Kenneth Cook holds a B.A. degree in history, a B.S. in agriculture, and an M.S. in soil science — all from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He became a chief lobbyist for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the late 1970s, and later served as the organization’s head of media relations.
Cook was a principal architect of certain provisions in the Food Security Bill of 1985 (a.k.a. Farm Bill) which shifted the focus of U.S. farm policy from maximum crop production to the conservation of land, water, wetlands, and wildlife. He would play a similarly prominent role in the crafting of subsequent Farm Bills in 2008 and 2014, fighting successfully to infuse them with requirements affecting farms that were covered by federally subsidized crop insurance.
In 1988, Cook worked as an aide for Democrat Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign. After Dukakis’s defeat, Cook took a job in the offices of Island Press, a leftist environmental book publisher instituted by Andrew Mellon heiress Catherine Conover. Island Press also ran the Center for Resource Economics, where Cook: (a) held the title of Vice President for Policy, and (b) “incubated” the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Cook reorganized EWG in 1993 and placed it under the tax umbrella of the Tides Foundation; he has served as EWG’s president ever since. Cook also sat on the board of the now-defunct Environmental Media Services (EMS), another Tides project.
While Cook has been particularly critical of Republican environmental policies over the years, he has not refrained from also criticizing Democrats and fellow leftists on occasion. For instance, in the 1990s he accused President Bill Clinton of being unduly influenced by the pesticide lobby. And during the 2000 presidential campaign, he condemned environmentalist Sam Wyly, chairman of the “green” energy group GreenMountain.com, for endorsing Republican George W. Bush, whom Cook regarded as an enemy of environmental protection measures.
Over the years, Cook and EGW have issued a number of unsubstantiated — and discredited — warnings about the alleged dangers of various chemicals, pesticides, genetically engineered foods, medical vaccines, and health-and-beauty products like lipstick and sunscreen. According to the website ActivistFacts.com, Cook and his organization have repeatedly used the media to plant “sensationalistic” headlines and “stories about myriad phony threats,” and have then used the resulting publicity “to raise more funds.”
Cook has authored dozens of articles, opinion pieces, and reports promoting the party line of leftist environmentalism; he has given many interviews on matters related to food, agriculture and toxics policy; he has testified regularly before House and Senate committees; and since the late 1990s he has briefed top White House officials, as well as every U.S. Agriculture Secretary and EPA Administrator, on EWG’s research and policy positions.
In addition to his work with EWG, EMS, and WWF, Cook has been a board member of Food Policy Action, Organic Voices, the Amazon Conservation Team, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, and the Organic Center. The latter is an organic farm-funded nonprofit organization that warns of the dangers of eating non-organic vegetables that have been treated with pesticides. Moreover, Cook is a former vice president of the Center for Resource Economics.
Cook has been lauded for his environmental work by a number of leftist publications, groups, and individuals. In 2000, Progressive Farmer named him “One of the Most Influential Agricultural Leaders of the 20th Century,” along with Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold. In 2009, Cook was voted the “Ultimate Green Game Changer” by readers of The Huffington Post. Author and food-policy expert Michael Pollan once called Cook one of “the world’s 7 most powerful foodies” along with First Lady Michelle Obama, nutritionist Marion Nestle, and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. And The Hill newspaper regularly lists Cook in its annual roster of Washington’s leading lobbyists. In 2013, that same publication stated that Cook’s “influence spans the country” through EWG, “the tip of the green movement’s spear when it comes to agriculture and food policy.”
Further Reading: “Kenneth Cook” (ActivistFacts.com, EWG.org); “5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Environmental Working Group” (ConsumerFreedom.com, 10-29-2013, re: EWG’s unsubstantiated warnings).