A conservative US advocacy group appealed to the news media Thursday to be more sceptical of “food scares” engineered by a Washington public relations firm on behalf of “socially responsible” organisations to enrich themselves. It claimed the agency and its “tangled web of non-profit advocacy groups” were responsible over the last dozen years for fear campaigns either proven to have been false or based on dubious science.

“We ask the media to stop giving Fenton Communications and its nefarious network a free ride,” John Carlisle of the National Centre for Public Policy Research told a Washington news conference called to release the report, “Fear Profiteers: Are America’s Socially Responsible Businesses Sowing Health Scares to Reap Monetary Rewards?”
The allegations were refuted later on Thursday by a Fenton client, the Environmental Working Group, as a “fake report” put forward by “a coalition of lobbyists and hired guns for the tobacco companies as well as the chemical, pesticide, plastics, chlorine and other industries.”

Carlisle and co-author Steven Milloy said Fenton and its associated Environmental Media Services were responsible for these campaigns designed to appeal to fear and emotion to discredit foods:

  • The 1989 controversy over Alar, a “safe and useful” chemical growth regulator used on apples, which was withdrawn after unproven claims linking it to cancer.
  • A short-lived but largely unsuccessful boycott of swordfish in 1999 based on the false allegation the species had been declared endangered.
  • Attempts in 1997 and 1998 to portray milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) with cancer.
  • Continuing efforts to portray foods produced with biotechnology as untested and risky while promoting more costly, pesticide-free organic foods as “natural” and safer than other foods.

Fenton Communications campaigns for both non-profit and for-profit clients “combine junk science with a hidden agenda to scare consumers away from safe products” and toward products favoured or manufactured by its clients, the report alleged.
These campaigns, said Milloy, amounted to “manipulation of science to further a social agenda and for profit.” He and Carlisle said many of Fenton’s efforts had, by engendering fear of conventional foods, created demand for alternative products put forward as less risky. Fears about dairy products from rBST-treated milk, it claimed, “have created a profitable market for organic milk (and other dairy products), a demand that was previously non-existent.”
Clients for whom Fenton Communications organised the “food scare” campaigns included Consumers Union of the U.S., Greenpeace, the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

The report is on the web at: www.nomorescares.com