Banned by Stonyfield: Why Dishonest Advertising Hurts Consumers

On January 23rd, 2018 at 11:00am sharp, a video was posted on Facebook. Stonyfield Farms, the very same organic company that provided funding for the nasty propaganda film, Food Inc., posted a propaganda short entitled "What are "GMOs?" You can watch it in all its falseness below:



Cringe-worthy, right? The video begins with a little girl exclaiming, "That sounds monstrous!" Another proclaims, "They take a gene from a fish and put it into the tomato." This is a reference to an experimental variety of tomato invented in the 90s, which carried the flounder antifreeze gene, for increased frost tolerance. However, this breed of tomato was never commercially available, and therefore no tomatoes contain GMOs. In fact, there are no GMO tomatoes currently available for commercial sale in the Unite States. It gets worse.

"Are you kidding me?!" another girl exclaims. The one after her proclaims, "Yeah, I think it's better if we get informed of it before we, like, eat it." The screen cuts to the words, "Avoid GMOs. Eat organic!" The previous girl comes back to say, "It's important to know what's in your food," and the video ends with a clip of a little boy enjoying his delicious, organic yogurt.

Inevitably, the internet exploded. Stonyfield's Facebook page was bombarded with comments from scientists, farmers, parents, students, and really anyone with the brains to know that what they had just witnessed was a load of bull. The commentors were for the most part respectful, and were real people with real jobs, families, and concerns. Even public figures such as Kevin Folta and Michelle Miller (aka "Farm Babe") weighed in. Not long after, Stonyfield posted a non-apology that read,

  "Dear Friends,

You've probably seen that we stirred up quite a bit of conversation in the last few days around the topic of GMOs, with some suggesting that our community's valid concerns about GMOs are "anti-science" and ill-informed.

Admittedly, it’s hard to "weed" out who is just a troll and who is genuine on social media, but we do acknowledge that some of the comments are from concerned people with reasonable and well-intended questions. We’re glad that these individuals are also vested in our food system and adding to the important conversation about how our foods are processed. If no one cared, that would really be upsetting to us.

And so, to these folks we would like to respond and be very clear about our position on GMOs:

1. We do not believe that eating GMOs has been proven harmful to your health.
2. The majority of GMO crops used by farmers today require the use of toxic herbicides. The use of glyphosate, which has been categorized as a probable carcinogen by the IARC (International Agency for Cancer Research), has increased nearly 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. (source: https://www.ewg.org/…/study-monsanto-s-glyphosate-most-heav…).
3. We believe consumers have the right to choose whether or not to support the above practices, and that the only way this can happen is if food companies that use GMO ingredients or that feed their cows GMO feed declare this on their packaging.
4. Since USDA Organic regulations forbid the use of GMOs, we will continue to rigorously avoid their use and we are proud to offer consumers this choice in the dairy aisle.
We have arrived at this position through due diligence, and we appreciate the importance of a constructive fact-based scientific debate. For those truly committed to advancing the health of our families and our planet, we welcome the conversation and appreciate your taking the time to reach out.

-The Folks at Stonyfield Farm

For those looking for more information on GMO’s, Stonyfield’s stance, and studies, here are some excellent links:
Learn More about Organic - http://www.stonyfield.com/organic/101 
GMO Crops and Feeding the World - http://www.justlabelit.org/…/gmo-crops-the-developing-world/ 
Pesticides - http://www.onlyorganic.org/the-two-worlds-of-pesticides-sy…/"

Predictably, this made the comment storm even worse. Faced with a PR nightmare, Stonyfield began frantically deleting dissenting comments and banning those who posted them, no matter how polite and no matter how true. Even Kevin Folta and Farm Babe found themselves banned from Stonyfield's Facebook page. Like a child who plugs their ears and screams to keep from hearing something bad, Stonyfield began to wall itself off from the truth: they had posted something very misleading, and they had been called out on it in front of the entire world. Here are just some of the polite, honest comments that were deleted, and whose authors were promptly banned.





Doesn't look like the work of a bot, does it? Unfortunately, that's what Stonyfield's PR reps are trying to pass this off as. They got caught being dishonest and making propaganda shorts involving INNOCENT CHILDREN who probably know NOTHING about GMOs, other than what the advertising team told them to say. Ask those kids what CRISPR is, and I guarantee you'll get a blank stare. You'll get the same result when you ask them about golden rice, insulin production, and mutagenesis (which is approved for use in organic varieties, by the way). Why? Because genome editing and the cultural, economic, and political issues that surround it are impossible for the vast majority of 8 year olds to understand. Heck, it's hard for lots of ADULTS to understand. And that brings me to the point of this post.

It would be nice if this was just an isolated incident, but unfortunately it's not. Marketing is a complicated subject, and unfortunately, there's no law against using misinformation (which isn't the same thing as FALSE information, which there's a law against) to sell a product. Nothing Stonyfield said in their video was technically false, it just wasn't correctly applied. Clever. I call that dishonest advertising, and it hurts you, the uninformed consumer. Not too long ago, I wrote about Dannon's new "Non-GMO Project Verified" plans. This is the exact same thing, only it's more widely publicized. For once, we the educated public called a company out for misinformation in the name of sales. For once, we seemed to be making a difference.

The fact of the matter is, I'm not sure we have. Sure, it's a start. And I'll take any progress at this point. Unfortunately, virtually no one cared about Dannon's marketing move. There wasn't a backlash nearly this large against Chipotle, General Mills, or Whole Foods.

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This isn't even the first time Stonyfield has done something dubious. Here are a few samples of previous advertising schemes, and don't forget that they helped fund Food Inc.

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I think that second one could actually land them in legal trouble. Organic production is allowed to use pesticides too, and many of those pesticides are even WORSE than those used in conventional agriculture. By a lot. Measured by their LD-50 values (a measure of toxicity that takes into account the fact that the dose makes the poison), it takes 30mg/kg to kill half the rats copper sulfate is fed to. The LD-50 for glyphosate (which Stonyfield is harping on in both pictures, even though they don't mention it by name) is 5600mg/kg. That's a HUGE difference in toxicity. It takes a TON more glyphosate to kill a rat than copper sulfate does. The point in this example? Copper sulfate is allowed for use as an organic pesticide. By claiming pesticides aren't used in organic production, Stonyfield is LYING. And that IS illegal. The worst part? These advertisements both came out BEFORE the video with the children did. Where was all the backlash then?

To be clear, I'm not upset that people are finally speaking out. Quit the contrary. I'm a little upset, however, that it's taken this long for the pro-science community to unify. The silent middle is watching, and although they can now see through the comments on Stonyfield's video what science has to say on the subject (and I pray they read this blog post, as well as all the other ones that have come out of this incident), they've already seen the two advertisements above, and there was no coordinated backlash then. My solution is this: we cannot change our past shortcomings, so let's look to the future. Fight this kind of false advertising EVERYWHERE, not just on occasion when someone uses kids. It always hurts consumers, because then they feel obligated to pay twice as much for a product that's just as wholesome and nutritious as conventional products. With much of the world struggling with poverty, even in developed countries, we cannot let this type of fear-mongering continue. Yes, get outraged at Stonyfield. But continue to combat pseudoscience wherever you see it, whenever you see it.

And for those of you who comment on Stonyfield's post and are promptly banned, there's a lovely group on Facebook called Banned by Stonyfield. Even if you haven't been banned, check it out and join the movement. Every person helps!




I'm a full-time college student at Texas A&M University, where I'm in the process of getting my Animal Science degree, with eventual aspirations to go to law school and work as a consulting lawyer for agriculture corporations. I grew up around animals, and currently manage an operation that breeds show-quality boer goats for 4H and FFA exhibitors. My family also raises commercial cattle in south Texas, where I also gained experience with commercial cotton farming as an intern.
    

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