For Lead Testing, Corporate Front-Group is in the Bag

CEH recently made news with our findings of high levels of lead in Disney reusable plastic bags sold at Safeway stores. Our concern is that the lead-tainted, children’s-brand bags violate California and federal lead safety standards.

Coincidentally, following our findings a group calling itself the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) announced it found lead in some reusable bags. The lead levels that CEH found in the Disney bags were more than seven times higher than the highest level found in CCF’s testing, but that didn’t stop CCF from blaming reusable bags for “bringing lead back into our lives.” CCF goes on to complain that their tests show that policies to ban throw-away, single-use plastic shopping bags – policies that are being considered by more and more local and state governments – are misguided (because for some people there’s never enough plastic trash in the world).

But there is no consumer movement against movements to ban single-use bags. In fact, CCF does not represent consumers – it’s a front group (see our previous post on corporate fronts) run by Berman and Company, a public relations firm solely owned by Rich Berman that has long represented some of the least responsible corporations on the planet, including tobacco companies, alcohol makers, fast food chains and other industries. Other Berman-run front groups promote the safety of mercury-tainted fish, attack the Humane Society’s campaign for farm animal welfare, and fights proposals by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to restrict underage drinking.

Here’s how Berman’s (and other) front-groups work: a dirty company or industry is under threat, usually by potential regulation (like the plastics industry, which is threatened by proposed single-use bag bans) or sometimes just by a bad public image. But they know if they come out with a strong public campaign, their message will be severely hampered since they have a direct financial interest in the outcome. To avoid this problem, they hire hacks like Berman to create phony organizations like CCF. These front groups spend money on, you guessed it, high-priced public relations campaigns (witness CCF, which in 2008 funneled 90% of its funding back to Berman’s pr company). This makes it look like their major media campaign is coming from an independent voice in the debate. Since Berman’s groups can easily hide their backing, and since the media often don’t look behind the veil, shameless hacks like Berman get away with it, confusing the issues and manipulating public opinion in industry’s favor- while industry sits on the sidelines pretending that they had nothing to do with the phony campaign.

In the case of plastic bag bans, the plastics and chemical industries are threatened, so they developed dubious public relations efforts to confuse the public. The logic of their campaign is flawed – they say that since plastic reusables are not safe, we should stick with single-use plastics – while in fact plastic is the problem. But they don’t care about logic, they simply hope to spread confusion that will undermine positive changes.

Originally called the “Guest Choice Network,” CCF was founded with tobacco-industry money, and later shifted its focus with primary funding from the food and beverage industry. Commenting on CCF’s food industry fronting, Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston said, “…nobody in academia takes their arguments seriously. They stand for food industry freedom, not Consumer Freedom.”

Scientists aren’t the only critics of Berman’s efforts. Closer to home, Berman’s son, musician David Berman recently came out against his father. In an online post, David wrote,

My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molestor. An exploiter. A scoundrel. A world historical mother******* son of a bitch. (sorry grandma)…. Though vicious he is a doltish thinker, and his spurious editorials rely on doublethink and always with the Lashon Hara [a Hebrew term for mean-spirited gossip].

CEH supports proposals to ban plastic, single-use bags, which create massive environmental problems and can easily be replaced with safe reusable bags. Don’t be fooled by phony front groups who are in the bag with industry; the best bet for safe shopping is a cloth, reusable bag.