Thompson: Science strikes back

Somehow, I managed to avoid much exposure to the self-proclaimed ‘Food Babe" until she made waves last fall by calling out one of my favorite seasonal treats, Starbucks" Pumpkin Spice Latte. The Food Babe (aka Vani Hari) is certainly no friend to conventional food and agriculture, using her blend of scare tactics and sensationalist headlines to engage her "army" on topics like GMOs, food additives and ‘factory farming." While her methods were sometimes questioned, Hari was frequently mentioned in the media as an instigator of change, being credited for announcements such as Subway's change in ingredients in their bread.

The New York Times ran a story in early March that started to change the conversation.

When I saw the story's headline ("Taking on the food industry, one blog post at a time"), I steeled myself for a frustrating read. Instead, I found myself internally cheering as the article pointed out Hari's lack of formal education or training in food safety or nutrition, how she's profiting from fear-mongering through website hits and affiliate links and her tendency to silence skeptics by making blog posts that are questioned disappear.

And the hits just kept coming. News and culture website Gawker published a piece on April 6 that didn't mince words, taking the questions raised about Hari's qualifications and motives a step further by proclaiming her to be, in more "PG" terms, full of it. (Pardon the language, but it's just too spot-on not to share). The article caught fire, earning its author (chemist Y'vette d'Entremont, now with the moniker ‘Sci Babe") tens of thousands of new Facebook followers in mere hours.

Since d'Entremont's explosive Gawker comments, news media and online outlets from around the world have run stories about the Food Babe backlash. Fellow fear profiteer Dr. Oz is also currently feeling the heat, with 10 doctors submitting a letter calling for Oz to resign from his faculty position at Columbia University, due to his "promotion of products and claims that are not supported by medical evidence."

As Dr. Saurabh Jha puts it, "Dr. Oz is popular because the truth is boring."

The same can certainly be said for the claims about animal agriculture voiced by activist groups. The truth – that farmers make animal care their top priority by dedicating every day to making sure their animals" medical, nutritional and safety needs are met – is not nearly as infuriating or inflammatory as an upsetting claim of animal mistreatment. Therefore, it isn't as likely to get social media likes, website hits or donations.

The Food Babe, Dr. Oz and animal rights activists have all been reading the same fear-mongering, emotional appeal, tactics playbook. Thank goodness science advocates have ripped out a page and started to fight back. Perhaps we in animal agriculture can be the next to do the same.

Editor's Note: Hannah Thompson is Director of Communications for the Animal Ag Alliance. The comments expressed here are strictly her own. For more information on the Alliance, click here