Coalition for Safe Affordable Food misleads woman into thinking she was supporting GMO labeling when, in reality, she would have supported legislation to ban mandatory labeling.
A group that is opposed to mandatory labeling of genetically modified food is using deceptive tactics to mislead citizens into thinking they are supporting GMO labeling legislation when, in fact, they are supporting legislation that would block labeling.
The “astroturf” campaign is being conducted by the biotech industry-funded Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, to gain citizen support for national legislation, H.R. 1599 or “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” known by opponents as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know Act).
Survey on GMO labeling
The deceptive tactics were reported by Julie Freitas, a 66-year-old childbirth educator based in Southern California. One evening Julie received a call from a man asking if she would answer a few questions for a survey about labeling genetically modified foods. Julie said she would answer the questions, telling the man that she supported GMO labeling.
The man engaged Julie in conversation and got her to talk about her life. She thought he was friendly and compassionate.
He asked Julie if she would take action on GMO labeling, and she said she would, thinking that H.R. 1599 would establish labeling of GM foods across the US.
“He indicated that people should know what’s in their food,” she said.
The man asked Julie if she would be willing to write a letter supporting labeling legislation. She said she didn’t want to write a letter so the man suggested that he write the letter and that Julie could just sign it. She agreed.
“He asked if I would be willing to sign a letter about labeling GMOs,” she said. “I said ‘yes.’ I am interested in food being labeled so the public knows what is in the food they eat.”
Far from establishing mandatory GMO labeling, H.R. 1599 would block state GMO labeling initiatives, establish meaningless voluntary GMO labeling, allow the USDA to implement a weak certification program for non-GMO foods, and allow food manufacturers to label products as “natural” even if they contain GM ingredients.
Pre-written letter to Congressman supporting H.R. 1599
A day or two after the phone survey, Julie received an envelope in the mail titled “Rush-Priority Express.” The envelope contained a letter from the man who interviewed her, who was with the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. There was also a pre-written personalized letter to her Congressman, Tony Cardenas, with Julie’s name at the bottom. The letter stated that the “FDA was the logical solution to regulating genetically modified foods entering our food supply.” The letter urged Rep. Cardenas to support H.R. 1599.
The letter ended by stating “Please join me in supporting the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 to make sure groceries remain affordable and to ensure the safety of all Americans.”
Julie’s name was at the bottom of the letter with a space for her signature.
When Julie read the letter, she was shocked.
“These would not be my words. I would never say anything like that,” she said. “I didn’t know that he would be endorsing that the FDA be the agency overseeing labeling. I don’t favor the FDA’s method of ensuring foods are labeled properly, and I wouldn’t sign or send these papers to Tony Cardenas.”
Julie thought the man was being deceptive.
“I thought it was very clever,” she said. “This is how people can do something that they don’t realize at the time they are doing it.”
Industry-funded front groups misleading the public
The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food is one of seven industry front groups, identified in a recent report, that are deliberately misleading the public and reporters on facts about industrial agriculture, including GMOs, and organic food production. The report, “Spinning Food,” describes how big food and agrochemical companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years on stealth PR tactics, deploying front groups—such as the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food—to push coordinated messages attacking organic food production, defending pesticides, and promoting GMOs.
According to the report, the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food is backed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and CropLife America (the trade association for agrochemical producers) and is focused on fighting GMO labeling and attacking organic food. The group actively promotes its pro-GMO messages via its website, aggressive press outreach, social media and other vehicles. And, as has been revealed by Julie’s story, the group is using deceptive tactics to win false grassroots—astroturf—support for H.R. 1599, the DARK Act.