30 December 2002
'BIG FOOD' FUNDED WEB SITE ATTACKS CELEBS, FOUNDATIONS
The article below is about "ActivistCash.com", one of the front sites of food industry PR firm Berman & Co whose self-declared "offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger."
Berman & Co. are also behind the Center for Consumer Freedom [www.consumerfreedom.com] which began life under the name "the Guest Choice Network" with the help of $600,000 from tobacco giant, Phillip Morris. The Consumer Freedom campaign on "Food Technology" involves smearing organic food as dangerous and promoting what it calls "genetically improved food". Despite being pro-consumer choice, the Consumer Freedom campaign vehemently opposes GM food labelling. Berman also paints biotech opponents as terrorists, asserting that "anti-biotech extremists" are part of a "growing wave of domestic terrorism" and that the people we need to worry about are not just al-Qa'ida but "the middle-class kids down the street." [Terrorists On The March -- In America]
The list of "anti-biotech extremists" includes mainstream environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which it accuses of conducting a "public relations jihad" on the issue, and even organisations like the Five Year Freeze and Christian Aid, the development agency of the British and Irish churches, whom Berman & Co. labelled a "far-left leaning" group of "future-fearing radicals" that "flat-out lies about GE foods" while hiding "behind a religious facade to more easily malign farmers, scientists, food companies, and even PR people who deal with GE foods."
ActivistCash.com claims to "root out the funding sources" of "the most notorious and extreme groups that conspire to restrict the public's food and beverage choices". In fact, as PR Watch points out, ActivistCash.com draws on information already largely public mixed with distortions and misinformation [http://www.prwatch.org/improp/ddam.html].
Ironically, Berman himself has taken extreme exception to attempts to root out his own financial relationship with the various lobby organisations run by Berman & Co. He even threatened a lawsuit for defamation after attention was drawn to his "funneling millions of corporate dollars - donated to non-profit organizations he runs - right into his own bank accounts. Berman pays himself the cash both directly and personally in the form of salary and benefits for his role as 'Executive Director,' as well as through payments he makes from the non-profits to his own corporation, Berman & Company, Inc., for 'consulting.' " [http://www.vegsource.com/articles/berman_release.htm
Berman was also implicated in a cash-for-favors scandal involving Newt Gingrich.
'Big Food' funded Web site attacks celebs, foundations
By Andrea Coombes, CBS MarketWatch.com, Dec 27, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) -- Robert Redford is linked to "the utility infielder of nanny groups;" Mary Tyler Moore dwells among the "outer fringes of the animal-rights universe" and Woody Harrelson supports a group that's "turning into a violent version of Forrest Gump."
Meanwhile, renowned foundations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts finance groups that are like "money-laundering enterprises."
Such are the characterizations of ActivistCash.com, a Web site underwritten by food and beverage industry leaders to thwart efforts of activists to change food and farming policies.
"You have self-appointed public interest advocates who are neo-prohibitionists in disguise," said David Martosko, director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom, which operates the site. "You've also got the anti-meat crowd.
"There are a lot of public health people that think America would be better off without meat and dairy," said Martosko, who declined to reveal companies supporting the site. "We want people to know who's buying them, who's paying them and who's connected to other activities with nefarious goals."
National activist groups and celebrities pumping a cause often aren't the white knights they appear to be, but some groups contacted were stunned at how their efforts were being depicted.
ActivistCash lists the Pew Charitable Trusts because it gives money to the Tides Foundation, which "routinely obscures the sources of its tax-exempt millions, and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to discern how the funds are actually being used," according to the site.
But Pew Charitable Trusts spokeswoman Barbara Beck disagreed, saying the foundation spends considerable time vetting all of its grantees, including the Tides Foundation.
"When Pew makes an investment in a project, there is an enormous amount of fact-finding and research that is done before any support is given to any project. It could take years. We do our due diligence better than anyone," Beck said. "The Tides Center is a public charity, tax-exempt, the purest form of nonprofit."
ActivistCash does not hide the fact that food and alcoholic beverage producers, restaurant operators and individuals fund it.
"We're sort of like a trade association, but we're more like a public interest group that educates the public," spokesman Mike Burita said.
Last week Tyson Foods (TSN) , the nation's largest chicken producer, suggested reporters check out the site to learn more about Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which filed a lawsuit against Tyson over product claims. See full story.
On the site, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is characterized as a "fanatical animal rights group trying to pass itself off as a physician's organization" with physicians constituting "only 5 percent of its membership."
PCRM spokeswoman Simon Chaitowitz said the group promotes a vegan diet devoid of all animal products, including milk and eggs, and opposes "unethical human and animal research."
As for the group's membership base: "They act as if we hide our membership. We're proud of our membership. It's nearly 5,000 doctors and more than 100,000 laypeople," she said.
Most of the activist groups listed on the site work on environmental, farming, or genetically-engineered food issues. Robert Redford is slammed for being associated with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Mary Tyler Moore for her work for the Farm Animal Reform Movement, according to the site.
But Mothers Against Drunk Driving comes under fire as well.
"We've seen MADD depart from their original mission which was curbing the problem of drunk driving to one where they're almost approaching a neo-prohibitionism," Burita said. "They've gone from targeting dangerous drunk drivers to targeting social drinkers.
"Our primary focus is on food and drink ... (but) there are a lot of tangential things that tie into that as well," Burita said. "You see, there are groups that have a certain anti-food focus but are also anti-corporate and anti-globalization."