Isn’t it interesting that the people who brought you the thoroughly debunked Alar scare in 1989 are the same ones who are now attacking ABC reporter John Stossel for his report on organic food? The controversy surrounding Stossel centers on his statement that pesticide residue tests on produce were performed, though they really weren’t. The New York Times’ John Tierney points out that tests or no tests, the focus of Stossel’s report “reflected conventional wisdom among scientists: organic food has no nutritional advantages and poses a greater risk of bacterial contamination because it is grown in manure.”

The organic pushers from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) claim, “Stossel lied and threatened an entire industry by disseminating false and damaging information.” The group has been calling for Stossel’s head and getting a lot of press for the organic industry in the process. What is EWG and what connection does it have to the people who brought you Alar?

The attack on Stossel certainly appears to be coming from PR mastermind David Fenton of Fenton Communications, famous for introducing us to Alar during a 60 Minutes interview. In a Washington Times interview after the Alar scandal was discredited, Fenton said: “We designed [the Alar Campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council [Fenton client] from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the ‘Donahue Show.’ And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”

In a letter to his clients, Fenton added: “A modest investment repaid itself many-fold in tremendous media exposure and substantial, immediate revenue.” Fenton said as a result of the Alar campaign, “Lines started forming in health food stores. The sales of organic produce soared. All of which we were very happy about.”

The links to another Fenton attempt to boost organic sales couldn’t be clearer:

EWG is a project of Tides Foundation/Tides Center.
Arlie Schardt is Project Director for The Tides Center and also happens to be the head of Fenton Communications’ Environmental Media Services (EMS and Fenton are housed in the same office!).
The Tides Center earmarked over $975,700 for EMS in 1999 and more than $400,000 for EWG in 1998.
Fenton Communications did $169,920 of business for Tides in 1997.