Lobbying Group for Processed Food Industry Teeters on Brink of Extinction — Will Its Science Propaganda Arm Follow Suit?

gma on the brink of extinction

Story at-a-glance -

  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the largest and most powerful lobbying group for the processed food industry, is disintegrating; 50 of its members have now left
  • Companies that have separated from the GMA include Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, Hershey, Cargill, Kraft and DuPont. Join the GMA boycott to finish the job and end the GMA
  • Several of GMA’s leadership have resigned, including its government relations, global strategies and health and nutrition policy executives. GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey has announced she intends to retire later this year, after nearly a decade at the helm
  • Mars Inc. is also severing ties with the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) — the propaganda arm of the GMA that helps create and promote science that supports members’ interests — saying, “We do not want to be involved in advocacy-led studies that so often, and mostly for the right reasons, have been criticized”
  • Nestlé’s left the GMA due to conflicting stances on added sugar labeling, and Mars is now leaving ILSI because it promotes deceptive research on added sugars. Take action and encourage Nestlé to break ties with ILSI

By Dr. Mercola

Changing an industry is a long game; while changes can seem to occur overnight, it's always preceded by years of consistent work and persistent pressure. It's easy to get discouraged and feel your efforts are for naught. So, it's a rare treat to be able to report significant progress, as we now see with the rapid disintegration of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the largest and most powerful lobbying group for the processed food industry.

Food companies are also starting to abandon the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), the propaganda arm of the GMA, which is really like icing on the proverbial cake. 

You and other individuals did this by getting involved and voicing your concerns, again and again. Your actions have brought one of the most powerful industry lobbying groups to the breaking point, and for this you deserve ample recognition. I've often stated that consumers wield enormous power when organized, and this is a perfect example of that. Current events are a powerful reminder that your actions have a marked effect — it may be slow, but over time, persistence does pay.

The GMA Back Story

Four years ago, I dubbed the GMA the "Most Evil Organization on the Planet," since it consists primarily of pesticide producers and junk food manufacturers that have repeatedly violated some of our most basic rights, just to ensure that subsidized, genetically engineered (GE) and chemical-dependent, highly processed junk food remains the status quo. The GMA itself had also proven it would stop at nothing to achieve this end, even if it meant breaking the law — which it did.

During the 2013 ballot campaign to label GMOs in Washington state, the GMA came up with an illegal scheme to hide the identity of members who donated funds to the opposing campaign, thereby shielding them from consumer backlash.1 This was done by creating a "brand defense" account, which paid for the campaign's propaganda without disclosing where the money actually came from.

This illegal move helped them defeat I-522 by a 1 percent margin. The scheme fell apart, however, and the GMA was sued for money laundering and intentional violation of state campaign disclosure laws. In 2016, the GMA was found guilty and ordered to pay an $18 million fine.

The GMA Boycott Has Been a Success

After it became clear that GMA members had paid tens of millions of dollars to defeat the GMO labeling campaign in California in 2012, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) called for a "Traitor Boycott" on all products owned by GMA members,2 including organic and natural brands. The boycott launched in May 2012. Its aim: To send a clear message to the industry that we will no longer tolerate their lies, deception and lack of transparency.

It was this public outcry that sparked the GMA's illegal maneuvering during the following year's GMO labeling campaign in Washington. GMA and its members were now well aware of the fact that paying for lobbying against GMO labeling was a risky proposition. What they didn't count on was getting caught in the money laundering scheme, which only angered consumers even more.

It took a couple of years, but starting in 2014, the GMA exodus began in earnest. Since then, many of the GMA's largest members have left the organization, leaving no doubt that the boycott has been a resounding success. If you've participated in this boycott, I extend my personal thanks. Clearly, none of it could have been done without you.

In the end, it's a numbers game: It's a matter of getting enough people to change how they shop. At a certain point, food companies start to scramble to rectify whatever it is that's causing consumers to abandon their products, and in this case, GMA membership has proven to be too great a liability for many.3 So far, 50 members have left the GMA, including heavy hitters such as:4

Campbell Soup Co.



Hershey Co.

Dean Foods


Mars Inc.


Tyson Foods


The GMA has experienced a sudden internal exodus as well. According to The Russells report,5 its government relations, global strategies and "health and nutrition policy" executives have all resigned and been replaced. GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey has also announced she intends to retire later this year, after nearly a decade at the helm.6,7 As noted by former GMA vice president Jeff Nedelman, the "GMA is the dinosaur just waiting to die."

GMA Science Institute Shunned by Former GMA Member

Food companies have also started abandoning ILSI, the propaganda arm of the GMA that helps create and promote science that supports and protects members' interests. For example, in December 2016, ILSI published a report questioning the science behind nutritional recommendations to limit added sugars.

On February 5, Mars Inc. announced its plan to end its association with ILSI, saying, "We do not want to be involved in advocacy-led studies that so often, and mostly for the right reasons, have been criticized." As reported by Reuters:8

"Mars, a private company in a particularly secretive industry, has become increasingly outspoken in recent years as consumer distrust emerges as a growing concern for Big Food. The company said it wanted to boost transparency amid an increasing need for research around health, sustainability and food safety and security.

Large food makers are struggling with stagnating sales growth of their core products as consumers say they want healthier, simpler ingredients … Mars … broke ranks with the industry in 2016, when it publicly supported nutrition recommendations to limit added sugar consumption. The candy maker also plans to leave … ILSI, by the end of 2018 and to publicize its standards for scientific research on its website …

The company said it would not tie research funding to specific outcomes, among its commitments. It will disclose sponsorship and support studies that can be freely published regardless of results. 'We're living in times when we need scientific leadership examples,' said Chief Science Officer Harold Schmitz. 'When we collaborate, we are going to publish the results, no matter what.'"

Mars Inc. Confirms ILSI's Shady Reputation

Time will tell whether Mars Inc. can live up to its promises, but it's certainly a good start. Hopefully, Mars' departure from ILSI will prompt other companies to follow suit, which just might break some of the hidden power structure between the food industry and the U.S. government. As Russ Greene explains in The Russells report:9

"Most people would be shocked to learn that a junk food and tobacco advocacy group's members [i.e., ILSI] are leading public health organizations. Even experts such as the Atlantic's health reporter, Dr. James Hamblin, M.D., reports on ILSI as if it's just another scientific research organization, not a junk food and tobacco proxy group.

How does ILSI get away with this? It exploits the nonprofit loophole. This loophole, unfortunately, is prevalent in most institutional conflict-of-interest policies. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would never allow its employees to be board members of junk food or tobacco corporations. Yet they have often served as board members of the International Life Sciences Institute …

As long as journalists, doctors, and the public were unaware of [ILSI's] true nature, it could advocate for industry with impunity. But Mars' departure is calling much more attention to ILSI … And more important, in its departure Mars has validated the very message that … healthy food movement organizations have long shared."

Take Action: Encourage Nestlé to Break Ties With ILSI

One of the companies' people are keeping a close eye on now to see if it'll follow suit is Nestlé. It's departure from the GMA was the turning point that turned the exodus from a trickle into a flood. However, in this case it's a bit more complicated, as Nestlé's global head of regulatory and scientific affairs, Peter van Bladeren, Ph.D., is also reigning president of ILSI.10

As noted by Greene, Nestlé left the GMA due to conflicting stances on added sugar labeling, and one of the reasons Mars is now breaking ties with ILSI is because the organization has promoted deceptive research on added sugars. So, what will Nestlé do? How can it say it supports transparency in sugar labeling if it doesn't also support honest and transparent research on sugar?

"Whether Nestlé leaves ILSI depends on how closely Nestlé is following ILSI's travails, and how concerned it is about the public turning against it," Greene writes.11 "Any outcry against ILSI will inevitably hit Nestle hard. And The New York Times has recently exposed Nestlé's role in funding industry-friendly nutrition 'science' in Malaysia, which it did through a local ILSI leader E-Siong Tee, who happens to double as a government health official."

While many companies are trying to clean up their act and provide consumers with the transparency we demand, some changes still appear to be superficial at best. Should Nestlé fail to sever ties with ILSI, it would seem the company's break with GMA over added sugar labeling was more show than substance. So, I join Greene in suggesting you contact Nestlé, and "let them know that the Coca-Cola-fication of science and public health has got to end."

You can reach out to Nestlé on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also reach Nestlé via email and phone. The phone number in the U.S. is 1-800-225-2270 and lines are open 24/7.

Join the GMA Traitor Boycott

Last but not least, if you haven't yet joined the GMA Traitor Boycott, consider doing so now. TheBoycottList.org provides a number of helpful guides and resources to help you identify companies selling unlabeled GMO foods. We know the boycott is working — now all we have to do is finish the job.

While the departure of 50 members has the association reeling, it still has hundreds of members left, and until the GMA folds, the boycott is still active. The easiest way to participate is to download the Buycott app for your smartphone, and use it whenever you're shopping. Other helpful tips include:

  • Avoid buying any nonorganic processed foods. If buying processed food labeled organic, don't buy any of the traitor brands
  • Cook at home with whole, organic ingredients. When eating out, patronize grocers, co-ops and community restaurants that serve organic, locally sourced produce that is cooked from scratch
  • Buy only heirloom, open-pollinated and/or organic seeds for your garden
  • Boycott all lawn and garden chemicals unless they are "OMRI Approved," which means they're allowed in organic production
  • Read all labels on everything you buy, including pet food, household products and lawn and garden products. If a GMA member company owns the brand or product, don't buy it
Post your comment