by Marion Nestle
Dec 9 2010

Food industry fights back. Method: attack critics!

It is always interesting to watch the food industry deal with criticism.  One common strategy is to discredit critics through personal attacks. Most companies are too embarrassed to do this publicly.  Instead, they pay public relations firms—in this case, the Center for Consumer Freedom—to do this for them.

What is this group?  See Center for Consumer Freedom Exposed and follow the links to see lists of the food industry donors it keeps secret.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am an occasional target of this group, as can be seen from  the piece it posted yesterday:

Marion Nestle, Food Fascist

Marion Nestle, Food Fascist Sound harsh? After our latest check-in with everyone’s favorite anti-pleasure nutritionist, we think it’s completely appropriate. Marion Nestle published an article on her blog today quoting a law professor named Timothy Lytton, who insists that trampling on anyone’s First Amendment rights is a no-no. That prompted Nestle and fellow obesity warrior Dr. David Ludwig to fire off an astonishing letter.

The post goes on to quote extensively from my comments earlier this week.  It also points out:

At the end of the day, there’s no high-minded Constitutional principle in play here. This is about Marion Nestle attacking businesses she doesn’t like. This is the same professor who delivered a speech at an event sponsored by the “Socialist Conference” of the American Public Health Association. Nestle also addressed the “Socialist Scholars Conference” in 2003.

These kinds of strategies speak for themselves.

The corporations that hire the Center to do things like this should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Frank

    Oh, come on, Marion. When you participate in left-wing political stuff, you make yourself an easy target for these guys and marginalize your own messages. How can you blame them for pointing that out? And are you really going to selectively apply the First Amendment, denying its protection to people you don’t agree with? That does sound kinda loony.

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  • Emily

    Wow, that’s quite the badge of honor! Like being on Nixon’s enemies list or something. Congratulations.

  • David

    I love how “left wing political stuff” is automatically delegitimized there, Frank. And how “fascist” and “socialist” are, as usual in today’s screwball politics, synonymous, as far as the Center for Consumer Freedom. And how lying to children to force their parents to buy garbage is the free exercise of First-Amendment rights. Up is down, black is white, Fruit Loops are a part of this balanced breakfast.

  • Frank

    I don’t recall Kellogg’s putting a gun to anyone’s head and making them buy anything. Just like I’ve never seen Marion Nestle threaten to harm anyone if they don’t buy all-organic. She’s got her point of view, they have theirs. While they out-gun her in terms of money, she probably has the edge in credibility (at least in the New York Times, anyway). So it’s kinda a draw from where I sit.

    And I’m not demonizing “left-wing politics.” Far from it. I’m slightly to the left of Che myself. But people like CCF are really good at de-legitimizing people who go too far out on the fringe. Why give them the ammunition?

  • Subvert

    Anything that criticizes the machine will be attacked and de-legitimized by the respective power holders. This can be likened a bit to the Wikileaks saga – Someone speaks some truth in the room, and then they are hauled out and mocked in the street, persecuted/prosecuted by a mass American public who has been so conditioned to believe what they are told time and time again via corporate propaganda.

    I just wonder, when will people get it? But then again, we have a mass populace that is so stricken with the disease of affluenza that hasn’t time for truths and reality…unless it is seen on the TV in the form of some moron’s daughter dancing with the stars. Now that’s reality!

  • Anthro

    Advocating for the public health, especially children’s health, is hardly a “fringe” effort.

    No one is saying Cheetoes must disappear, just that PepsiCo cannot aggressively market them to unsuspecting children. And do not ignore that these companies employ leagues of psychologists to advise them how to market to these children and thwart their parents’ efforts to remain in charge of what the kids eat.

    Just how has Marion “participated in left wing political stuff” anyway? Public health has no party affiliation; it’s just PUBLIC HEALTH.

  • Melissa

    Isn’t there a better way to target this than playing down the value of a major constitutional principle?

    Like suing the companies for endangering our children’s health? Or mis-representing their product?

  • “This is about Marion Nestle attacking businesses she doesn’t like.”

    Heh, this is about Marion Nestle fighting businesses that are contributing to more and more Americans becoming super-sized. Super-sized and stressing the health care system of the country. And the fact that she and others like her are threatening their super-sized profits.

    In fact, these businesses could care less about people’s health. Just don’t threaten those super-sized profits even if it’s in the name of good nutritional advice for our children and the unsuspecting adults that are contributing to, and part of, the obesity epidemic plaguing the nation.

  • David

    @Frank, fair enough, but I think it’s high time the left stood up and laid claim to the legitimacy of their grievances. The right has never had a problem doing that in America, and their grievances are mostly illegitimate and rooted in either simple greed or bigotry. Besides that, the McCarthy brush simply doesn’t mean anything anymore–the Cold War is over, the pseudo-socialist empire has fallen, the naked global capitalist empire remains. It’s high time we started a real discussion about making our institutions serve the people who maintain them and not vice-versa.

    @Anthro, she accepted invitations to speak at events tied to “socialist” organizations or parts of organizations. It would be enough to get her on Beck’s chalkboard, if it served his panic-and-buy-more-gold agenda.

  • Susan Priano

    Hi Marion, As usual enjoying your posts, but is there a way you can link your site to Facebook? Ann Cooper posted this article but it would be great to have a direct link too.

    BTW just finished a course at UCSF on Corporate Influence in Health-very timely article.

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  • Mark

    Wow, I was waiting to hear them pull out the all-so-popular phrase “patriot” to see if they could really polarize the discussion.

    Seems like they are really flailing on this one to get so silly. Seems they want to change the subject to a personal issue rather than an industry health issue. I, for one, think that means they feel they are losing on the merits. Good for you!

  • ed

    1. CDC estimates obesity at $147 billion in annual health care costs
    2. 1 in 4, closer to 1 in 3 people are obese
    3. 2 in 3 people are overweight or obese
    4. Over 9 million kids are obese
    5. 1 in 5 people with type 2 diabetes
    6. Obesity causes or contributes to over 400,000 deaths each year (people who die, don’t get counted the year after)

    Marion, you keep right on speaking your mind and taking the fight to those that make these figures (ie every individual unchampioned and misled person behind those figures) worse each year.

    Dr W.H. Dietz: this is why you need to keep up with the excellent efforts to make change happen from within the walls of power. This David vs. Goliath battle, high ethical standards vs. lobby money, needs stronger advocacy to rebalance what is clearly in the public interest.

  • Kat Prr

    @Frank. You are absolutely wrong and your statements are not fair enough. David, stick your guns.

    Kellogg’s, a 7.7 billion dollar company, spends 448 million on advertising alone. This is a metaphorical gun pointed at the public’s head. Another portion of that 7.7 billion goes to hiring health officials with resumes, I’m sure, similar to Marion’s.

    You may want to actually read Marion Nestle’s books before you criticize her blog. You may also want to read David A. Kessler MD’s book “The end of Overeating”. He was head of the FDA under Bush and Clinton, is a pediatrician and a lawyer. His book researches the food industry and how it specifically produces food to be addictive.

    This means you are talking about the industrialization of addictive food, supported by ample advertising money, lobbyists involved in revolving door politics between BigBusiness and BigGov employees, and little to no public health education in America VERSUS people that are trying to get the truth out through books and blogs.

    That is NOT a draw. That is in fact about as lopsided as a war can get.

    And yes, these companies ought to be ashamed of themselves. Ultimately trying to shut down the free market through dirty battles, all in the name of Greed. Greed for money and Greed for power.

    This world will never progress with an attitude like that. Thank God for Marion Nestle’s steadfast quest for truth.

  • CTGal

    The food industry has every right to criticize Nestle. My only objection is that they Man up and put their names to the slander. It’s just cowardly to do so the way they do.

    BTW, could we please get to the point of not calling people both Nazis and Socialists? One or the other please!!

  • JudyThomas

    The goal of the processed food industry is to get us to buy more food, esp. food produced cheaply at the highest profit margin for the manufacturer. When we buy it, we eat it. When we eat it in quantity, we get sick and gain weight. Spending for sound nutrition education is very low in comparison to food advertising $’s. And food advertising works, or why would the industry do it? The system unfairly advantages the food industry.
    My personal food rule: avoid foods that are “manufactured.” One last comment: Keep it up, Dr. Nestle!

  • Gil Gillespie

    Congratulations!! I interpret you being labeled by the phony CCF as a “food fascist” as a compliment. They must think that you are having significant influence to warrant going to the trouble of such an ad hominem attack.

  • Sharon Gibson

    I’ve visited the CCF and their positions are as loony as they come — let them tell it, there is no childhood obesity problem in this country when there is compelling evidence to the contrary.

    They argue that Michael Pollan targets products with many ingredients as items people should avoid, so this must include any recipe with a list of ingredients. Anyone has read Food Rules knows recipes are the exception because recipes use whole foods, not a list of chemicals, excessive salt and sugars, etc. And I told them so.

    Of course I never received a response. I also find it curious that CCF doesn’t have a comments page in which people can share ideas. There is nothing like the free exchange of ideas, but I suppose they can’t have that.

  • Jon

    My roommate’s bi (not “roommate” roommate), and he mentionied that it’s like that in gay lib, too. Anyone who suggests a little bit of moderation is regarded as a fascist.

    Nobody is saying Pepsi must disappear, just that you should enjoy it in moderation. Kinda like alcohol. Does anyone seriously believe a dozen screwdrivers is healthy? (Well, it does have a lot of vitamin C…)

  • Cathy Richards

    One of the rights that Americans sometimes forget to defend is the right to pursue happiness. Since obese children have a self-reported quality of life index that is lower than any other sector of childhood — including children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer — a lower chance of getting married, and a lower chance to find work let alone meaningful work, the far right should be vigorously protecting themselves from a food industry that threatens their children’s happiness.

    Guns aren’t the only way to bear arms in the face of threats.

    I suspect that history will show the Becks and Palins of today’s world to be seen in a similar light as the McCarthy’s of yesterday. The defence of capitalism, at all costs, is not democratic.

    The freedom to choose comes with the responsibility to not put others in harm’s way. Freedom of speech is not a legal excuse for crying “fire” in a crowded theatre (that is not on fire). Similarly goes the freedom of the food industry.

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