Adam Eidinger is an activist, and a good one at that. Through Mintwood, the media consultancy he founded in 2000, and public affairs for his primary client, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Eidinger has played a foundational role in many of the pressworthy moments surrounding the consumer push for GMO labeling. Eidinger is based in Washington, DC, but NBJ corresponded with him mostly via Twitter.
nbj: How do you view the current battlefield over GMO labeling?
Adam Eidinger: We are still in the early phases of a fight that was barely on the public’s radar in 2011. Today it’s an issue that has touched millions of Americans due to initiatives, protests and media coverage, but also because many brands have decided to distinguish themselves as non-GMO in the marketplace. I believe that FDA will soon act and require food labels to disclose whether there are genetically engineered ingredients in the foods for sale at grocery stores.
The silver lining behind the losses in California and Washington is that people are starting to learn more about where their food is coming from and how it was produced. They’re demanding more transparency. The ballot initiatives have only galvanized the public’s support for honest food labels. The processed food industry is losing its public relations battle because they’re spending millions to keep Americans in the dark. Consumers now understand that if GMOs were 100% safe, then there should be nothing to hide and companies should be proud that they use GE ingredients.
There is also greater awareness about income inequality in America, yet Monsanto and other purveyors of GM crops have people at the top making tens of millions of dollars per year. When they talk about feeding the world, it’s really about feeding their profits. There are many issues with food today, not just labeling, but all of them are tied to larger social issues and the values of the people eating the food.
nbj: Can you describe the master strategy? Does more transparency equal change?
Eidinger: Yes. In the case of food, I think GMO labeling awakens you to the type of agriculture behind the food going into your mouth. You are what you eat, so the knowledge that weed killer—including chemicals similar to Agent Orange—could be in your food if it says x, y or z on the label means you might avoid it or not feed it to your kids.
I know I can avoid any food with artificial flavors or colors because it’s labeled. Some people apparently like food coloring, and it’s your right to eat it and make it in America to this day. Just don’t hide the fact that the ingredient is artificial on the label. GMO technology is like that. It’s not a natural food process, yet it’s hidden, oftentimes under the laughable banner of “all natural.” The public wants to know what they are buying, especially if it’s not natural, such as plants that were designed in a lab. I told Monsanto in our meeting last October that if GMO foods are so great, people will keep buying them, but they first must be transparent with their customers all the way down the supply chain.
American food labels are not very transparent and through increased disclosure consumers would benefit. So, yes, increased transparency does equal change. Disclosing the country of origin, the caloric content, and even the U.S. patent numbers that were used to create the ingredients—all of these are forms of increased transparency.
nbj: What are the next steps on the GMO front?
Eidinger: We had big protests at the Monsanto shareholder meeting on January 28 and at the FDA on January 10. In the spring, there will be large protests in May. We will be keeping an eye on a sneak attack by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Congress pushing voluntary labels that do not provide consumers with meaningful information.
nbj: What is the role of the stunt in this day and age?
Eidinger: We only win when there is mass agreement and awareness of the issue, and politicians held accountable to do something to fix the issue. Protests need to be strategic, not vanity projects. They need to be provocative, evoke outrage, and even create confusion to gain attention. Stunts have to be peaceful or they will backfire. Making lifelong friendships through a demonstration is one of the best benefits from modern-day activism. A successful action is the sort of thing that converts armchair activists into missionaries for any movement. I learned this from David Bronner when he suggested I organize a walk from New York City to the White House in the fall of 2011 for GMO labeling. We walked 317 miles in 16 days for the Right2Know March and today, those 50 or so marchers are all over the world leading the fight to label GMO foods in their own communities. It starts with a stunt and ends with politicians writing new laws, if you’re lucky.
nbj: How do you get a specific message heard in DC?
Eidinger: The only way for our message to rise above so many other issues is to be firm and persistent. The day after President Obama signed the “Monsanto Protection Act,” we were outside the White House protesting and that evening the Daily Show with Jon Stewart lampooned Congress for an obvious handout to the biotechnology industry. The ire from this act resulted in the two Marches Against Monsanto, which took place last year in May and October and featured an estimated three million people around the world taking to the streets demanding change. Thousands of new friendships were forged and the movement has grown to the point where we have CNN and MSNBC covering the protests. Right now, there are two bills in the 113th Congress dealing with GMO labeling and they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the passionate activism of many concerned Americans.
nbj: How do you vet a client? What makes a good cause for you?
Eidinger: I’m not taking new clients because I have the best client ever and I dedicate myself to projects that match their specific needs. Essentially there has to be synergy with all the existing projects I work on. A good cause is usually one that’s underrepresented in the media and the public’s mind that, if addressed, somehow advances more freedom and a better quality of life for everyone.
nbj: What is the role of civil disobedience in our society?
Eidinger: To speak truth to power. Next.
nbj: How has this role changed in the modern era of fragmented media and short attention spans?
Eidinger: I think civil disobedience is happening less, but then something like Occupy Wall Street happens and it’s so amazingly unsustainable, yet goes on for months. I think it’s easier than ever to stage a protest and broadcast the demonstration to the whole planet. So make the most of it. With the help of professional stand-up comic Elizabeth Croydon, I’m going to be hosting a comedy telethon for legalizing marijuana in the District of Columbia from my living room on March 15. Zero cost, besides internet connection! We have more tools now than ever before, but it still boils down to personal relationships. Trust, friendship and camaraderie are still needed to have a successful protest.
nbj: Will we see another Occupy soon?
Eidinger: I hope so. But we must not forget that Occupy is a tactic first, and a branded form of activism second. To stop business as usual, it has been the tactic of activists to occupy a space in order to have their message heard. The branded Occupy was an amalgamation of different issues that was very successful in showing that inequality is alive in America and people need to come together to fix the issue.
I know the first Occupiers very well, the ones who started the camp out in Zuccotti Park in New York. If they say we’re doing it again, I’m in! In the meantime, I’m focused on organizing with activists at Occupy-Monsanto.com.
nbj: Please describe a few of your proudest professional moments.
Eidinger: I’ve been involved with so many issues over the years, but here are a couple that I am the most proud of:
- Knowing that our protests forever opened the World Bank meetings to the public.
- Forcing the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Capitol Police to rewrite guidelines for police conduct during demonstrations in Washington, DC.
- Cover of the Washington Post Magazine, even if the article is a hit job.
- Getting Monsanto to have for the first time an audio broadcast for anyone to hear.
- Using money from a lawsuit against the DC government to organize a 100,000-person anti-war concert on the National Mall with some of my favorite bands.
nbj: Who was your hero when you were a kid? Who’s your hero now?
Eidinger: Superman and Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steeler. My hero today is Ai Weiwei.
nbj: Have you ever read an entire Bronner label in one sitting?
Eidinger: I’ve read it and lived it. On the pump soap label, which is written by Dr. Bronner’s grandsons David and Michael, it talks about what our generation is doing to implement his “All-One” ideals. This includes organic farming and fair trade, which is about “sharing the profits with the workers and the earth from which you made them.” Dr. Bronner calls this “Constructive Capitalism,” and I’m all about that. I believe that CEOs should think about capping their pay and using the extra money to lift up those at the bottom of their companies.