Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Former Big Food Executive Switches Sides

A former Big Food Executive, Bruce Bradley, comes clean about food industry deception. Mr. Bradley spent 15 years as a food marketer at companies such as Nabisco, Pillsbury and General Mills. He has since "become more educated about the risks and environmental impact of eating processed foods," is a big CSA fan and has created a blog to share the truth.

During a recent interview with Andy Bellatti on Grist.org, Mr. Bradley shared some insight about the industry, the people behind today's processed food companies and his blog.

On your website you write that you've "seen some disturbing trends in the food industry over the past 20 years." What have you found most insidious?

The landscape has changed dramatically since I started my career at Nabisco in 1992. In response to Wall Street profit pressures and the growing power of retailers like Walmart, the food industry has undergone a tremendous wave of consolidation and cost cutting.

This has hurt our food supply in many ways. First, huge, multinational food companies now dominate the landscape. Wielding far greater lobbying power and much deeper pockets, these companies have been very successful in stagnating food regulation. Second, cost savings have been a key profit driver for the industry, but they've had a devastating impact on both food quality and food safety. Think factory farming and GMOs, just to name a couple of examples. Third, as consumers' health concerns have increased, processed food manufacturers have become even more aggressive in making dubious health claims or co-opting fad diets to market their brands and develop new products.

The net impact of this transformed landscape has been disastrous from a public health perspective -- with obesity rates skyrocketing and a never-ending flood of food recalls.

How does the food industry respond to those in the public health and nutrition arena who systematically call them out? Is there is a legitimate fear that one day "the people" will realize how unhealthy many of their products are?

The average person working at a food company doesn't view public health and nutrition "food cops" as a threat. In fact, they are embracing many of the ideas coming from these sources. For example, books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma were extremely popular when I was at General Mills, and I learned about CSAs from an R&D scientist working on one of my teams.

Now if you're talking about the Big Food company executives, I do think they feel threatened. However, most of these executives tend to dismiss those who "call them out" as wrong or misinformed, versus taking a serious look at changing their business model. After all, these executives and their companies have a huge interest in maintaining the status quo.

On your blog you say, "confusion is one of the tried and true tools of the processed foods industry." Can you say more about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways these companies confuse us?

I think one of the main ways the processed food industry is trying to grow and defend their business is by funding self-serving research. The goal of these studies isn't to uncover "the truth" or to improve public health. Instead, the research is carefully constructed to create sound bites and statistics to help market their products or combat potential regulation. This is one of the primary ways we end up with conflicting studies that confuse consumers on what they should eat or drink.

Is this purposeful misdirection? Intent is always tough to prove, especially if you don't have firsthand knowledge. Research tends to be the work of a select few within processed food companies, and I was never part of one of those groups. That said, if you dig into these studies and their methodology, you can usually find the telltale signs of how they have "stacked the deck" in their favor.

What are three things you think every consumer should know about Big Food?
  • Big Food is profit-driven. Don't be fooled into thinking a brand or the food company that owns it cares about you or your health.
  • Think critically. Most claims and advertising by Big Food companies are meant to manipulate you, not educate you. Read your labels and do your research.
  • There is no free lunch. Over the long-term, you always get what you pay for. Cheap food is very expensive once you add up the true costs -- like the taxes you pay to subsidize Big Food companies, health consequences like obesity or diabetes, the devastating harm to our environment, and the inhumane treatment of animals raised within the industrialized food system.
For more insider information, check out Bruce's blog. Be sure to check out his series, All Natural... Really? WARNING: This blog is not for the faint of heart and many things you learn there really will make you sick!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Susan G. Koman Response to Pinkwashing Letter and KFC Buckets

The following post is not intended to offend. I just personally believe that there is an awful lot of lying going on in America, both in the for-profit and the not-for-profit camps. I get really angry when companies con people and play on their weaknesses. And I get even angrier when I learn the money that not-for-profit companies make is not really used for the purposes in which it was intended. Especially when a company like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, that makes $400 million (2010) in earnings per year, spends a miserly 21% or $84 million on actual research. Doesn't it make you just a little bit curious as to where the other $316 million goes?

As a Real Food eater, I am very aware of what processed foods can do to our bodies and how the chemicals used to process them can actually cause us to get sick, sometimes terminally. So, when I saw that Susan G. Komen for the Cure had partnered with KFC, I was outraged. I signed my name to a letter from Breast Cancer Action that indicated my level of angst. I am writing this post so that I can not only share that letter, but the follow-up letter from "some unnamed person" at SGK and my response to that letter. If this is an area that is sensitive for you, you might want to stop reading now.

Original Letter to SGK and KFC
Dear KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure,
I am appalled by your “Buckets for the Cure” partnership. I share Breast Cancer Action's shock at this outrageous campaign, which uses the breast cancer epidemic to improve the American public's perception of KFC, and increase the company’s profits from the sale of pink buckets of chicken. There is no doubt in my mind that countless people affected by breast cancer find this campaign offensive and upsetting, as is evident from many blog posts and Facebook pages I have seen.

KFC (with Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s blessing) is engaged in one of the worst examples of pinkwashing. A pinkwasher is a company that purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink-ribboned product while at the same time manufacturing products that contribute to the disease. In this
case, KFC is encouraging people to buy pink buckets of chicken to demonstrate its alleged commitment to ending the breast cancer epidemic. However, KFC's food is unhealthy and much of it is marketed to low-income communities. KFC thus contributes to the significant problem of providing poor food choices
for low-income communities in the United States, who disproportionately suffer from poor breast cancer outcomes and other problems that may be exacerbated by an unhealthy diet.

Instead of partnering with a corporation that sells unhealthy food, I believe that Susan G. Komen for the Cure should work with companies that do not contribute to the breast cancer epidemic.

Response from SGK
Thank you for your email. The KFC partnership in 2010 helped Komen reach women in about 800 communities not currently served by a Komen Affiliate, with the pink buckets and links to a website with breast health information. It also helped us raise more than $4.2 million for cancer research and other
programs.  It has not been continued this year. I hope this is helpful to you.  Please feel free to email back if you need more information.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure

My response back to SGK
Dear Unnamed Person at Susan G. Komen for the Cure:
Thank you for your canned response. But, no, your response was NOT helpful! Encouraging people to eat disgusting fried chicken that 1) has been raised on factory farms and treated with hormones and chemicals that have been shown to contribute to breast cancer, and 2) contributes to obesity which is one of the factors which increases a persons chances of getting breast cancer - all in the name of curing Breast Cancer??? Ludicrous! Do you people even read your own website???

And let's address that $4.2 million that you so proudly admit to earning. How do you justify the fact that only 21% of those funds actually go towards research and finding a "cure"? And quite frankly, I don't think you really do want to find a cure because if you did there are any number of other ways that all those funds could be used rather than supporting Big Pharma and putting more money in their pockets with your support of chemotherapy (chemical poisoning) and radiation (burning).

An article in Oncology Today (2004) reported that the survival rate of women in the US who received chemotherapy was only 2.1%. Michael Boyer, head of Medical Oncology at the Sydney Cancer Centre, disagrees. He says that the survival rate is closer to 5%. And Guy Fague (The War on Cancer: An anatomy of failure, a blueprint for the future. Springer, 2005), concluded that chemotherapy for cancer is based on "flawed premises with an unattainable goal, cytotoxic chemotherapy in its present form will neither eradicate cancer not alleviate suffering." So, I ask, why is SGK focusing on treatment??? I truly think the pharmaceutical companies have the treatment piece covered. Why would an organization that is called, "Susan G. Komen for the Cure" not be funding and contributing 100% OF IT'S PROCEEDS to finding that cure? 

And here's another question for you, where does the other $3.3 million from selling buckets of chicken go???? Salaries, marketing, pinkwashing??? And while we are questioning where the money is spent, is it really necessary for the CEO of a non-profit organization to make $500,000+ a year? That's more than the president of the United States. Even Steve Jobs, past-CEO to one of the most profitable companies in the world, only made $1/year. Sounds like there are a few more things going on at SGK then a "cure" for breast cancer, but that's just me...     

While I am certainly glad to hear that someone at your organization has come to their senses and realized that buckets of greasy, MSG and soy oil soaked chicken is NOT the correct affiliation for breast cancer awareness and cure, I am still stunned that SGK allowed themselves to be aligned with KFC in the first place. And as long as the pinkwashing continues, I will continue working from my side to educate anyone and everyone about who and what SGK for the Cure is really all about.

Again, thank you for your time in providing a canned response. Please don't waste time responding back if you can provide nothing more than SGK rhetoric. I can read all about it on your website.

Please let me know what you think...is SGK doing what they should be in seeking a cure for breast cancer?