The Rainforest Alliance logo on food products has been causing strong emotions among conspiracy theorists for a long time. The organization has been linked to, among others, Bill Gates and accused of spraying their products with atrazine. This substance is said to be toxic and turn male frogs into females. There are also many other hypotheses about the dangers associated with the characteristic frog logo. They all have one thing in common – they are either manipulated or entirely false.
Intense online discussions around the characteristic frog logo have been going on for several months. There is a lot of misinformation on social media. Repeated narratives evoke emotional reactions, but they are based on false premises. Below you can see the comments to the question about the frog logo on the Twitter feed:
Before we proceed to verify individual information about the Rainforest Alliance, it is worth explaining what this organization actually is. We will also look at what the frog logo actually means.
What is the Rainforest Alliance?
It is an international non-profit organization whose goal is to orchestrate solutions to support the creation of sustainable agriculture and breeding. It focuses primarily on protecting the natural environment, monitoring the rights of local farming communities, and promoting solutions to reduce the effects of climate change. It cooperates with various companies, governments, and farmers.
The organization’s distinctive logo depicts the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas), a species of frog found in tropical forests with characteristic red eyes. According to the Rainforest Alliance, this mark guarantees that a given product has been produced in a sustainable way; in the process of breeding and growing ingredients, care was taken to ensure sustainable forest management, reduce the impact on global warming, decent working conditions and the safety of local rural communities.
Finally, it is worth adding that – contrary to some narratives on social media – products marked with the Rainforest Alliance logo do not contain GMOs. The organization does not grant its certification to products produced using GMOs.
Narratives about the presence of atrazine in products bearing the Rainforest Alliance logo are widespread. The substance is presented as toxic and disrupting the endocrine system. Entries with such statements can be found, among others, in Dutch, Czech, Slovak, Greek or Romanian. Obviously, this content also reached Poland and can be found, for example, on Telegram.
Atrazine is a herbicide. It is used to combat broadleaf weeds, primarily in the cultivation of corn, soybean and sugar cane. This substance is approved for use in the United States, but in the European Union its approval was withdrawn in 2004. This means that even if the Rainforest Alliance allowed the use of atrazine, products entering the EU market (including Poland) would not contain it. Restrictions on the use of atrazine result primarily from the fact that the substance strongly pollutes groundwater and is highly toxic to aquatic organisms.
Despite the narratives repeated on social media, the Rainforest Alliance does not allow for the use of atrazine. If this herbicide is used during cultivation, the product will not receive the sustainable agriculture label. Atrazine also is not listed among pesticides permitted in exceptional situations. This means that the content appearing on social media has nothing to do with reality.
Information about the effect of atrazine on the endocrine system of amphibians comes from the research of American professor Tyrone Hayes. He claimed that the substance feminised male frogs, including changing the reproductive organs. There have been numerous controversies around this topic. Some of the research refuting Hayes’ claims was funded by the main manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta. There have also been many doubts surrounding the decision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve atrazine for use. You can read more about this in this text on Sci-Hub website.
Rainforest Alliance and mRNA
Another topic related to the characteristic frog logo is the alleged presence of mRNA vaccines in products bearing it. Such claims can be found on social media, among others, in Slovak or English. They also found their way to the Polish Internet and were shared, among others, on Facebook.
Since 2020, people spreading conspiracy theories have considered mRNA to be harmful. Modern COVID-19 vaccines based on the ribonucleic acid (RNA) messenger have become the subject of ubiquitous disinformation. People spreading the above content believe that this time governments are trying to vaccinate the population using food. However, in reality, such a solution would be completely ineffective.
In an interview with AFP’s Hungarian branch, retired genetics professor Wolfgang Nellen said that mRNA would quickly decay under the influence of food storage and digestion. Another professor, Luka Cicin-Sain, also shares this opinion. What is more, he also added that the mRNA material would have to be covered with an appropriate coating to prevent it from being digested. However, the vaccines available on the market are not protected in this way because the route of their administration does not involve passing through the digestive system. This applies to both plant and animal products. This means that vaccinated animals are not able to pass the vaccination to humans who eat their meat.
A good summary on this topic can be found in this Health Desk article:
When it comes to mRNA vaccines, the vast majority of mRNA stays at the injection site. The rest of the dose then drains through the lymphatic system, into the liver, and then is destroyed by enzymes there. mRNA overall is unstable and breaks down quickly. This is why mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 are less accessible globally because they must stay very cold in a freezer.
Insects in products
Many people commented widely on this narrative on social media. Given the recent controversy surrounding the consumption of insects, it’s no wonder that misinformation about it has spread so widely. We can find it in, among others, Korean or Portuguese. It can also be found on Polish Facebook. All these people connect the frog logo with the presence of insects in food products.
Rainforest Alliance’s assessment of a product is not intended to determine whether it contains insects. As we mentioned earlier, it only involves checking whether the food was produced in a sustainable way. So, it has nothing to do with the narratives in question. The frog logo does not mean that a given product contains ingredients derived from insects, as this is not an aspect that is assessed by the organization. Finally, it is worth noting that food containing this type of ingredients must be clearly described in accordance with European Union guidelines.
Is Bill Gates a member of the Rainforest Alliance?
Numerous posts on social media suggest that Bill Gates is the founder of the Rainforest Alliance. According to many Internet users, the organization is just a puppet in the hands of the billionaire. This information was reproduced in Hungarian or Czech. Naturally, we can also find it in Polish.
In reality, the Rainforest Alliance was not founded by Bill Gates, but by Daniel Katz in the 1980s. The billionaire is not a member the organization’s management or board of directors either. The fact is that in 2007, the Rainforest Alliance received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the amount of over 5 million USD. However, it was a one-time payment, and the organization does not base most of its activities on grants. The main source of financial revenues are license fees, which are paid by companies wishing to use products from farms certified by the organization. This represents approximately 63% of the Rainforest Alliance budget. All types of corporate and foundation grants are 8%, and state subsidies and contracts are 23%.
The narratives around the Rainforest Alliance logo on social media are extremely emotional. They were constructed on false premises and manipulated messages. The organization is not led by Bill Gates, and products with the frog logo do not contain GMOs, atrazine, or mRNA vaccines. Their mission is to promote sustainable breeding and agriculture.
AFP Factcheck Nederalnd: https://factchecknederland.afp.com/doc.afp.com.33UY3UN
Uniwersytet Kalifornijski w Berkeley: https://vcresearch.berkeley.edu/news/pesticide-atrazine-can-turn-male-frogs-females
AFP Ténykérdés: https://tenykerdes.afp.com/doc.afp.com.33QX2B8
AFP Fakty: https://fakty.afp.com/doc.afp.com.33QM2UV