‘Evidence-based’ research? Anti-environmental organisations and the corporations that fund them
A special report by Corporate Watch
There are a large number of organisations, think tanks and research bodies promoting a heavily pro-corporate and anti-regulation agenda. These bodies, on the whole, receive corporate sponsorship and in the cases of some, can be seen to be front groups for industry lobbyists. Despite the blatant corporate agenda displayed by the sources of their funding, these groups base sometimes bitter attacks on environmental groups on claims that they use biased research to promote regulation and disrupt neo-liberalism.
The US Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) expresses the aim of “promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choice,” which as it quickly becomes clear means fighting against regulation, for the benefit of the food industry. It describes itself as a “nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies and consumers,” which include amongst others Coca Cola, Monsanto, and Cargill. The director of CCF is lobbyist Rick Berman, and it shares offices with, and acts as one of several front groups for, his major company Berman and Co., a public affairs firm representing tobacco and food industry firms. CCF targets “the growing cabal of ‘food cops’, health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats, and violent radicals,” who apparently threaten consumer choice. CCF’s activities include opposing smoking bans and alcohol regulation, and attacking studies on the environmental damage caused by the food industry as well as groups who criticise tobacco, alcohol or unhealthy foods. Particular targets of ActivistCash include animal rights groups, anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol groups, food safety bodies, and environmental and agricultural campaigning groups.
Berman and CCF have set up a website, ActivistCash.com, to provide information about the “funding source of radical anti-consumer organizations and activists,” in order to discredit activist and environmental groups. However the ActivistCash website contains no information about its own funding, and CCF receives significant corporate funding. Berman previously formed the Guest Choice Network in 1995, which was almost exclusively funded by tobacco company Philip Morris.
The Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), based in Oxford, claims to be “an independent, non-profit organisation” which can “provide a balanced, calm and thoughtful perspective … based on evidence rather than ideology.” However, it receives corporate funding and shares offices and directors with its “sister company” MCM Research, a profit-making market research company which (on an old website) offered clients “social/psychological research on the positive aspects of your business.” The British Medical Journal have questioned SIRC’s neutrality in its work producing ‘Guidelines on Science and Health Communication,’ to work against “scare stories” about health issues in the press. The guidelines have a lot to say on health scares, little on understating risk or the conflicts of interest arising from industry funding for research. Likewise, SIRC’s “open and rational debates” work only one way, and its stances cannot be objective because their funding comes from corporate sponsors. SIRC condemns the Food Standards Agency and “food correctness lobbyists” for “hype and exaggeration” of obesity, suggesting that “claims of obesity ‘epidemic’ are not supported by evidence.” It also condemns environmental groups for creating a “climate of irrational fear” around GM, saying this is “cynical exploitation” to further their own agenda and “vested interests” by “spreading totally unfounded stories about the health risks of GM.” SIRC’s funders include Masterfoods, Cadbury Schweppes and the Sugar Bureau, the sugar industry’s trade association, and many other food and drink companies are clients of MCM Research. Its study on alcohol plays down the problems caused by alcohol suggesting they “affect only a small minority of consumers” and warning against “attempts to tackle these problems through… anti-alcohol messages.” As well as getting funding from The Amsterdam Group, a drinks industry group, SIRC also lists Diageo, UK drinks multinational, as a funder.
The Cato Institute is a US “non-profit public policy research foundation” which “seeks to broaden the parameters of public policy debate” to promote the “traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace.” It defends the free market and argues against state intervention and regulation, a perspective which no doubt satisfies its sponsors, who mainly consist of “entrepreneurs, securities and commodities traders, and corporations such as oil and gas companies, Federal Express, and Philip Morris that abhor government regulation." Among them are energy companies ExxonMobil, Chevron Texaco, Shell and Tenneco gas, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Inc. and Merck, and Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, and RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, and many others. A Cato Institute ‘adjunct scholar’, Steven Milloy, whose background was in lobbying for the tobacco industry, publishes a ‘Junk Science’ website, calling himself ‘the Junkman.’ He labels as ‘Junk Science’ “faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special and, often, hidden agendas” including that disseminated by “the ‘food police,’ environmental extremists, and gun-control advocates,” and “government regulators” seeking “to expand their authority.” According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton,
“‘junk science’ is the term that corporate defenders apply to any research, no matter how rigourous, that justifies regulations to protect the environment and public health. The opposing term, ‘sound science,’ is used in reference to any research, no matter how flawed, that can be used to challenge, defeat, or reverse environmental and public health protection.”
The National Centre for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) is a US conservative think tank which advocates “free market solutions to today's environmental challenges” on the basis that “private owners are the best stewards of the environment.” The NCPPR has set up a website, EnviroTruth.org, which has the expressed aim of “injecting badly needed truth into the debate about our environment.” Much of its emphasis is on criticising environmental groups. The NCPPR also has a taskforce, the John McGovern Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, which aims to highlight the “perverse nature” of environmental regulation through collecting “horror stories,” and which concludes that “there is no serious evidence that man-made global warming is taking place.” Envirotruth claims that climate change sceptics must “act independently of their funding sources” as they “would receive more funding if they did endorse the more politically-correct global warming theory.” However, the NCPPR, and specifically the EnviroTruth website, have received funding from oil company ExxonMobil, which must appreciate the research denying climate change. ExxonMobil has also given funding to sources used by Envirotruth: the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), and Dr Fred Singer, as “an active contributor in the battle against the 'politicization' of science” through the Hoover Institution and Atlas Economic Research.
Hypocrisy is clearly at work in these organisations, who state that their research is neutral and objective and that of environmental campaigners is biased and ideologically driven. What they fail to make clear is that their statements can not be objective because of the sources of their funding. Further their opposition to government intervention and regulation is equally as ideological as the agenda of environmental groups, because it is based on a radical free market neo-liberal agenda, a stance which colours findings on any issues.