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More Spin Than Science: The Latest Efforts to Take Down Organics

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page, and our Organic Transitions page.

Several weeks ago, a group called Academics Review published a report harshly attacking the organic industry and its nonprofit allies for what they called “deceptive marketing practices,” designed to instill “false and misleading consumer health and safety perceptions about competing conventional foods.” The study also implicates the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a willing partner that allows companies to use their sanctioned organic label to deliver fear-mongering messages about the dangers of industrial food.

And while most coverage of the study appeared in small and agriculture-focused publications, some other sources, like the New York Post and Food Safety News, picked up the story without much in-depth research about its source. The headlines–“Report: Organic Industry Achieved 25 Years of Fast Growth Through Fear and Deception” and “The Organic Industry Has Been Fibbing All Along”–were especially alarming.

But the more important questions here, and ones overlooked by the glaring headlines, is who is behind the Academic Review and how might they benefit from dragging organics through the mud?

Academics Review claims to be an “independent association of academic professors” and “researchers” from around the world “committed to the unsurpassed value of the peer review in establishing sound science.”

However, recent articles on its website and Facebook page paint another picture. In one example, an article titled “10 Ways to Keep your Diet GMO-Free” is described as “slick, deceptive internet advertising for the lucrative health and wellness industry,” based on “unqualified, hopelessly unreliable writings.”

Many other articles on the website focus on discrediting public interest organizations, organic companies, media outlets, and scientists who question the safety of genetically engineered foods (or GMOs) and pesticides or touting the benefits of an organic diet.

The groups’ co-founder Bruce Massey is on the advisory board of the American Council on Science and Health, a pro-industry science advocacy group that takes significant funding from corporations such as Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta, which can be seen as having a financial stake in these debates. Links to this and other pro-biotechology organizations, such as International Food Biotechnology Committee, Center for Environmental Risk Assessment, and GMO Pundit, are listed prominently on their website.

More Spin than Evidence

The Academics Review report does do a good job of documenting the marketing tactics of dozens of companies and their allies. However, it provides scant evidence to back up its fundamental premise that these marketing strategies are deceitful and that eaters in fact have nothing to fear from conventional food, or that there are no appreciable health, nutritional, or safety advantages of organic over genetically engineered and other conventional foods.

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