Mar 01 2004

Waiting Till the First Cow Dies

Herd reporting on mad cow disease

Herd reporting on mad cow diseaseIt’s the day after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first case of mad cow disease in the United States, the telephones at the Center for Media 8c Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin are ringing con­stantly with press inquiries. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 30 years of activism!” John Stauber, executive director of the center and co­author of the 1997 book Mad Cow U.S.A., says. Stauber has been warning for years about the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, com­ing to America. And after years of […]

Nov 01 2002

Let Them Eat Cake

TV blames Africans for famine

TV blames Africans for famineA famine is raging through southern Africa–a famine that Doctors Without Borders has called among the worst in Africa in the past decade. The international relief organization CARE reports that the famine “is largely the result of one of the worst droughts in a decade” and that “severe hunger–even starvation–threatens millions, particularly among the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, and pregnant and nursing women” in Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is occurring against the backdrop of an AIDS epidemic in Africa that has claimed 25 million lives and counting, leaving behind about 14 […]

Jun 01 2002

Organics and Pesticides: Isn’t It Ironic

A study released by Consumers Union in May found that nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables had traces of pesticides, while less than a quarter (23 percent) of organic produce had such residues. When organic food did have detectable levels of pesticides, the amounts were generally lower than in conventional produce, and organics were less likely to be contaminated with multiple chemicals (Food Additives and Contaminants, Vol. 19 No. 5). Consumers Union released this information, appropriately enough, in a press release headlined “Organic Foods Really Do Have Less Pesticides” (5/8/02). But that’s not the story most […]

Sep 01 2000

Right-Wing Business in Farmer’s Overalls

The American Farm Bureau Federation

The American Farm Bureau FederationThe American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) bills itself as the voice of American agriculture–and often succeeds in getting the media to identify it as such. In an article about an EPA study of insecticides, USA Today (10/28/99) turned to an EPA critic at the AFBF, describing it as a group that “promotes farmers’ interests.” Similarly, CNN (12/13/99) referred to “farmers’ groups” questioning the EPA’s concerns–and featured another spokesperson from the AFBF. The myth that AFBF represents the interests of farmers is longstanding, though it has long been debunked. In Samuel “Sandy” Berger’s 1971 book, Dollar Harvest: […]

May 01 2000

Genetic Gambling

Media fail to present real issues of bioengineering

Media fail to present real issues of bioengineeringIf the mainstream media had been doing their job, most Americans would not have been eating genetically engineered food every day for the last six years without their knowledge or consent. Nor would we have allowed 70 million acres of our nation’s farmland to be planted in bioengineered crops without significant public debate and honest scientific and regulatory scrutiny of their environmental impact. But they haven’t, and so we did. Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist with the Women’s Environmental Network in the United Kingdom, points out in a forthcoming book chapter from Zed Books […]

Jun 01 1998

Press Sanctions Famine

On April 28, millions of American television viewers saw a news story about Iraq receiving humanitarian aid from a Connecticut-based relief group called AmeriCares. Both CBS Evening News and ABC‘s World News Tonight did reports on the shipments; each network described the AmeriCares mission as in some way “a first” or “pioneering.” “This is the first time since the Gulf War that American aid of any kind has been flown in,” ABC‘s Peter Jennings declared. CBS described the shipment as the “first approved humanitarian aid from the U.S.” The reports were literally correct, but deceptive: A group called Voices in […]

May 01 1998

Oprah’s Free–Are We?

In 13 states, no First Amendment for food critics

In 13 states, no First Amendment for food criticsThe National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) must be breathing a sigh of relief. Their six weeks of courtroom combat with TV star Oprah Winfrey may have officially failed to silence her concerns about food safety, but in practice it came pretty damn close. Despite Winfrey’s legal victory, the bottom-line lesson for the rest of us is grim: In 13 states, the First Amendment no longer applies on food-related subjects. Investigating, speaking or writing about issues from mad cow disease to pesticides to food additives can cost you years of legal hell and […]

Mar 01 1998

Media Zapped

Journalists swallow food irradiation PR

Journalists swallow food irradiation PRWhen the federal Food and Drug Administration last month approved irradiation of red meat, government scientists cited the need to beef up efforts to combat a new, deadly strain of E. coli bacteria. No scientific explanation, however, has been forthcoming for the way the FDA’s decision seems to have zapped the critical faculties of the mainstream media. Virtually without exception, reporters and editorial boards from Long Island Newsday to the San Francisco Chronicle lined up to swallow the irradiation industry’s hype, with headlines like “Say Yes to Irradiated Foods” (Chicago Tribune, 12/4/97). Even normally skeptical journalists […]