Lobbyists manufacture food-versus-fuel controversy

By Jerry W. Kram | July 14, 2008
A coalition of industrial food producers and other special interest groups has launched a campaign to discredit the biofuels industry in the eyes of the public and policymakers. The effort, spearheaded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and a media campaign proposed by Glover Park Group was made public by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The GMA represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer household goods companies in the United States. Other groups backing the effort include the American Bakers Association, the American Meat Institute, Environmental Working Group, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the National Pork Producers Council, and the Snack Food Association, among others.

The GMA released a request for a public relations campaign to combat the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007. The response to the GMA's request by the Glover Park Group lays out a strategy to undermine the biofuels industry over the next six months. To accomplish these goals, the proposal stated: "It is worth noting at the outset that the recommendation to take this fight beyond the confines of the Beltway and policy elites is relatively rare. ... That does not hold true here. Congress and state lawmakers must be made to feel the political risk on this issue. We need to get the phones ringing from real voters."

Six U.S. senators held a press conference in Washington D.C., on May 22 to combat the disinformation campaign: Sens. Grassley; Kit Bond, R-Mo.; Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; John Thune, R- S.D.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; and Ken Salazar, D-Colo. "The Grocery Manufacturers Association has an obvious self-interest in launching this campaign," Grassley said. "They need to blame someone for high grocery bills, but they've aimed their fire at a false target." Grassley later requested a meeting with 15 chief executive officers of GMA member-companies but subsequently canceled the meeting when only one CEO was willing to defend the group's actions.

The National Biodiesel Board applauded Grassley's actions and castigated the GMA for launching the campaign. "Don't buy what the grocers are trying to feed you," said Joe Jobe, CEO of the NBB. Even with biodiesel made from soybean oil, "more than 80 percent of each soybean is still used for animal feed or food," he added. "Biodiesel's effect on the food supply is minimal, and to claim otherwise is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty."

Commodity and Food Price Impacts - Meat

The Coalition for Balanced Food and Fuel uses charts such as this one to back its argument about ethanol's impact on food prices.

The Glover Park Group charged the GMA a $50,000-per-month retainer fee for six months to run the campaign, which is operating several anti-biofuels Web sites, including www.foodbeforefuel.org, www.foodb4fuel.org and www.balancedfoodandfuel.org.
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