapple ($5,000), Bayer Cropscience ($30,000), Procter and Gamble ($6,000), agribusiness giant Syngenta ($22,500), 3M ($30,000), McDonald’s ($30,000), and tobacco conglomerate Altria ($25,000).

But New York parents are invited to attend their sponsored event From Helicopter to Hazmat: How the Culture of Alarmism is Turning Parenting into a Dangerous Job. Attendees can learn why we are just a bunch of hysterical organic alarmists!

There are public relations firms that exist solely to create these industry front group campaigns, and they don’t care how slimy and dishonest they are. Giving my profession a bad name is just the least of it. Obesity Myths is a project of the Center for Consumer Freedom that downplays the public health effects of obesity and disputes scientific findings linking obesity to nutrition and diet. They also run SweetScam, representing the interests of high-fructose corn syrup producers that disputes scientific findings about the nutritional value of syrup and sweeteners.

EPA Facts is a project of the Center for Organizational Research and Education that disparages the Environmental Protection Agency and claims that environmental regulations will hurt the economy. And don’t miss their sister sites “Big Green Radicals!” and LEED Exposed!

Meanwhile, my Twitter feed has been co-opted by sponsored posts from @energyfromshale informing me that “If you watch baseball, you support oil and natural gas.” Gee, thanks American Petroleum Institute!

Knowledge is power. But I can’t tell you what to do with that knowledge. And I won’t judge anyone who is fully aware of what they write about and believe in their convictions. So if you don’t really care that Sunoco plans to build a pipeline in Philadelphia to export locally fracked oil out to foreign interests, then write away. If you think think Monsanto is doing a bang-up job, then by all means, take the money and run. I would rather bloggers hold true to whatever convictions they have than be tricked or misguided by corporate interests. You don’t have to share my values (though I may try to persuade you), but I hope you will do your best to stay educated and informed. We have all been duped and all made mistakes, myself included. So let’s not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of – we are way too smart for that.

Further Reading:

Best Public Relations Money Can Buy – A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups


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