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Big Food’s Poisonous Propaganda

Many industries have marketed dangerous products to unsuspecting consumers, but no industry has provided more disinformation than the processed food industry. And no ingredient has fueled more morbidity, mortality, and economic havoc than sugar.

SAN FRANCISCO – Every advertising executive knows the difference between marketing and propaganda. One uses facts to espouse a point of view, while the other relies on falsehoods and deceit. But if the difference is truth, what is the commonality? For scientists, it is dopamine. And for the processed food industry, that fact has been worth trillions of dollars.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of the brain’s reward center, and it is activated by stimuli like cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol. But it is also triggered by information. For example, brain scans show that when people hear a statement that they believe is true – the veracity is irrelevant – they get a dopamine hit. Propagandists have taken advantage of this quirk in our brain physiology for centuries, and today, this neuroscientific flaw can be individually targeted to weaponize populist politics.

But the biggest opportunists are businesses. Several sectors have propagandized their products to the public, systematically suppressing concerns about real harms; the petroleum, tobacco, and opioid industries immediately come to mind. But no industry has provided more party-line disinformation over the years – and contributed to more morbidity, mortality, public cost, and economic havoc – than the processed food industry.

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