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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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Interview with Natural Foods Merchandiser

Below is an interview I gave to Natural Food Merchandiser:
Plant politics: Michele Simon sees a promising future for animal food alternatives

Michele Simon is a food lawyer and president of the consulting firm Eat Drink Politics. Recently, she organized a coalition of plant-based food companies in support of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to eat less red meat and more plant foods. As a keynote speaker at Natural Products Expo East, she’ll offer practical tips on how manufacturers and retailers can become more politically active.

NFM: What are the biggest issues facing the plant-based food industry today?

Michele Simon: Gaining more mainstream acceptance of plant-based versions of animal foods is top of mind. While we are seeing an increase in consumer interest, companies face ongoing regulatory barriers such as outdated labeling rules, as well as marketplace obstacles such as placement in stores. Also, political forces have historically created an uneven playing field. For example, most plant food companies don’t benefit from the economic subsidies the animal food industry currently enjoys. True competition requires breaking down those barriers.

NFM: How can retailers help on the front lines in their stores?

MS: First, retailers should sell plant-based versions of meat in the meat section, and plant-based versions of butter and cheese in the dairy section. It’s not fair for consumers to have to hunt down these foods in the niche sections of grocery stores. We’ve already seen an explosion of soy and almond milks because they are commonly sold in the dairy section. Retailers should also encourage tastings of these plant-based foods to increase familiarity.

NFM: How can companies have their voices heard on these issues?

MS: This spring, I organized 22 plant food companies to have their collective voice heard on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This campaign was the first step in getting plant food companies engaged in policymaking. Now we are talking about formalizing the coalition into a bona fide trade group. This sector can be a powerful voice, and taking collective action is key to the continued success of these mission-based companies.

If folks want to get involved, they can either sign up on the mailing list at LessMeatMorePlants.com or contact me.

The End of Chicken

Economic devastation caused by bird flu points to plant-based future

While the western United States is suffering from crippling drought, the Midwest is reeling from an unprecedented outbreak of avian flu, mostly among egg-laying chickens and other forms of poultry. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

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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5 ways to be a better advocate: what I learned from Susan Linn’s leadership

Last night I had the honor of celebrating Susan Linn, who is stepping down as executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, an amazing organization that she co-founded. I wanted to share a few of the ways that Susan has inspired me; maybe she will inspire you too.

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Lawsuits Allege Earth’s Best and Similac Organic Infant Formulas Violate Organic Standards

Federal court in New York says – for the first time – consumers can sue over violations of organic law

I am often asked, can we trust the USDA organic seal? My answer is for the most part yes, because it’s based on clearly defined legal standards, as opposed to say, the word “natural.” But two class action lawsuits against leading makers of organic infant formula are making me rethink that answer. One case is against Abbott Laboratories alleging its Similac Advance organic infant formula contains 26 (more than half) ingredients not allowed in organic products; specifically: “irradiated substances, synthetic compounds, or produced from hazardous substances.”

The other case, perhaps more disturbingly, accuses natural food giant Hain Celestial Group of false and misleading labeling by violating the organic standards with its Earth’s Best Organic infant formula, along with numerous other products. (Both cases were filed in New York, the plaintiffs live in New York and California.) From the complaint:

Behind the picturesque red barn of the Earth’s Best logo lies a chemical soup. Of the 48 ingredients in Earth’s Best Organic Infant Formula more than half – 26 are not permitted in organic foods by federal law. More than three-fourths – 38 of the ingredients are synthetic compounds, including artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, toxic compounds, and hazardous substances.

Earth’s Best Organic formula dominates the organic formula market with 65% dollar share. The judge in that case recently made an important legal ruling that could significantly impact future litigation regarding organic products. In its defense, Hain Celestial tried to claim that the federal Organic Foods Production Act preempts or trumps the state-based consumer deception claims made by the plaintiffs. (Preemption is an common defense in lawsuits like this.) But the judge didn’t buy it, denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and allowing the case to move forward. In doing so, the court said:

[T]his Court rejects the premise that once a certifying agency has passed on a product’s organic status, a state-law verdict may not deem the sale or labeling of that product as “organic” false or misleading.

This ruling is important because it allows for a private right of action under state consumer protection laws for alleged violations of federal organic standards. In an apparent attempt at damage control, Hain Celestial put out a press release on Monday claiming its “full line of Certified USDA Organic Formulas [is] made with pure, high quality ingredients for babies and toddlers.” The release also notes: “The organic formula industry continues to grow and is relied on by parents deeply.” That much is true. That’s why it’s especially troubling if parents have been deceived into feeding their babies formula labeled certified organic that in fact contains numerous unapproved ingredients.

(Disclosure: I occasionally consult with one of the law firms involved; I was not paid to write this.)

Meat Lobby Peddles Doubt to Undermine Dietary Guidelines

By Michele Simon and Andy Bellatti

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated every five years, never fails to cause a stir. For the current revision, released in February, a federally appointed scientific committee — after a two-year review of the latest research and numerous public hearings — has recommended (PDF) lowering consumption of red meat and processed meat. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

 

Media Coverage for Plant Foods Coalition and Dietary Guidelines

As I posted earlier this week, I submitted comments on behalf of new coalition of plant food companies to support the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to lower red meat and processed meats and increased plant foods. I am pleased that the following media outlets picked on this story. More at: LessMeatMorePlants.com

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New Plant Foods Coalition Enters Dietary Guidelines Debate

Logos_Plant_Foods_Coalition_DGA_LetterEvery sector of the food industry–most of them unhealthy–has something to say about how Americans should eat. But we rarely hear the voices of healthier food companies in shaping the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I organized this new coalition of plant food companies to help fill that void.

Research shows that more consumers are decreasing their meat consumption and turning to plant-based options. Therefore, it’s time for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (revised every five years) to encourage this trend toward healthy eating. Today, this new food industry coalition submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, in response to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, making these main points:

  • We agree with the advisory committee that additional measures are needed to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.
  • We support the advisory committee’s conclusion that the dietary guidelines should include a recommendation to “lower red and processed meats.”
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans should specifically recommend eating plant protein sources such as legumes, soy foods, wheat gluten, seeds, and nuts, in place of red and processed meats. 
  • Claims that red meat and processed meats are “nutrient dense” are misleading because they ignore all the harmful components of meat, and the fact that plants are often nutritionally superior.
  • We endorse the advisory committee’s recognition of sustainability as an essential component of federal dietary guidance, and that a shift away from animal foods towards a plant-based diet “is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.”

You can read the entire letter (or the summary) and learn more about the coalition members at: www.LessMeatMorePlants.com. You can also submit your own comments before the May 8 deadline here.

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Contact Michele Simon: michele@eatdrinkpolitics.com

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