Industry Tactics

Hampton Creek targeted by USDA-controlled egg industry program

Potential legal violations uncovered in secret PR effort to damage egg-free competitor

Hundreds of pages of disclosed communications from the American Egg Board reveal a coordinated two-year plan to undermine and attack Hampton Creek, the San Francisco-based food company, seen as a “threat” and “major crisis” to the egg industry.

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One of the most important ways that industrial animal agriculture promotes its products is through Congressionally-mandated “checkoff” programs. Each industry member pays into a collective fund that is controlled and managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The American Egg Board is the egg industry’s checkoff program. Very specific rules govern how it operates, all supposedly overseen by the USDA. The Egg Board’s stated mission (which stems from federal law) is “to allow egg producers to fund to carry out proactive programs to increase demand for eggs and egg products through research, education and promotion.”

And yet, USDA’s recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request reveals a number of highly questionable activities that likely violate federal law. The documents (summarized here) are mostly email exchanges between Egg Board executives and others in the egg industry, or with PR consultants, and reveal a disturbing pattern of attacks on Hampton Creek over a two-year period from 2013-2014. (There’s no indication that the campaign has stopped.)

As I documented last fall, Hampton Creek’s early success has touched a nerve in the industrial food industry. These documents show that the lawsuit by Unilever over the start-up’s Just Mayo product was child’s play compared to the Egg Board’s activities. Below is a summary of the most egregious communications.

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Media Coverage for Report on Big Food Influence over American Society for Nutrition

Last Monday, I released my latest report, called: Nutrition Scientists on the Take from Big Food: Has the American Society for Nutrition lost all credibility? Here is the media coverage so far:

Leading U.S. Nutrition Scientists Forge Cozy Relationships With Major Food Companies and Lobbying Groups, Report Charges, International Business Times

Is the Leading Nutrition Science Group in Big Food’s Pocket? Mother Jones

Do big food companies have too much sway over nutrition research? WBEZ Radio

Report Questions Nutrition Group’s Ties to Food Companies, Food Manufacturing

Food companies, nutrition researchers getting too friendly: reportFoodDive

Does Big Grape Juice Control Nutrition Research? An Interview with Michele Simon, Public Health Perspectives

The food industry’s undue influence on the American Society for Nutrition, Food Politics

Industry-funded nutrition groups shouldn’t dictate health policy, Al Jazeera America

Huge Number of Nutritional Experts May Be Bought off by the Big Junk Food Companies, AlterNet

Advocate criticizes a science group’s ties to Big Food, San Antonio Express-News

Nutrition Scientists on the Take From Big Food

New Report from Eat Drink Politics asks: Has the American Society for Nutrition Lost All Credibility?

In my new report, I expose the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the nation’s leading authority of nutrition scientists and researchers, for its cozy relationships with the likes of PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonalds, Monsanto, Mars, and even the Sugar Association. Such conflicts of interest are similar to those exposed in my previous report about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Powerful junk food companies purchase “sustaining partnerships” from the American Society for Nutrition, gaining access to the nation’s leading nutrition researchers at their annual meetings, and in their policy positions. ASN’s “Sustaining Member Roundtable Committee” includes PepsiCo’s Chief Scientific Officer and the Chief Science Officer at National Dairy Council.

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Big Beef’s jig is up

Federal dietary committee recommends eating less red meat. Will science finally trump politics?

You almost have to feel sorry for the beef industry. After enjoying decades of popularity as a staple of the all-American diet, the harsh realities behind unsustainable beef production and excessive consumption are finally coming to light. The latest red meat scare comes from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) a scientific body formed every five years to review the latest research available to tell the American public how to eat right. In the past, the committee’s work has been undermined by members with conflicts of interest with the meat, egg and dairy industries. But this year’s committee pulled no punches, even extending its reach to environmental considerations for the first time. The recommendations are not the final word on the matter. Later this year, the federal government will issue its formal Dietary Guidelines for Americans after reviewing the committee’s research and public comments. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

The food movement should learn from the propaganda industry

Earlier this month, the nation’s largest health charity, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, announced a $500 million commitment over the next decade to curb childhood obesity, adding to its previous spending of the same amount since 2007. A billion dollars over 18 years is a lot of money. But let’s place it in context: The soda lobby spent at least $100 million in five years on public relations alone, for advertising campaigns that thwart many of the policies the foundation supports. While we know that industry vastly outspends nonprofit advocacy groups on lobbying, new data reveals that spending on public relations may be even more important. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Is the Dietitians Association of Australia in the Pocket of Big Food?

New Report from Eat Drink Politics Exposes Conflicts of Interest in Australian Dietitians Group

coverJust as most western nations do, Australia suffers significantly from diet-related chronic diseases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, killing one Australian every 12 minutes. Diabetes is also a serious health concern, with rising rates in recent years, according to the government.

The 2013 report, “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors,” also from Eat Drink Politics, found that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States has a serious credibility problem due to its myriad conflicts with the junk food industry. Sadly, a very similar situation exists within Australia’s dietetic profession, led by the Dietitians Association of Australia. Among the most troubling findings of the new report from Eat Drink Politics:

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Hampton Creek raises $90 million as investors bank on a plant-based future

Update at 3:30 pm PT: Unilever just announced it’s dropping the lawsuit. Great idea.

Here’s a winning formula any start-up would want to emulate: Step 1) Engineer a high-quality, more sustainable product to compete in a multi-billion dollar category such as mayonnaise; Step 2) When your competition gets mad enough to file a lawsuit against you, use it your advantage in the media; Step 3) Raise $90 million from investors.

That’s pretty much how Hampton Creek has played it. As I wrote about last month, Unilever sued Hampton Creek over the San Francisco start-up’s Just Mayo product for not containing eggs, which is the entire point of the product. Unilever (maker of Hellmann’s) was upset because Just Mayo was “stealing market share”. But the lawsuit backfired when the multinational giant was excoriated in the media for bullying the little guy. Meanwhile, Hampton Creek received heaps of positive press and increased sales. According to one estimate, just a week of media attention generated about $21 million of free advertising for Hampton Creek.

All that certainly didn’t hurt the company’s efforts to attract additional capital investments, as Hampton Creek has just raised an additional $90 million, bringing the total to $120 million. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the lawsuit “may have helped solidify the company in the eyes of investors”.

The vote of confidence, particularly from high-tech investors, signals a bright future for innovative companies willing to challenge the status quo. New mission-driven companies like Hampton Creek offer a beacon of light to investors seeking an opportunity to put their money toward positive solutions such as creating delicious replacements for unsustainable animal foods. And if they ruffle some feathers of Big Food along the way, that’s a good sign.

Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick (pictured above) told the San Francisco Business Times:

I think what [the lawsuit] did is that it showed all of these people, and our funders, that we’re really not [messing] around. When we say we have a point of view about being mainstream and making healthier food more affordable — even when one of the biggest players in the world comes down on us in a lawsuit — we hold our ground.

Keep holding that ground, it’s working wonders, while making Unilever look even worse.

Big Food Confronts High-Tech Challengers

Innovative food startups trying to curb soaring meat production can expect legal and political obstacles

Growing more and more animals for food is unsustainable. The World Health Organization predicts that global annual meat production will increase from 218 million tons in 1998 to 376 million tons by 2030. That uptick will bring with it numerous negative consequences, including deforestation, animal manure contamination of air and water and excessive use of water supplies and harmful energy sources, not to mention contributions to climate change.

Recognizing this problem, food startups backed by significant venture capital are hoping to create food products without using animals. The goal: provide a viable alternative to the existing animal foods production model that is wreaking havoc on the environment, public health and animal welfare. As a new wave of products aiming to mimic meat, eggs and dairy comes to mainstream supermarkets, Big Food’s pushback will only mount — and what started in the lab will soon make its way to the political arena.  Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Walmart’s Hunger Games

New report from Eat Drink Politics shows how the nation’s largest retailer is a poverty incubator, contributing to the hunger crisis in America while Walmart and the Walton family get richer

La’Randa Jackson, shown here, supports her mother and her younger brothers by working at the Walmart store in Cincinnati, Ohio. “I skip a lot of meals,” she says. “The most important thing is food for the babies, then my younger brothers. Then, if there’s enough, my mom and I eat.”

La’Randa works for the nation’s largest private employer, and she is not alone in her struggle to afford enough food.

On $10.10 an hour and an unpredictable part-time schedule, Cantare Davunt – a Walmart customer service manager from Apple Valley, Minnesota – winds up digging into her cabinets for older, non-perishable foods like Ramen so she can have a hot meal. Diana Tigon, a cashier at the Walmart store in Arlington, Texas, often finds she is strapped for cash and during rough weeks goes full days without eating meals.

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Hey Unilever, is it mayonnaise or mayonnaise dressing?

canola oil Hellmanns

<strong>Canola</strong> Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise Dressing

 

The image on the left is a picture taken by Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek, at a Safeway in San Francisco on Sunday, November 16. It shows the Best Foods Canola Cholesterol Free variety labeled “mayonnaise.” However on the Best Foods website is the image on the right, which has the same product labeled “mayonnaise dressing”. According to federal law, to be called “mayonnaise” the product must contain at least 65 percent oil by weight, which this product does not. For more details on mayogate see my post from yesterday.

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