The government of Thailand has hired the lobby firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand to protect its rice crop from U.S. biotechnology researchers. Advocates of biotech foods claim that they will solve world hunger, but farmers in Thailand are afraid that it will do the opposite. Genetically modified Thai jasmine rice threatens to ruin them financially by enabling U.S. rice growers to steal the market for one of the country's primary exports.
U.S. AID Administrator Andrew Natsios has accused environmentalists "of endangering the lives of millions of famine-threatened Africans by encouraging their governments to reject genetically modified U.S.
"The biotechnology industry and more specifically the agrobiotechnology sector just don't get it. They and their PR and communications consultants believe that risk theory holds the key understanding and managing opposition to biotechnology," self-described corporate activist and ePublic Relations president Ross S. Irvine writes. "If industry would open its eyes and cast a wider gaze it would find a much more fruitful avenue of study to understand biotech opponents and how they work. ... The biotechnology industry can learn much from activists but it needs a dramatic change of mind.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling for bioethics institutions and journals to disclose their financial relationships with the biotech industry. So far, the request has mostly fallen on deaf ears. "The industry's increasing recruitment of bioethicists has been widely debated, as has the scope of the contributions," notes Hal Cohen. "Most bioethics institutions don't publish such statistics, leaving the public to draw its own conclusions about conflicts of interest.
The Canadian government, working closely with the biotech industry, is spending millions getting Canadians to accept genetically modified foods. Lyle Stewart describes the "spider's web of influence" that brings together the biotech and agri-food industries, large grocery distributors, the Hill & Knowlton PR firm, and industry-created front groups such as the Food Biotechnology Communications Network, and co-opted NGOs including the Consumers' Association of Canada.
Two weeks ago, Guardian columnist George Monbiot described how the Bivings Group, a PR company contracted to Monsanto, invented fake citizens to post messages on internet listservers. "These phantoms had launched a campaign to force Nature magazine to retract a paper it had published, alleging that native corn in Mexico had been contaminated with GM pollen," Monbiot writes in today's column. "But this, it now seems, is just one of hundreds of critical interventions with which PR companies hired by big business have secretly guided the biotech debate over the past few years. ...
The Independent of England has obtained a copy of a secret internal memorandum circulating in the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which proposes an "urgent" change in the law by November to crack down on objections to the genetically modified crops.
"Persuasion works best when it's invisible. The most effective marketing worms its way into our consciousness, leaving intact the perception that we have reached our opinions and made our choices independently," writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot. "As old as humankind itself, over the past few years this approach has been refined, with the help of the internet, into a technique called 'viral marketing'. Last month, the viruses appear to have murdered their host.
U.S. news media are overwhelmingly biased in favor of genetically modified (GM) crops, according to a survey of major newspapers and weekly newsmagazines conducted by Food First. "A search was made to find all opinion pieces over a two-year periodofrom September 1999 through August 2001," reports Nick Parker.