Campaign to vilify ethanol revealed

By Kris Bevill | May 09, 2008
Web exclusive posted May 16, 2008 at 1:19 a.m. CST

The "food-versus-fuel" debate being waged in the United States has been nothing more than a cleverly planned public relations campaign. A request for a public relations proposal put forth by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the media campaign response by Glover Park Group prove that there has been a concerted effort to attack the ethanol industry. Both documents were recently made public by long-time ethanol advocate Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The GMA represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer household goods companies in the United States. The association released a request for a public relations campaign to combat the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The request states: "GMA has concluded that rising food prices, global shortages of basic commodities, and new studies on the environmental impacts of corn ethanol create a window to change perceptions about the benefits of bio-fuels and the mandate and, ultimately, to build a groundswell in support of freezing or reversing some provisions of the 2007 Energy Bill…"

The response to the GMA's request by the Glover Park Group lays out a strategy to undermine the ethanol industry: "First, we must obliterate whatever intellectual justification might still exist for corn-based ethanol among policy elites."

The proposal continues by pointing out the need to convince members of Congress that there is a political price to pay for continuing to support ethanol. "Congress and state lawmakers must be made to feel the political risk on this issue. We need to get the phones ringing from real voters; making this solely a DC-based campaign won't do it. Trying to create an "astroturf" (fake grassroots) campaign won't do it, either. We need a real inside/outside game. We are confident this can be accomplished…we have to be first to the punch every time."

The Glover Park Group charged the GMA a $50,000/month retainer fee for six months to run the campaign.

Brian Jennings, executive vice president for the American Coalition for Ethanol, said this information is "not surprising" and reinforces what the ACE has suspected for some time. "It's as close to a smoking gun as we've been able to discover - that groups with a narrow special interest are waging a p.r. attack campaign against ethanol," he said.

Scott Openshaw, communications director for GMA, would not comment directly on the details of the campaign, but said they will continue to call on Congress to revisit the "food-to-fuel" policy. He admitted a number of factors are contributing to rising food costs, including oil and gas prices, growing world demand and weather, but that biofuel mandates are the only thing Congress can control. "The most important point here is that food-to-fuel mandates that were enacted by Congress are playing a significant part in sparking inflation in corn, which is trickling down through meat, milk, eggs and lots of other staples," he said.

Jennings said he finds it ironic that manufacturers who are selling less food for more money are blaming biofuels. The argument that Congress only has control over biofuel mandates is an "incredibly interesting spin" put forth by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, he said. Jennings countered that oil is at the root of our problems and Congress can certainly do something about oil. He added that the now-public GMA request for public relations doesn't mention other factors contributing to rising food costs and that it was clear GMA's tactics "are about making ethanol a demon, making ethanol a villain."

Sen. Grassley released a prepared floor statement Thursday afternoon in response to the GMA campaign. "Ethanol and alternative fuels are being made the scapegoat for a whole variety of problems," Grassley said in his statement. "Never before have the virtuous benefits of ethanol and renewable fuels been so questioned and criticized. The problem is none of these criticisms are based on sound science, economics or even common sense." He added that a lot of intelligent people have been misled by the campaign and that, "It's time we clear the air, look at the facts, and recognize once again that everything about our domestic renewable fuels industry is good, good, good."

The Grocery Manufacturer's request for a proposal can be viewed in its entirety at

The Glover Park Group's media campaign proposal can be viewed in its entirety at