It wins first place on our list of Big Business’ Top Five sham “educational” websites.
The public relations departments of Big Biotech, Big Food, and Big Ag have a habit of launching propaganda websites that sell misleading “facts” to concerned citizens. This practice endangers consumers, our food system, and our environment. Here are the biggest offenders:
1. America’s Farmers
When you visit Monsanto’s “America’s Farmers” website, you’re greeted by a large, colorful slideshow inviting you to “Explore the Family Farm” and “Meet the Families.”
The implication? There’s no industrial food system; Monsanto is just a friendly conglomeration of small, family-owned farms. Famers are thriving and well compensated, and the crops they produce are wholesome and healthy. American consumers shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about GMOs, CAFOs, pesticides, or industrial farming practices—your small, local, family-owned farm has it covered.
Ridiculous as it seems, this isn’t a harmless PR stunt: Monsanto is actively distracting consumers from real threats to actual small and family-owned farms. By the time the American public catches on, it may be too late.
Here are some choice lines from Monsanto’s site, together with the truth:
“The majority of US farms are owned and operated by families.” Monsanto derives this claim from the USDA definition of “family farm” where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood, marriage, or adoption, whether they live in that household or not. A “farm” is defined as any operation selling at least $1,000 of agricultural products. These definitions, according to the nonprofit organization Farm Aid, “allow for nearly anyone dabbling in growing food for sale…to be classified as a farmer.”
In reality, true family farms are an endangered species: only about 950,000 remain. Currently, just 12% of farms produce 84% of our food—so clearly the industrial model is the dominant one.
“Farmers have been adopting technology and practices that use fewer chemicals.” Although the website conveniently lacks a “GMO” section, Monsanto’s implication here seems to be that “new technology” (read: GMOs) reduces the amount of pesticides farmers use. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
To give just one example, many crops are genetically modified to withstand the use of extremely toxic herbicides like Roundup. However, weeds are becoming increasingly tolerant of Roundup, creating “superweeds” that farmers need more and more chemicals to kill.
“The American agriculture industry supports 23 million jobs…America’s farmers also grow the economy with a trade surplus of 34 billion dollars.” Here, Monsanto hints that America’s family farmers are thriving. This is patently false: according to the USDA, almost 90% of farm income comes from off-farm sources, and “many farm households must rely on off-farm incoming to support farm households because income from the farm operation is insufficient.”
The website also fails to mention that Monsanto went all the way to the Supreme Court for their “right” to sue small farmers.
2. GMO Answers
Last summer, the Council for Biotechnology Information (whose members include BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta) launched the GMO Answers website to soothe the public’s fears about GMOs. Many of its “facts”—like the allegations that GMOs decrease pesticide use, and that GMOs have been extensively tested for human safety—are easily refuted.
The website becomes quite eloquent in its defense of GMOs: “The biotech industry stands 100 percent behind the health and safety of the GM crops on the market today, but we acknowledge that we haven’t done the best job communicating about them—what they are, how they are made, what the safety data says.”
A heartfelt pledge of safety from Monsanto et al.? Clearly the biotech industry’s actions speak much louder than its words.
3. Crop Life
This website—which shares many sponsors with GMO Answers—purports to teach consumers about the “benefits of pesticides and crop protection chemicals.” However, it’s simply a vehicle to confuse consumers on already-established science.
For example, pesticides—particularly, a newer class of pesticides called neonicotinoids—have been definitely linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which honeybees simply disappear from their hives. Since 2006, nearly one third of all honeybee colonies have vanished.
Yet Crop Life claims, “There has been no demonstrated, extraordinary negative effect on bee health associated with use of neonicotinoid-based insecticides.” This is an outright lie.
4. SweetSurprise.com (for HFCS) and Sugar.org
We’ve told you before about the battle between the high-fructose corn syrup and sugar industries, wherein trade groups for sugar and HFCS have traded lawsuits over false advertising. To garner public support for this legal volleyball, each group has launched its own website praising its sweetener while demonizing its competitor.
The Sugar Association webpage features a section entitled “A Balanced Diet,” which includes a picture of an “ideal” grocery bag filled with fruits, vegetables—and Fig Newtons. This page also that argues that, “The simple, irrefutable fact is this: Sugar is a healthy part of a diet.” Irrefutable? Give us a break.
Meanwhile, HFCS’s “Sweet Surprise” website encourages consumers to “see through the media hype,” learn that HFCS doesn’t contribute to obesity, and is, in fact, totally natural. Of course, they simply dismiss the 2010 Princeton study proving that rats fed HFCS gain significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even where their overall caloric intake is identical.
As for the claim that HFCS is natural? Only if your definition of “natural” is “made from GMOs and contaminated with mercury”!
5. Global Dairy Innovation
“Fact: rbST use in dairy cows poses no human health risk,” the website states. “Fact: Drinking milk does not increase breast cancer risk, regardless of whether the milk is organic, rbST-free, or regular.”
Note the website’s deliberate terminology: rbST is a lesser-known synonym for recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rbGH. While a simple Internet search for rbGH turns up hundreds of websites on its harmful health effects, a search for rbST would turn up far fewer references.
rbGH, which is injected into cows to boost their milk production, can raise levels of the powerful hormone IGF-1 in milk up to 70%. This hormone remains in the milk even after pasteurized and is absorbed—not broken down—by the human body. Elevated levels of IGF-1 in the human body are associated with breast cancer in premenopausal women.