Following a Columbia Journalism Review article on whether science journalists should accept money from corporate interests, and whether there is adequate disclosure of sources’ corporate ties and conflicts of interest, U.S. Right to Know reviewed recent articles to assess how often journalists and columnists quote academic sources without stating that they are funded by the agrichemical giant Monsanto, which produces pesticides and GMOs.
Our review found 27 articles quoting (or authored by) university professors after they received Monsanto funding, but without disclosing that funding.
This is a collapse of journalistic standards. When reporters quote sources about food issues such as GMOs or organic food, readers deserve to know if the sources have been funded by Monsanto or have other conflicts of interest.
The principal effect of failing to reveal these conflicts of interest is to unfairly enhance the credibility of Monsanto-funded academics, and their support of GMOs and criticism of organic food, while detracting from the credibility of consumer advocates.
Our review found that many top media outlets quoted either University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta or University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy without disclosing that the professors received funding from Monsanto. According to documents published by the New York Times, Professor Folta received Monsanto funding in August 2014, and Professor Chassy in October 2011, if not before.
Many of these journalistic failures occurred at influential news outlets: newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune; science publications such as Nature, Science Insider and Discover; magazines such as the New Yorker, Wired and The Atlantic; as well as broadcast outlets like ABC and NPR.
Following is a list of news articles quoting (or authored by) Professors Folta and Chassy — after they received their Monsanto funding – but failing to disclose that they had received the Monsanto funding.
- New York Times: Taking on the Food Industry, One Blog Post at a Time. By Courtney Rubin, March 13, 2015. (Also ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.)
- New York Times: Foes of Modified Corn Find Support in a Study. By Andrew Pollack, September 19, 2012.
- Washington Post: Kraft Mac & Cheese Just Got Duller. You Can Thank (Or Blame) ‘The Food Babe.’ By Michael E. Miller, April 21, 2015. (Also ran in the Chicago Tribune.)
- Washington Post: Proof He’s the Science Guy: Bill Nye Is Changing His Mind About GMOs. By Puneet Kollipara, March 3, 2015.
- Nature: GM-Crop Opponents Expand Probe Into Ties Between Scientists and Industry. By Keith Kloor, August 6, 2015.
- NPR: Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out. By Maria Godoy, February 10, 2015.
- New Yorker: The Operator. By Michael Specter, February 4, 2013.
- The Atlantic: The Food Babe: Enemy of Chemicals. By James Hamblin, February 11, 2015.
- Wired: Anti-GMO Activist Seeks to Expose Scientists Emails with Big Ag. By Alan Levinovitz, February 23, 2015.
- ABC News: Scientists Developing Hypo-Allergenic Apples. By Gillian Mohney, March 22, 2013.
- Science Insider: Agricultural Researchers Rattled by Demands for Documents from Group Opposed to GM Foods. By Keith Kloor, February 11, 2015.
- Columbia Journalism Review: Why Scientists Often Hate Records Requests. By Anna Clark, February 25, 2015.
- Discover: Open Letter to Bill Nye from a Plant Scientist. By Keith Kloor, November 10, 2014.
- Discover: How to Balance Transparency with Academic Freedom? By Keith Kloor, February 27, 2015.
- Discover: Anti-GMO Group Seeks Emails from University Scientists. By Keith Kloor, February 11, 2015.
- Forbes: Zombie Retracted SÃ©ralini GMO Maize Rat Study Republished To Hostile Scientist Reactions. By Jon Entine, June 24, 2014.
- Forbes: Did The New Yorker Botch Puff Piece On Frog Scientist Tyrone Hayes, Turning Rogue into Beleaguered Hero? By Jon Entine, March 10, 2014.
- Forbes: You Can Put Lipstick On A Pig (Study), But It Still Stinks. By Bruce M. Chassy and Henry I. Miller, July 17, 2013. Forbes: Anti-GMO Scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, Activist Jeffrey Smith Withdraw from Food Biotech Debate. By Jon Entine, May 29, 2013.
- Forbes: Malpractice On Dr. Oz: Pop Health Expert Hosts Anti-GM Food Rant; Scientists Push Back. By Jon Entine, October 19, 2012.
- Forbes: Scientists Smell a Rat In Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study. By Henry I. Miller and Bruce Chassy, September 25, 2012. Forbes: The Science of Things That Aren’t So. By Bruce Chassy and Henry I. Miller, February 22, 2012.
- Des Moines Register: Consumers Are Misled About Organic Safety. By John Block, October 10, 2014.
- Gainesville Sun: Genetically Modified Foods Face Hurdles. By Jeff Schweers, June 29, 2014.
- Peoria Journal Star: Hybrid Crops That Used to Offer Resistance to Rootworm No Match for Mother Nature. By Steve Tarter, June 21, 2014.
- Gawker: The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of Shit. By Yvette d’Entremont, April 6, 2015.
- Louis Post-Dispatch: California Labeling Fight May Raise Food Prices for All of Us. By David Nicklaus, August 19, 2012.
This is merely one example of two professors who were not identified as received funding from Monsanto, and yet these two professors received major traction in the media as “independent” experts on GMOs and organics. The only reason the professors admitted to receiving Monsanto funding was due to emails uncovered by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by U.S. Right to Know, a consumer group.
How often does it happen that journalists present other academics funded by food or agrichemical companies as “independent” sources and without disclosing their corporate funding?
One remedy for this problem is that when journalists write about food, that they carefully ask their sources whether they have any conflicts of interest, where they get their funding from, and whether they receive any funding from food or agrichemical companies like Monsanto, or their PR front groups.
That, however, may not be enough. Professor Kevin Folta received Monsanto funding, yet repeatedly denied ties to or funding from Monsanto. Reporters — and readers — should be aware that such deceit by Monsanto-funded academics has recently occurred, and be on their guard against it.
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Following her admission, I thought it might be useful to report on journalists — including Haspel — mentioned in the documents we have received from state public records requests.
U.S. Right to Know is conducting an investigation of the food and agrichemical industries, their PR firms and front groups, and the professors who speak for them.
So far, three reporters come up in interesting ways: Amy Harmon, Keith Kloor and Tamar Haspel.
These reporters appear in the context of Jon Entine, who is perhaps the leading PR operative working to promote the views of the agrichemical industry, and its pesticides and GMOs. Entine is founder and executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, which, along with the PR firm Ketchum’s GMO Answers, are the agrichemical industry’s two most visible front groups. Entine is also founder and president of the PR firm ESG MediaMetrics, whose clients have included the agrichemical giant Monsanto.
On September 23, 2013 at 7:44pm, Jon Entine emailed Renee Kester: “FYI, I think I’ve talked Amy Harmon into doing a Hawaii Hawaii [sic] story ... and I gave her your and Kirby’s email information, so she may call at some point if she indeed pursues this.” Kirby Kester is president of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, an agrichemical industry front group.
On January 4, 2014, the New York Times published a front-page article by Amy Harmon, titled “A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.” The story is datelined from Kona, Hawaii.
In 2014, Harmon won second place for the Society of Environmental Journalists “Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Large Market” for “The Facts About GMOs,” a series that included the article “A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.”
On September 30th, Harmon is scheduled to speak to the Cornell Alliance for Science, a group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote GMOs. The group is running a petition against U.S. Right to Know’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Keith Kloor is a freelance journalist who has written for Nature, Science Insider, Discover, Slate and other outlets. Kloor has written many pro-GMO articles that have been featured by Jon Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project.
Kloor is mentioned in two places in the FOIA documents.
In one email, Jon Entine refers to Keith Kloor as a “very good friend of mine”.
In another email, on October 18, 2014, Dr. Channapatna Prakash, a GMO advocate and dean at Tuskegee University, emails Adrianne Massey of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), along with several others, to forward an alert from Lorraine Thelian, vice chairman of the PR firm Ketchum that “the hacker community Anonymous is planning a series of attacks on biotechnology and food industry websites…Trade association and corporate websites of CBI [Council for Biotechnology Information] members are being targeted in this planned attack.” Dr. Prakash writes, “Adrianne I have copied Kevin Folta, Karl von Mogel, David Tribe and Keith Kloor here as well.”
Dr. Prakash cc’d the email to Jay Byrne (former director of corporate communications for Monsanto), Jon Entine, Bruce Chassy (agrichemical industry advocate) Val Giddings (former VP of BIO), Henry Miller (agrichemical industry advocate), Drew Kershen (agrichemical industry advocate), Klaus Ammann, Piet van der Meer, Martina Newell-McGloughlin (agrichemical industry advocate), Karl Haro von Mogel (member of the board of directors of Biology Fortified, a pro-GMO website), Kevin Folta (agrichemical industry advocate), Keith Kloor and David Tribe (agrichemical industry advocate).
Keith Kloor was the only journalist who received this email.
The email implies that Kloor works closely with the agrichemical industry’s prominent advocates.
On March 23rd, 2015, Kloor gave a talk for the Cornell Alliance for Science, which is hosting a petition against U.S. Right to Know’s FOIA requests.
In 2015, Haspel won the James Beard Foundation Award for her Post columns.
In June 2014, Haspel spoke to a pro-industry conference about “How can scientists best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public?” The conference was coordinated by Jon Entine and Cami Ryan, who is currently social sciences lead for Monsanto. The conference was led by two agrichemical industry front groups, the Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, along with the University of Florida, which receives major funding from agrichemical companies, as noted in a September 6 article in the New York Times.
Haspel also moderated a panel organized by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which “provides long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina through support of biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.”
In a September 23 chat hosted by the Washington Post, answering a question about whether she receives money from industry sources, Ms. Haspel wrote that, “I speak and moderate panels and debates often, and it’s work I’m paid for.” Later that day, I asked Ms. Haspel on Twitter how much money she had received from the agrichemical industry and its front groups. She replied, “Since any group believing biotech has something to offer is a ‘front group,’ plenty!”
Is it appropriate for a Washington Post columnist to write glowing columns about GMOs while appearing at such pro-industry conferences? Is it a conflict of interest for Haspel to accept money from agrichemical company interests that she covers as part of her beat as a Post food columnist? How much money has Haspel received from agrichemical industry interests?
Some journalists have criticized journalists for “buckraking” on speakers’ circuits. For example, former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee said, “I wish it would go away. I don’t like it. I think it’s corrupting. If the Insurance Institute of America, if there is such a thing, pays you $10,000 to make a speech, don’t tell me you haven’t been corrupted. You can say you haven’t and you can say you will attack insurance issues in the same way, but you won’t. You can’t.”
Haspel wrote in the Washington Post that she will only speak at events where “if for-profit companies are involved in the event (which they often are), they can’t be the only voice. So, I will speak at a conference co-sponsored by, say, Monsanto and the USDA and NC State University, but not an event sponsored by Monsanto alone.” However, at the June 2014, conference at which Haspel spoke, no consumer advocates were slated to speak, only pro-industry advocates.
On October 16, Haspel is scheduled to speak to the Cornell Alliance for Science, a pro-GMO group that is hosting a petition against U.S. Right to Know’s FOIA requests.
Haspel has been critical of the U.S. Right to Know FOIA requests. On August 17, on Twitter, she wrote: “The money/time/brainpower wasted on @garyruskin’s mean-spirited, self-interested attack on @kevinfolta! Can we move on to something useful?” Others did not agree with her news judgment. On September 6th, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Lipton wrote an article largely based on our FOIA requests — especially of University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta — which ran on the front page of the Sunday New York Times. The article revealed how Folta, who repeatedly denied ties to Monsanto, in fact had received an undisclosed $25,000 grant, as well as writing assignments from the company, and worked closely with it and its PR firm Ketchum, which ghostwrote text for him and organized media and lobbying meetings for him.
U.S. Right to Know is a consumer advocacy group. We try to expose what the food industry doesn’t want us to know. We believe it is useful for the public to see how the food and agrichemical companies do their public relations work. That is one way we can help consumers to assess the claims and information they receive from the companies involved in our food production, their PR firms and operatives, and the journalists who work with them.
In recent months the major food companies have been trying hard to convince Americans that they feel the pain of our expanding waistlines, especially when it comes to kids. Kraft announced it would no longer market Oreos to younger children, McDonald's promoted itself as a salad producer and Coca-Cola said it won't advertise to kids under 12.
But behind the scenes it's hardball as usual, with the junk food giants pushing the Bush Administration to defend their interests. The recent conflict over what America eats, and the way the government promotes food, is a disturbing example of how in Bush's America corporate interests trump public health, public opinion and plain old common sense.
The latest salvo in the war on added sugar and fat came July 14- 15, when the Federal Trade Commission held hearings on childhood obesity and food marketing. Despite the fanfare, industry had no cause for concern; FTC chair Deborah Majoras had declared beforehand that the commission will do absolutely nothing to stop the rising flood of junk food advertising to children.
In June the Department of Agriculture denied a request from our group Commercial Alert to enforce existing rules forbidding mealtime sales in school cafeterias of "foods of minimal nutritional value" -- i.e., junk foods and soda pop. The department admitted that it didn't know whether schools are complying with the rules, but, frankly, it doesn't give a damn. "At this time, we do not intend to undertake the activities or measures recommended in your petition," wrote Stanley Garnett, head of the USDA's Child Nutrition Division.
Conflict about junk food has intensified since late 2001, when a Surgeon General's report called obesity an "epidemic." Since that time, the White House has repeatedly weighed in on the side of Big Food. It worked hard to weaken the World Health Organization's global anti-obesity strategy and went so far as to question the scientific basis for "the linking of fruit and vegetable consumption to decreased risk of obesity and diabetes." Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson -- then our nation's top public-health officer -- even told members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association to "'go on the offensive' against critics blaming the food industry for obesity," according to a November 12, 2002, GMA news release.
Last year, during the reauthorization of the children's nutrition programs, Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois attempted to insulate the government's nutrition guidelines from the intense industry pressure that has warped the process to date. He proposed a modest amendment to move the guidelines from the USDA to the comparatively more independent Institute of Medicine. The food industry, alarmed about the switch, secured a number of meetings at the White House to get it to exert pressure on Fitzgerald. One irony of this fight was that the key industry lobbying came from the American Dietetic Association, described by one Congressional staffer as a "front for the food groups." Fitzgerald held firm but didn't succeed in enacting his amendment before he left Congress last year.
By that time the industry's lobbying effort had borne fruit, or perhaps more accurately, unhealthy alternatives to fruit. The new federal guidelines no longer contain a recommendation for sugar intake, although they do tell people to eat foods with few added sugars. The redesigned icon for the guidelines, created by a company that does extensive work for the junk food industry, shows no food, only a person climbing stairs.
Growing industry influence is also apparent at the President's Council on Physical Fitness. What companies has the government invited to be partners with the council's Challenge program? Coca-Cola, Burger King, General Mills, Pepsico and other blue chip members of the "obesity lobby."
In January the council's chair, former NFL star Lynn Swann, took money to appear at a public relations event for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, a vending machine trade group activists have been battling on in-school sales of junk food.
Not a lot of subtlety is required to understand what's driving Administration policy. It's large infusions of cash. In 2004 "Rangers," who bundled at least $200,000 each to the Bush/Cheney campaign, included Barclay Resler, vice president for government and public affairs at Coca-Cola; Robert Leebern Jr., president of federal affairs at Troutman Sanders PAG, lobbyist for Coca-Cola; Richard Hohlt of Hohlt & Co., lobbyist for Altria, which owns about 85 percent of Kraft foods; and JosÃƒÂ© "Pepe" Fanjul, president, vice chairman and COO of Florida Crystals Corp., one of the nation's major sugar producers.
Hundred-thousand-dollar men include Kirk Blalock and Marc Lampkin, both Coke lobbyists, and Joe Weller, chairman and CEO, Nestle USA. Altria also gave $250,000 to Bush's inauguration this year, and Coke and Pepsi gave $100,000 each. These gifts are in addition to substantial sums given during the 2000 campaign.
For their money, the industry has been able to buy into a strategy on obesity and food marketing that mirrors the approach taken by Big Tobacco. That's hardly a surprise, given that some of the same companies and personnel are involved: Junk food giants Kraft and Nabisco are both majority-owned by tobacco producer Philip Morris, now renamed Altria. Similarity number one is the denial that the problem (obesity) is caused by the product (junk food). Instead, lack of exercise is fingered as the culprit, which is why McDonald's, Pepsi, Coke and others have been handing out pedometers, funding fitness centers and prodding kids to move around.
When the childhood obesity issue first burst on the scene, HHS and the Centers for Disease Control funded a bizarre ad campaign called Verb, whose ostensible purpose was to get kids moving. This strategy has been evident in the halls of Congress as well. During child nutrition reauthorization hearings, the man some have called the Senator from Coca-Cola, Georgia's Zell Miller, parroted industry talking points when he claimed that children are "obese not because of what they eat at lunchrooms in schools but because, frankly, they sit around on their duffs watching Eminem on MTV and playing video games." And that, of course, is the fault not of food marketers but of parents. Miller's office shut down a Senate Agriculture Committee staff discussion of a ban on soda pop in high schools by refreshing their memories that Coke is based in Georgia.
A related ploy is to deny the nutritional status of individual food groups, claiming that there are no "good" or "bad" foods, and that all that matters is balance. So, for example, when the Administration attacked the WHO's global anti-obesity initiative, it criticized what it called the "unsubstantiated focus on 'good' and 'bad' foods." Of course, if fruits and vegetables aren't healthy, then Coke and chips aren't unhealthy. While such a strategy is so preposterous as to be laughable, it is already having real effects.
Less than a month after Cadbury Schweppes, the candy and soda company, gave a multimillion-dollar grant to the American Diabetes Association, the association's chief medical and scientific officer claimed that sugar has nothing to do with diabetes, or with weight. Industry has also bankrolled front groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom, an increasingly influential Washington outfit that demonizes public-health advocates as the "food police" and promotes the industry point of view.
Meanwhile, public opinion is solidly behind more restrictions on junk food marketing aimed at children, especially in schools. A February Wall Street Journal poll found that 83 percent of American adults believe "public schools need to do a better job of limiting children's access to unhealthy foods like snack foods, sugary soft drinks and fast food." Two bills recently introduced in Congress, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy's Prevention of Childhood Obesity Act and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention (HeLP) America Act, both place significant restrictions on the ability of junk food producers to market in schools.
Interestingly, this is a crossover issue between red and blue states. Concern about obesity and excessive junk food marketing to kids is shared by people across the political spectrum, and some conservatives, such as Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs and the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, as well as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, have argued for restricting junk food marketing to children. This may be one of the reasons New York Senator Hillary Clinton has once again become vocal on the topic of marketing to children, although Senator Clinton has called not for government intervention but merely for industry self-regulation, requesting that the companies "be more responsible about the effect they are having" -- exactly the policy the industry wants.
A vigorous government response would clearly garner the sympathy of the majority of Americans. The growing chasm between what the public wants and the Administration's protection of the profits of Big Food is a powerful example of the decline of democracy in this country. Let them eat chips!
The Bush Administration has a problem with personal responsibility. They make a big deal about it for nearly everyone -- except themselves and the corporate big shots who finance their campaigns.
A case in point is the recent World Health Organization's proposal to combat the spread of obesity, diabetes and related illnesses throughout the world. The WHO proposal -- called officially the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health -- would encourage governments to adopt a number of common-sense steps, from better food labeling and limits on junk food advertising to the promotion of healthful diets with more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar. It also urges governments to make sure that schools promote such diets, not junk food and soda pop.
Hardly radical stuff, and long overdue. WHO's own studies show that unhealthful diets and physical inactivity have become the leading causes of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer throughout the world.
One would think the U.S. would be eager to sign on. We know this problem first-hand: some two-thirds of us are overweight, plus, the President himself is a fitness buff. And let's face it. Much of the crescendo in global lard comes from the junk food diet that U.S. companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald's and Kraft have exported.
On top of all this, two years ago, President Bush called for a new ethos that says "we're responsible for our decisions." So you'd think he'd be the first to take some responsibility for the consequences of the actions of the country he leads. Fat chance. Instead, the Bush Administration has blocked the WHO anti-obesity plan, and re-opened it for weakening amendments. The Administration has hauled out its focus-group-tested slogans to pass the buck -- and ensure lots of them for its friends in the junk food industry.
First, "science." Whenever the Administration wants to muddy the waters it invokes the experts in the white coats. So here, William R. Steiger, a top aide at the Department of Health and Human Services (and George Bush Sr.'s godson), wrote to WHO that there are "numerous instances" where its food policies "are not supported with sufficient scientific evidence." Come on. Maybe the scientists employed by the junk food industry can't figure this one out, but our grandmothers did and their grandmothers before them. Dr. Walter Tsou, president-elect of the American Public Health Association, observed "Any mother with any common sense knows that you don't feed your kids cookies and ice cream every day unless you want to see them gain weight."
Is that really so hard? Is it really so hard to figure out that a Big Mac and a large shake, with 1600 calories combined, might cause some problems on the obesity front?
As it happens there is no shortage of science that confirms this common sense. Take fast food. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that boys and girls who ate fast food three times in the previous week had far higher calorie intakes: 40 and 37 percent, respectively - than did those who did not eat fast food. Another study, published in this month's issue of Pediatrics, estimates that the consumption of fast food could account for an additional six pounds of weight gain per child per year. But this research is not paid for by the junk food industry. So in the interesting logic of the Administration, that apparently makes it "junk science." Kaare R. Norum, the Norwegian professor who chaired the scientific panel that advised WHO, notes that the attacks on the WHO's scientific evidence "have not come from scientists. They have come only from industry."
Next the administration invokes "personal responsibility." Steiger, the top HHS aide, wrote to WHO that the Administration "supports personal responsibility to choose a diet conducive to individual energy balance, weight control and health." Steiger similarly told the Washington Post that "what's lacking" in the WHO approach "is the notion of personal responsibility as opposed to what the government can do." This echoes the spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, who said: "There is no mention [in the WHO strategy] of what we consider to be the fundamentally important issue of individual responsibility."
The echo is not coincidental. Note that the Bush Administration is not demanding some personal responsibility from junk food bigwigs such as sugar magnate Jose "Pepe" Fanjul, Safeway CEO Steven Burd, and Richard F. Hohlt, a lobbyist for Altria (formerly Philip Morris), which is majority owner of Kraft. It is not asking them to take responsibility for the billions of dollars they and other junk food marketers spend seducing our kids with saturation ads, nor for the obvious and predictable consequences of these actions - i.e. the diseases associated with the consumption of junk food.
Each of these fat cats has purchased an indulgence in the form of bundled $200,000 contributions to the 2004 Bush campaign. So the Administration points the finger instead at parents and their children. The finger comes no less from the Department of Health and Human Services, which probably should be renamed the Department of Junk Food Marketing and Corporate Services.
The sugar industry has wanted to hobble WHO since the organization said that free sugars should comprise less than 10% of total daily calories. Last April, the Sugar Association actually threatened WHO that it would sic its allies in Congress on the U.S.'s annual $406 million contributions.
Now, we agree that people do need to take more responsibility for the junk they put into their mouths, and for their failure to get off their behinds. But the global obesity lobby has to take some responsibility too, for its nonstop propaganda campaign, especially when it is aimed at children. That includes Henry Kravis, founding partner of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which is majority owner of Channel One, an in-school marketing service that bombards schoolchildren with ads for soda pop and junk food. True, Mr. Kravis has bundled $100,000 to the Bush 2004 campaign. But surely President Bush understands that sometimes, we just have to say "No."
Executives such as Mr. Kravis seem to have a hard time grasping another Administration nostrum -- that parents are the proper guides to their children's behavior. They persist in injecting themselves into the relationship between parents and children. They seduce kids with ads crafted by psychologists to turn the kids into relentless nags for junk food that many parents do not want their kids to have. These executives have got to take some responsibility for the way they disrupt the home. The President should remind them of this.
And it's time for the U.S. government to take some responsibility itself, and stop hindering parents' efforts to instill healthful eating habits in their kids. Forgotten in the daily barrage of junk food ads is the way the government actually encourages these very corporations. Under U.S. tax law, for example, most corporate advertising is tax deductible. So next time your kid throws a tantrum because you don't want to buy her another Big Mac, you might recall that your tax dollars are helping to pay for the ads that induced your child's snit.
The obesity lobby has developed a welfare mentality, and it's past time for the Bush people to show some tough love. It should stop -- right now -- the tax break for advertising of junk food, and advertising to children generally. No more taxpayer-subsidized meddling in the American family. No more corporate welfare to goad kids to throw tantrums for Whoppers, Cokes, M&Ms and the rest.
The President himself should take some personal responsibility for this step. He should call Lanny Griffith and Rob Leebern, lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers of America and Coke, into his office. He should tell them that even though they each have bundled $100,000 to the Bush 2004 campaign, the time has come for them to decide whether they are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution -- and that the government isn't going to help them anymore if they persist in the former.
Then the President should get on the phone to Director-General J.W. Lee of WHO and apologize for the moral relativists at his Department of Health and Human Services who lack the courage to stand up to the junk food lobby.
Eighteen months ago, President Bush himself said "when I talk about personal responsibility in America, I expect there to be corporate responsibility as well, and we will hold those to account who do not uphold those high standards in America."
It's time for the President to walk his talk. He should hold junk food and advertising executives accountable for their role in promoting obesity and disease throughout the globe. Literally millions of lives are at stake across the planet. The world needs a coalition of the willing in the cause of global health and freedom from unchecked corporate influence on children. Who better than America to lead?
Jonathan Rowe is a writer, contributing editor to The Washington Monthly, and a founder of the Tomales Bay Institute. Gary Ruskin is a founder of Commercial Alert.