Junk Science: Climate Activists’ Credibility Gap

Organic yogurt king and Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg may have thought that he avoided the buzzsaw this week by ducking a TV appearance with me. Guess I’ll just have to go on without him.

The news hook for our scheduled appearance was Hirshberg’s new global warming effort called ClimateCounts. The project’s ostensible goal is to help consumers make “climate-conscious” purchasing decisions.

Electronics/computer shoppers, for example, are steered toward IBM and Sony products, rather than Apple’s, since the latter fared abysmally in ClimateCounts’ survey of the so-called “carbon footprints” of 56 consumer products companies.

Global warming hysteria and the concept of the carbon footprint, in particular, have been debunked many times in this column already. Suffice to say, the ClimateCounts survey commands no credibility here, and consumers who shop based on the survey’s recommendations may as well consult with an astrologist to guide their purchasing decisions.

So here are some other relevant tidbits about ClimateCounts’ leadership that viewers may have heard from me had Hirshberg not gotten cold feet about appearing on CNBC’s “On the Money” program on June 19.

Stonyfield Farm’s organic yogurt has long been marketed through dubious efforts to scare consumers away from conventional (i.e., not marketed as “organic”) yogurt.

One Stonyfield ad, for example, reads: “Synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone. Your baby doesn’t want it. We’re pretty sure cows don’t either.”

Synthetic bovine growth hormone (also known as rbST) is widely administered to dairy cows to increase milk production. According to the Food and Drug Administration — but contrary to the Stonyfield ad — rbST is safe to humans and cows. Milk from cows given rbST contains no more bovine growth hormone than milk from cows not treated with rbST.

Organic dairy producers, who are desperately in need of reasons to get consumers to buy their more expensive products, nevertheless try to scare consumers about conventionally produced milk — even though the Department of Agriculture has stated that “organic” is strictly a marketing term without any health or environmental connotations, and the FDA and state regulators specifically have warned organic dairy producers against scaring consumers about rbST.

Another fearmongering Stonyfield ad reads, “Earth to mom! Yogurts made without the use of antibiotics, hormones and toxic pesticides.”

It seems that Stonyfield would almost have consumers believe that conventional yogurt makers actually add these substances to their products.

Stonyfield coupons feature a cow with a talk bubble that reads “You are what I eat.” Below the cow, the label reads “No Hormones. No Phony Ingredients. No Yucky Stuff.”

Another Stonyfield ad reads, “Because very few recipes call for antibiotics and toxic persistent pesticides.”

Finally, the above-mentioned “Your baby doesn’t want it either” ad states that “pediatricians recommend milk that doesn’t come from cows treated with synthetic bovine growth hormone.”

I’m not sure to which “pediatricians” Stonyfield refers, but both the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association have deemed milk from rbST-treated cows to be safe.

Hirshberg’s Stonyfield, therefore, hardly has a surplus of scientific credibility that it can share with ClimateCounts.

But the credibility gap with ClimateCounts doesn’t end with Hirshberg. The group’s executive vice president is Lisa Witter, who is also chairman of Fenton Communications — a name that should be very familiar to aficionados of the history of health and environmental scare-mongering.

Fenton Communications is the infamous, left-wing public relations group that orchestrated actress Meryl Streep, CBS’ 60 Minutes and the Natural Resources Defense Council to bring about the entirely bogus 1989 scare involving the apple-ripening chemical Alar.

Even assuming it were true that Alar slightly increased cancer risk in laboratory rats — no small assumption given the well-known limitations of laboratory animal studies in determining human cancer risk — a human would have to consume 19,000 quarts of apple juice per day for life to get the same dose of Alar as the rats.

Moreover, the purpose of the scare was fundraising for environmental activists. The head of Fenton subsequently acknowledged that the scare “was designed so that revenue would flow back to the NRDC from the public.”

Fenton also was a major force in the silicone breast implant scare, serving as the PR firm to the trial lawyers in implant litigation.

Fenton once issued a phony press release hyperventilating about the results of a breast implant study that appeared in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet. Five days later, the journal forced a correction from Fenton because the PR firm had made it look as though The Lancet had issued the scary release, rather than the Command Trust, Fenton’s trial lawyer front-group.

As laid out in the August 2000 report entitled “Fear Profiteers” that I helped edit, Fenton Communications has also been a key player in numerous scares, including those involving biotech foods, “toxic” chemicals in breast milk, toys and medical equipment made with PVC plastic, chemicals in the environment alleged to mimic hormones and, of course, rbST.

None of these scares have a scientific leg to stand on and all have been debunked over the course of time.

Whether you believe in manmade global warming or not, you ought to question the bona fides of ClimateCounts given its roots — Stonyfield Farm’s dubious marketing and Fenton Communications’ fear profiteering.