GMA launches campaign

By Jerry W. Kram | July 08, 2008
A coalition of industrial food producers and other special interest groups has launched a campaign to discredit the ethanol industry. 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 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, Pilgrim's Pride and the Snack Food Association, among others.

This coalition was formed after the GMA requested a public relations campaign to combat the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007. The request stated that rising food prices, food shortages overseas and environmental concerns had created a window of opportunity to change public perceptions about the benefits of biofuels, and overturn biofuels provisions in the 2007 energy bill.

Commodity and Food Price Impacts

The Coalition for Balanced Food and Fuel uses charts such as this one to back its argument about ethanol's impact on food prices.
SOURCE: Emerging Biofuels: Outlook of Effects on U.S. Grain, Oilseed and Livestock Markets Iowa State University, May 2007


Glover Park Group responded to the GMA's request by laying out a strategy to undermine the ethanol industry over the next six months. It establishes two fundamental goals: "First, we must obliterate whatever intellectual justification might still exist for corn-based ethanol among policy elites. Second, we must demonstrate to policymakers at the state and federal level that there is a political price to allowing ethanol policy to drive up the cost of food."

The proposal continued to expand on its tactics to accomplish these goals: "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. Average voters understand perfectly well what increased food prices mean and with the right messaging are fully capable of drawing the connection to corn-based ethanol."

The Glover Park Group charged the GMA a $50,000-per-month retainer fee for six months to run the campaign.

To combat the disinformation campaign, six U.S. senators held a press conference in Washington D.C., on May 22: 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." He 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.

Brian Jennings, executive vice president for the American Coalition for Ethanol, said the GMA campaign reinforces what ACE had suspected for some time. "It's as close to a smoking gun as we've been able to discover," he said.

The campaign is operating anti-ethanol Web sites including www.foodbeforefuel.org and www.foodb4fuel.org. It's also working with the Coalition for Balanced Food and Fuel, which has a Web site at www.balancedfoodandfuel.org. The Renewable Fuels Association has a response to the GMA posted at http://renewablefuelsassociation.cmail1.com/e/433465/l. ACE's food-versus-fuel Web site can be found at www.ethanol.org/index.php?id=83.