18 June 2013

Food Companies Spend PR Dollars

This is the other item mentioned in this blog from June 13. This article is about food industry front groups and some of their activities. A good reference is this PDF file and the information contained in it. If I was not aware of some of this, I admit I might have passed on this topic.

The International Food Information Council – in addition to publishing industry-friendly reports, also infiltrates professional conferences such as the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s trade association for registered dietitians (RDs). Again, this is another reason to avoid doing anything with them.

It is important in today's lackluster news media that seldom checks their sources and prints what they want, that we as consumers understand what is happening to our food and not what they promote as fact. Generally, there is very poor science behind what the food industry promotes and they are now using diversion tactics to draw our attention away from the real issues.

The food industry has increased its public relations efforts to reassure the media (not hard to manipulate), the public (some believe the media and others don't), and policymakers (the most difficult to convince) that our food system is healthy and safe. A common way industry attempts to shape the public discussion is by forming a group that appears to benefit the public. Often these groups claim to represent farmers, consumers, or some other sympathetic constituency when in fact they are funded by powerful industry players. Some long-standing front groups have a broad agenda, such as pushing industry-friendly science. Others form just to lobby or conduct public relations on a specific policy for a limited time and then disappear.

It is critical to understand who these groups are and how they operate. Their tactics are designed to hide their true agenda and funders. For example, representatives of front groups often write op-eds or appear as experts without disclosing the conflict of interest. These are just a few the tactics used by front groups. This keeps the players, the Monsanto's, ADM's, ConAgra's, and other big Ag companies out of the news and everything looks good for them.

Instead of fixing problems they’ve created, the food industry’s response is to change the way these problems are talked about, to downplay them, to discredit critics, and otherwise make the problems disappear from the public’s eye. This is the reason they finance the front groups and generally no one is the wiser.

Industry trade groups know that big corporations such as Cargill and Tyson don’t garner public sympathy. So instead, they create front groups such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which held a contest to select spokespeople to “share stories and experiences on a national stage to help answer consumers’ questions about how food is grown and raised to feed our nation.”

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