Losing on science, BPA lobbyists planning to play fear card.
Chronicles of industry strategies to fight public health science that challenge the safety of a chemical or substance usual are done by historians, such as the superb account of the lead and vinyl industries by David Rosner and Gerrald Markowitz in "Deceit and Denial." Stanton Glantz has done similar and pioneering work on the tobacco industry. They are usually based upon documents never intended to see the light of day, that have been pried out of the dark by disclosure in court proceedings decades after they were written and the plans were implemented.
When Bill Moyers aired "Trade Secrets", also about the vinyl industry, he interviewed representatives of the American Chemistry Council, which had only recently changed its name from the "Chemical Manufacturers Association." The industry reps assured Moyers that even if the material he was presenting had been true, industry didn't do things like this anymore.
That's not what two investigative stories just published at the end of May 2009 now document.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Washington Post, bisphenol A lobbyists met on 28 May, 2009, in the exclusive Washington DC Cosmos Club to develop a PR strategy to counteract the fact they are losing the scientific argument about BPA safety.
Both stories were written based on minutes of the meeting reporters obtained within a few days of the meeting. Kathleen M. Roberts (a lobbyist with the consulting firm Bergeson and Cambell) and organizer of the meeting confirmed the accuracy of the minutes for Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post. And John Rost, chairmain of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, confirmed for Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the meeting took place and verified the points in the summary.
The full text of the minutes is pasted in below, downloaded from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. They are even more cynical than what the two newspaper stories convey.
According to both newspaper stories, the lobbyists and food-packaging executives are frustrated by the fact that the media discounts studies paid for by the chemical makers (also see this).
According to the Post: "Industry representatives weighed a range of ideas, including "using fear tactics [e.g. "Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?" as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging," the notes said."
According to the Journal Sentinel, "The group agreed to pay $500,000 to survey the American public about BPA safety." [editor's note: BPA gross revenue is estimated to be $800,000 per hour].
The Journal Sentinel also reported that attendees included Coca-Cola Co., Alcoa Inc., Crown Holdings Inc., the North American Metal Packaging Alliance Inc., the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Del Monte Corp. and the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for the chemical makers.
As reported by both newspapers, the meeting notes indicated that "finding a young pregnant mother would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA" would be the holy grail spokesperson.
The Post cited a passage in which the minutes described that the group is focusing on "legislative battles and befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process."
Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group was quoted by both newspapers. In the Post he said: "The BPA industry has adopted the tactics of tobacco and asbestos -- when they had no science to make their case, they resorted to scare tactics and public relations," he said. "It seems pretty desperate."
North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc.
May 28, 2009, 10:00 a.m. - 3:10 p.m. EDT
RE: BPA Joint Trade Association Meeting on Communications Strategy
Meeting Goal: Develop potential communication/media strategies around BPA
Discussion Topics: Consideration of available web-based communication options, including targeted geographies, as well as mainstream media response
Attending Companies: Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown, North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), American Chemistry Council, Del Monte
Summary: Attendees discussed the need to be more proactive in communications to media, legislators, and the general public to protect industries that use BPA, prolong the life of BPA, put risks from chemicals in proper prospective, and transcend the media and the blogosphere. Attendees believe a balance of legislative and grassroots outreach (to young mothers ages 21-35 and students) is imperative to the stability of their industry; however, the association members continue to struggle to initiate research and develop a clear-cut plan to defend their industry. The committee will spend approximately $500,000 to develop a survey on consumer BPA perceptions and messaging and eventually content and outreach materials. Overall, the committee seemed disorganized, and its members frustrated. Lack of direction from the committee and these associations could continue to allow other associations and environmental groups to push BPA out.
Other Points: Attendees suggested using fear tactics (e.g. “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?”) as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging. Attendees noted, in the past, the different associations have had a reactive strategy with the media, with very limited proactive outreach in reaching out to journalists. The committee agrees they need to promote new, relevant content to get the BPA perspective into the media mix. The committee believes industry studies are tainted from the public perspective.
The committee doubts social media outlets, such as Facebook or Twitter, will work for positive BPA outreach. The committee wants to focus on quality instead of quantity in disseminating messages (e.g. a young kid or pregnant mother providing a positive quote about BPA, a testimonial from an outside expert, providing positive video, advice from third party experts, and relevant messaging on the GMA website). Members noted traditional media outreach has become too expensive (they have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars) and the media is starting to ignore their side. The committee doubts obtaining a scientific spokesperson is attainable. Their “holy grail” spokesperson would be a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.”
Eventually, the committee concluded before deciding on the tactics to spread their messages, they need to develop the messages. The committees plan to fund a joint survey and message testing—what new messages they need to sell—before implementing a website and creating materials. Another task group will be implemented to finalize how to develop messages and aggressively use electronic media to deliver those messages.
Members noted the industry needs research on how perceptions of BPA are translating into consumer behavior—Is it translating into most moms not buying canned products or just a minority of moms? They hope to form messages relevant to how people live their lives—What does not having BPA mean to your daily lifestyle? Focusing on the impact of BPA bans on minorities (Hispanic and African American) and poor is also important. The members want to put the danger of BPA into perspective.
Legislatively, the committee is focusing on Connecticut and California. Committee members are meeting with as many representatives on the Health Committee as possible. The members are focusing on more legislative battles and befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process. They believe a grassroots and legislative approach is favorable because the legislators worry about how the moms will react. If the Connecticut bill goes through, the committee believes it will be a good opportunity to talk about the negative impact that ban will have on businesses and employment—How will it affect the union workers? The committee wants to put a proposal together for the right way to deal with legislative issues in each state.
The committee discussed Prop 65 in California—requiring the Governor to publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The committee will form a coalition to write a submission about the benefits of using BPA by the deadline for submissions on June 30, 2009. Members will also build up their contact base in Sacramento. The committee does not want to win at the legislative level and then not have anyone to buy the product.
The committee questioned whether or not trade associations should challenge what is being said about BPA. Other trade associations for plastics have begun writing letters in response to “lies” being told about BPA. The committee proposed to be involved in the dialog and comment electronically and directly back to reporters. Attendees noted it does not matter what the next material is, there will be issues with it, and the committee wants to work to make people feel more comfortable with BPA and “BPA2” or whatever chemical comes next.
The committee suggested dividing the costs of the work and research equally by the members. The members are guesstimating it will cost at least $200,000 for the message testing and the survey and $500,000 for the entire project. The committee is also looking for new members to help with costs and outreach.