How do we know if our food is safe? How are chemicals used in food production impacting our health and environment? How can bloggers reporting on these issues know when their sources are accurate?
Concerns about the health problems caused by an unhealthy food system, and growing demands for transparency, are driving major disruption in the food sector. One food industry veteran, in a Fortune magazine cover story, described this as “the most dynamic, disruptive, and transformational time” he has seen in his 37-year career.
As the transformation unfolds, it is getting increasingly difficult to sort fact from fiction in media coverage about our food system. One reason: A particular segment of the food industry – chemical corporations and big agribusiness interests — is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate media coverage about food.
Using tobacco-style PR tactics, these companies are using front groups and other hidden allies to attack “organic moms,” promote GMOs and defend polluting farming practices, and their messages are going straight from the PR firms to leading news outlets.
How do they do it? And how can we fight back?
In this panel, Anna Lappe, Stacy Malkan and Kari Hamerschlag will discuss the research from their new report — Spinning Food: How front groups and covert communications are shaping the story of food — and strategies for how we can amplify our power to tell the true story about the possibilities for creating a healthy food system.
The authors will discuss their research on:
Follow the big money:
- From 2009 to 2013, chemical and big food corporations spent hundreds of millions of dollars to spin the media, drive consumer behavior and advance their policy agenda;
- This includes $126 million spent by 14 front groups – with names like the Alliance for Food and Farming — that often appear as independent sources in the media, but are backed by corporate interests;
- Four trade associations spent more than $600 million in just five years to promote and defend the agendas of pesticide, biotech and conventional food corporations.
Sneaky PR tactics include:
- Targeting female audiences by trying to co-opt female bloggers, elevating female spokespeople and promoting messages to disparage “organic moms” as elitist bullies;
- Infiltrating social media and creating seemingly independent social media engagement platforms, such as GMO Answers, that are in fact run by industry PR firms;
- Attacking the credibility of scientists, advocates, consumers and journalists who raise concerns about industrial food production methods and impacts.
The panel will include a robust discussion about the ways in which we are winning anyway – for example, with much larger and more powerful online communication networks – and how we can take our game to the next level and press our advantages to make sure everyone has access to the truth about the healthier food choices available now and the path forward to a healthy, sustainable food system.
The future of food is in our hands!
Anna Lappé, a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute and the Small Planet Fund; head of the Real Food Media Project, a new initiative. Her latest book: Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It (Bloomsbury).
Stacy Malkan, co-founder of U.S. Right to Know and also the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, author of the award-winning book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry (New Society). In 2012, Stacy was media director for the California Right to Know ballot initiative (Prop 37) to label genetically engineered foods
Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager for Friends of the Earth’s Food and Technology Program where she carries out research and implements market campaigns aimed at reforming animal agriculture, reducing consumption of factory farmed animal products and promoting sustainable, fair, healthy and resilient food and farming systems.