Grocers target biofuels, with Big Oil's help

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U.S. food companies have set up a massive campaign to destroy the burgeoning ethanol industry and the American farmers who provide them with raw products.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has kicked off a well-funded stealth campaign to blame biofuels as the cause of higher grocery bills, according to several sources including the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

The campaign includes oil money and behind-the-scenes meetings with high-powered advertising agencies hired to develop the anti-ethanol campaign.

The Associated Press got wind of this loose alliance of environmental, oil and food processing groups and printed a story earlier this week, saying the coalition is "trying to convince lawmakers that increased output of alternative fuel is inflating food costs by siphoning off corn otherwise fed to livestock and discouraging farmers from planting other crops.•bCrLf

Roll Call, the leading newspaper on Capitol Hill, reported yesterday that GMA has been leading an "aggressive•bCrLf public relations campaign for the past two months in an effort to roll back ethanol mandates that passed in last year's energy bill.

GMA has hired Glover Park Group to run a six-month campaign, according to GMA's Request For Proposal (RFP) and GloverPark's response. (Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley got a copy of  GMA's RFP and you can read it here.)

"GMA has concluded that rising food prices ... create a window to change perceptions about the benefits of bio-fuels and the mandate,•bCrLf reads the three-page RFP, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.

The ICGA says their organization has discovered that the campaign will run through October with initial funding at $5 million. They say the American Petroleum Institute has allegedly joined up with another $10 million, making the total value $15 million.

According to ICGA, the GMA, which is funded by hundreds of food companies such as Heinz, Hormel, Kellogg and Kraft, will attempt to link biofuels to food price increases and world starvation.

In its RFP, the GMA outlines a four-part approach: building "a global center-left coalition,•bCrLf which includes environmental, hunger, food aid, poverty, development, senior, children, business, nutrition, farm consumer and labor groups; taking advantage of the "extraordinary earned media opportunities•bCrLf caused by rising food prices; mobilizing local food banks and "other local opinion leaders in key states and districts•bCrLf; and hiring "trusted third-party experts•bCrLf to document the effect of fuel mandates on, among other things, global hunger and poverty, job losses in the food industry, and inflation.

In its 21-page answer, a copy of which was also obtained by Roll Call, GloverPark laid out a hard-hitting plan with two main goals for the campaign.

'Obliterate...justification for ethanol' "First, we must obliterate whatever intellectual justification might still exist for corn-based ethanol among policy elites. ... Second, we must demonstrate to policy makers at the state and federal level that there is a political price to allowing ethanol policy to drive up the cost of food,•bCrLf GloverPark wrote.

According to the corn growers, the campaign has four objectives:

  • Reverse the Renewable Fuels Standard, the federal law mandating a certain percentage use of biofuel in the nation's gasoline supply;
  • Eliminate the VEETEC (ethanol tax credits);
  • Lift the ethanol tariff and promote "cheaper Brazilian ethanol•bCrLf;
  • Eliminate all state mandates.

The group supposedly visited all African Embassies, the Philippines and the European Union in April and is building coalitions with domestic food banks and hunger groups. 

Low hanging fruit ICGA says that when asked why the GMA would target biofuels rather than Big Oil, they admitted that biofuels was a much easier target to show progress.  Biofuels are, apparently, the low hanging fruit.

ICGA's Mark Lambert says his information is coming from multiple sources, including an east coast cable news commentator who was approached by the ad agency in question,  and a disgruntled member of the GMA who thinks what the group is doing is immoral, if not plain bad business long-term.

"Food manufacturers want to drive corn prices down and their stock prices up, and big oil wants to kill the competition coming from a thriving and growing domestic ethanol industry,•bCrLf says Lambert. "Some environmental groups want us to truly starve the world by moving away from technology and farming practices that are the envy or the world. This attitude lingers despite major changes to farming practices and major environmental advances that also allow increasing yields.•bCrLf

According to USDA, oil prices have twice the impact on rising consumer food prices than the price of corn.  This is why even with the above average increase in food prices a box of corn flakes still only has about $.08 worth of corn in the box.  According to the Consumer Price Index the farmer's share of the retail food dollar has decreased from 25% in the 70's to 20% today. 

Does anyone else think it's shocking that the food companies working further up the food chain are working against the farmers who provide them with their products?

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