In recent days, Stonyfield Organic has purged thousands of Facebook comments related to a controversial video that uses children to promote an aggressively anti-GMO message. The company called the authors “trolls,” but the reality is that they were moms, dads, scientists, farmers, educators, and more — all of whom have been banned from the company’s Facebook page for posting or liking comments that affirmed the safety of genetically engineered crops or that questioned the ethics of Stonyfield’s marketing tactics.
The backlash against Stonyfield’s video, and the subsequent deletion of so many comments, have helped to shape this into what some are calling one of the biggest public relations disasters to hit an agricultural company in recent years.
Most of the deleted comments were respectful, inquisitive, and insightful, making their removal all the more vexing to onlookers. People who posted were frequently urged to gather screenshots of their comments before Stonyfield’s social media team got to them. The response to the video was so intense that Stonyfield followed up with a post to explain its position — incorporating questionable links to the activist Environmental Working Group and Just Label It organization, of which Stonyfield’s former CEO was a founding partner. An extensive series of screenshots shows many of the comments that were made on a followup post by Stonyfield.
In the wake of this nightmare for the Lactalis-owned brand, a social media group known as Banned By Stonyfield has emerged, where the hundreds of people who were banned from the company’s Facebook page — including some of agriculture’s most well-known communicators — have come together. On Sunday afternoon, the group released an open letter to Stonyfield, which is available here:
Dear Gary Hirshberg and the Stonyfield Executive Team:
We are real people, with real names, real jobs and real concerns. We are the more than 400 social media users — scientists, farmers, educators, students, mothers and fathers — who you tried to silence when we responded to your recent marketing video. You have deleted thousands of comments, and your chairman and former CEO has called us “trolls” with “fake accounts.”
Your decision to aggressively curate those comments and the way you have portrayed us are wrong.
We are the individuals who understand the value of genetic engineering in agriculture and the importance of facts in this conversation. When people speak up for science, and speak against lies, unity happens by default. There was no planned or coordinated effort to respond to your ad. We have genuine concerns about the way you’re marketing your products, about the lies you’re telling to increase your bottom line and about the intentional removal of facts from the conversation.
Instead of focusing on the merits of your yogurt, you chose to exploit parents’ concerns about the safety of the food they give to their families. You used children as props to spread your message. We question your ethics and deride your efforts to disparage and divide large segments of the agricultural community.
There is but one part of your ad that we agree with: “It’s better if we get informed.”
That’s what we were trying to do. We contributed positively and respectfully to the discussion and cited peer-reviewed science to stimulate the conversation — a conversation you said you welcomed. We were disappointed that Stonyfield did not welcome that conversation. Instead, Stonyfield, a multimillion dollar company, initiated a campaign to purposefully restrict consumers’ access to scientific information about their food. Comments from a wide variety of scientists, farmers and agricultural communicators were deleted from view, and those authors were banned. It is disappointing when the opportunity to speak up is blunted, and when the social aspect of social media is rejected.
We hope others will see this open letter and become motivated to begin asking questions, to seek out accurate scientific information from the very sources Stonyfield worked to remove. We also hope to embolden others who call out misleading and fear-based marketing messages.
This kind of marketing hurts us all. Fear-based food messages are negatively impacting the buying and eating habits of consumers, especially among the poorest demographics. It demonizes safe and beneficial technology — technology that allows farmers to grow more food on less land, using fewer resources and reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector. Marketing messages like yours work to take choices away from farmers and make consumers feel like they don’t have safe choices at the grocery stores.
We choose not to be silenced. We choose facts over fear. And we’ll work hard to have this conversation about science and food with or without you. We encourage you to choose to be a part of it in the future.
Banned By Stonyfield
To further understand the recent events with Stonyfield, please see these articles:
- Kevin Folta, about how so many people rally around scientific literacy
- Kavin Senepathy’s piece for Forbes.com and the “trolls” who got banned
- Amanda Zaluckyj’s blog post on The Farmer’s Daughter USA about the backlash against Stonyfield
- The article on the Center for Science in the Public Interest about the use of “monstrous” technology
Moving Agriculture Forward
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