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Press release October 1, 2009 Food & Wine

The food sector is on the receiving end of more activist and NGO campaigning than any other economic sector globally except energy, more even than traditionally “dirty” industries such as chemicals and mining.

The food sector is on the receiving end of more activist and NGO campaigning than any other economic sector globally except energy, and getting more attention even than traditionally “dirty” industries such as chemicals and mining, according to a new report on global NGO campaigning trends published today. 

The report, Where are NGOs concentrating their campaigning resources?, published by SIGWatch, which specializes in tracking NGOs and their issues, said environmental impacts of food production are also getting more activist attention than health issues. Globally the hottest issue, measured by total activist campaigning activity over the last nine months, is GM food, followed by cattle ranching encroaching on rainforest (rising fast) and palm oil and rainforests. Competing with these environmental issues are health issues such as pesticide residues on food (fourth most active issue overall), saturated fat, added sugar, obesity and food marketing to children. The impact of CAFOs (large-scale livestock units) are also high on the activists’ agenda. 

“Environmental NGOs have picked up food and production issues in a big way in the last few years, and since these groups are numerous and well-funded, they have come to dominate the overall amount of campaigning that hits the food industry,” said Robert Blood, author of the report and director of SIGWatch. 

“Long gone are the days when food firms were only criticised for the healthiness of their products. Now NGOs expect them to take responsibility for how every separate ingredient is grown, handled and processed along every step in the supply chain – and they are quick to point fingers if they discover anything objectionable.” 

SIGWatch said its data shows the priorities of food campaigners diverge markedly between markets. GM food remains one of the most active food issues in North America and Asia, due to continuing controversies over rBGH in milk  and GM contamination scares, but in Europe, this once extremely hot issue has fallen to sixth place, the same level as in South America. By contrast, pesticide residues remain a strong concern for European NGOs and some Asia-Pacific ones too, but hardly figure in North and South America. NGOs promote fair trade and organic farming strongly in Europe but much less so in North America, while North American NGOs give child obesity and obesity in general more attention than their European counterparts (saturated fat excepted). North American NGOs are also more concerned about the health and environmental impact of large scale livestock units (CAFOs) though there are signs this attitude is beginning to drift across the Atlantic. 

Another issue that is more active in North America than in Europe is the environmental impact of bottled water. It also figures in Asia-Pacific (Australia especially) but not at all in South America. 

SIGWatch identified a number of “issues to watch” – concerns that some NGOs have expressed but as yet have not turned into significant campaigns. These include uranium in bottled water (from Germany), welfare concerns over the fashion for very large eggs (from the UK), and from the U.S., contamination of fresh produce with flame retardants from plastic hydro-cooling pallets. 

Readers can download a free copy of the SIGWatch report from

Note for editors

You can download this report from

SIGWatch specializes in global NGO tracking and issues analysis. Headquartered in Freiburg, Germany with partners in the U.S. and Canada, SIGWatch has over 50 clients, nearly all multinational companies, major PR consultancies and high profile industry associations. SIGWatch services are also used by several business and management schools for teaching and academic research. 

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Media contact: Robert Blood on [email protected] or +49 176 6257 1577 

Contact Robert Blood for a live remote online demonstration of SIGWatch. 



Food & Wine