Meet the Corporate Front Groups Fighting to Make Sure You Can't Know What's in Your Food
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What do a former mouthpiece for tobacco and big oil, a corporate-interest PR flack, and the regional director of a Monsanto-funded tort reform group have in common?
They’re all part of the anti-labeling PR team that will soon unleash a massive advertising and PR campaign in California, designed to scare voters into rejecting the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.
In November, California voters will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a law to require mandatory labeling of all GMO ingredients in processed foods, and ban the routine industry practice of mislabeling foods containing GMO ingredients as ‘natural.’
Polls show that nearly 90% of the state’s voters plan to vote ‘yes.’ But when November rolls around, will voter support still be strong? Not if the biotech, agribusiness, and food manufacturers industries can help it.
It’s estimated that the opposition will spend $60 million - $100 million to convince voters that GMOs are perfectly safe. They’ll try to scare voters into believing that labeling will make food more expensive, that it will spark hundreds of lawsuits against small farmers and small businesses, and that it will contribute to world hunger. None of this is true. On the contrary, studies suggest just the opposite.
Here’s what is true: The opposition has lined up some heavy-hitters and industry-funded front groups -- masquerading as “grassroots” organizations -- to help spin their anti-labeling propaganda machine.
You have the right to know what’s in your food. You also have the right to know who is working tirelessly to prevent you from ever having that right – and who is signing their paychecks. Here’s a partial lineup of hired guns and organizations behind the anti-labeling advertising blitz soon to hit the California airwaves:
Tom Hiltachk: Monsanto’s Man in California
Tom Hiltachk is the PR gunslinger behind the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition (CACFLP), an anti-labeling front group. A partner at the Sacramento-based lobbying firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, Hiltachk is no stranger to front groups. With a little help from his friends at Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, he helped organize the Californians for Smokers’ Rights group to fight anti-smoking initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s. He also helped form the Californians for Fair Business Policy – a so-called “grassroots” organization, but actually a front group to mobilize business opposition to anti-smoking initiatives. That organization was funded by an “academic” front group – the Claremont Institute – which was in turn funded by tobacco companies.
Hitachk also has ties to Big Oil, including a colorful history with California’s Proposition 23, a conservative-backed ballot initiative launched – and defeated – in 2010. The initiative, supported by Big Oil, would have repealed California’s clean energy and climate laws. Hiltachk was initially an ally of Ted Costa, a veteran right-wing activist behind many conservative initiatives, including Prop 23, and head of the group People’s Advocate. But that relationship soured, according to ThinkProgress.org, when Costa realized that Hiltachk’s main motivation was to funnel the $50 million that he hoped would be raised from oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce to himself and his friends.
Coalition Against Costly Food Labeling Proposition: Looking out for consumers’ financial well being?
The Coalition Against Costly Food Labeling Proposition (CACFLP) runs a website called stopcostlyfoodlabeling.com, giving the impression that this is a group concerned about protecting consumers’ wallets. But the website lists only one consumer group in its coalition – Consumers Coalition of California. A search of the IRS.gov site turns up nothing on this group. According to the coalitions’ 2009 990-Form published on Guidestar.org, this Torrance, Calif.-based coalition describes itself as “Research and oriented community education studies and info for residential and small businesses advocating on issues affecting major legislation.” The group has no website. No other national or California-based consumer groups are listed on the CACFLP site.