As public health discourse continues to focus on the many ways the food industry misleads the public, spins science to its benefit, and consistently devotes millions of dollars to fighting public health policy, it is not surprising that industry does everything in its power to fight back.
We recently came across this 2006 New York Times article by Michael Pollan, titled “Attacks on the Food Police,” which is not just a good refresher on industry tactics, but also a reminder that industry has a well-documented history of said tactics.
- “As near as I can determine, the whole notion of the “food police” got its start in the fevered brain of Rick Berman, a lawyer and former restaurant industry executive who founded the Center for Consumer Freedom. This nonprofit organization was originally funded by the tobacco and restaurant industries to fight smoking bans in bars and restaurants.”
- “The Center for Consumer Freedom is actually not a consumer group, but an astro-turf (that’s faux grassroots) advocacy group funded by Big Food to discredit those in the media and government who would do anything — including litigate, regulate and, apparently, express disagreeable opinions — to interfere with the industry’s freedom to make as much money as possible selling us junk food. Many of the same groups that Big Tobacco launched to attack its critics (including the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Heartland Institute) have seamlessly moved into attacking the critics of Big Food.”
- “To describe critics of agribusiness as cops or police is to imply that their messages are somehow repressive, while the activities and competing messages of the food companies represent the opposite: freedom, a word they dearly love. When a journalist writes critically of the cooking or marketing practices at McDonald’s, he is somehow interfering with people’s freedom to enjoy their chicken nuggets — the journalist stands for control. Yet for some reason the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by McDonald’s to market its food represents not control but freedom. Keep in mind that this marketing involves the routine manipulation of children — bribing them with toys, enticing them to eat more with cleverly designed packaging and portion sizes, and deploying the arts of food science to exploit their inborn cravings for fat, salt and sugar. So who exactly is the more “controlling” party here?”
- “But while the food industry is quite prepared to attack its critics using veggie libel laws, it seeks to insulate itself from litigation by pushing Congress and state legislatures to pass “cheeseburger laws” that grant the industry immunity from obesity lawsuits. Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation,” knows how the industry “pushes back” against its critics. In April The Wall Street Journal reported that McDonald’s had launched a campaign to attack “Chew on This,” a new book by Schlosser and Charles Wilson. The company distributed a memo to franchisees, alluding to plans to “discredit the message and the messenger.””
- “As Mr. Schlosser pointed out in a recent e-mail message, “One of the fundamental differences between us food police and these food pushers is that we put our names on what we write, whereas these food companies hide behind front groups, and the front groups refuse to disclose their corporate funding. They love the word ‘freedom’ but try to destroy anyone with a different point of view.”