Has the Tide Finally Turned on the Silence of Science? The Stonyfield Story.

It has definitely been awhile since I churned out a blog post. I really only write when I stumble across a subject that is motivating enough, and boy did I find one this weekend.

So here is a bit of background. What has been happening more and more frequently is that marketing companies seem to think a great way to sell a food product is to make consumers afraid of the competition. Advertising media is produced containing information that sometimes is simply misleading and sometimes, blatant lies. This is called fear marketing and it has been on the rise in recent years.

Steven Novella

Anyone that knows me is well aware of my hatred for this type of marketing and my personal quest to be a voice against it because demonizing safe and beneficial technology hurts everyone. 4 years ago when I started blogging, there would be a very small number of farmers, ag industry people, educated consumers and scientists trying to stand up to these untruths by explaining what actually happens on a farm or in the lab, but our voices were always drown out by others accusing us of being “shills” or Monsanto employees. Just recently it seems that the tide may be changing.

Stonyfield, an organic yogurt company, decided to make a video about genetic engineering featuring children using words like ‘monstrous’ and talking about fish genes in a GMO tomato (there are no genetically engineered tomatoes on the market). It was in poor taste, as is much of the advertising in this space. The surprising thing this time was that consumers decided to tell the company just what they really thought. People came out in droves to demand transparency and integrity with the hope that others would see the comments and begin to ask questions and seek out credible information.

Stonyfield made a weak attempt at an explanation for the video, which (not surprisingly) was filled with half-truths and falsehoods. Amazingly once again the responses were well informed and critical of the effort to ignore science. I jumped in and left a comment amongst the 1,100 others.

So what does a company like Stonyfield do when faced with valid customer concerns? Call the very REAL people trolls or fake profiles, delete the comments, and block the commenters of course. As is often the case, those creating fear in the customer base tend to view science and educated voices as the enemy. (Update; they have now deleted one entire post in an attempt to pretend this whole debacle never happened.)

The backlash to Stonyfield’s social media strategy has been swift. A group was started boasting the name Banned By Stonyfield with 700 members and growing. Together we drafted a letter addressing the issue which was published in Ag Daily (you can read it here).

Numerous blog posts have been written by farmers, scientists, and science communicators, all expressing condemnation and disappointment in the way Stonyfield handled this situation. I will update as I stumble across more.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest : https://cspinet.org/news/stonyfield-slammed-using-children-scare-consumers-about-%E2%80%9Cmonstrous%E2%80%9D-technology-20180126

Kevin Folta : http://kfolta.blogspot.ca/2018/01/stonyfield-actively-censors-science.html?m=1

The Mad Virologist: https://themadvirologist.blogspot.ca/2018/01/stonyfield-responds-to-consumers-by.html?m=1

The Farmers Daughter : http://www.thefarmersdaughterusa.com/2018/01/stonyfield-organic-gets-taken-task-anti-gmo-propaganda-video.html

Steven Novella : https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/shameless-organic-fearmongering/#more-10547

Eclectic Science : https://medium.com/@EclecticScience/stonyfield-stories-a67419f3063e

The Farm Babe for Ag Daily: https://www.agdaily.com/insights/farm-babe-marketing-lies-send-stonyfields-credibility-into-tailspin/

American Council on Science and Health: https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/01/29/when-will-organic-movement-turn-sexist-gary-hirshberg-and-his-stonyfield-yogurt-12477

Company executives and marketing teams best take note, times are changing. Consumers want facts and science, not fear or feel good buzzwords. We make purchasing decisions based on trust and when you avoid ethical marketing and try to play on our fears that trust is broken.

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