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