Monsanto's dirty tricks campaign: Interview with GM Watch ed

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Re: Monsanto's dirty tricks campaign: Interview with GM Watc

Postby admin » Wed Jan 13, 2016 8:53 am

Viral Marketing: How to Infect the World
by Andrew Dimock
brickfactory
April 1, 2002

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Viral marketing is the technical term for what is commonly known as word-of-mouth advertising. Although viral marketing is as old as human civilization itself, the Internet has brought its efficacy and reach to a new level, and the technologies that provide the motive force behind this movement continue to evolve. The Internet has become the ultimate coffee shop, where users from around the globe coalesce and share their thoughts on everything, from the potency of their significant other to the quality of the bar of soap that they use every morning in the shower. In short, the Internet has created the first truly global neighborhood, with all of the trappings of a physical neighborhood – including incessant gossip.

Gossip is fundamental to being human, and it is what propels viral marketing. Stemming from the evolutionary need to share information in a sophisticated social species, it is an innate component of our psyches. Viral marketing spontaneously arises from gossip, and an astute marketer can capitalize on this element of human nature by providing the impetus to get the ball rolling.

One of the greatest things about the Internet is that it offers several avenues for viral dissemination. Despite the different pathways that may be taken, the primary vehicle that always carries the message is e-mail. E-mail is the ultimate tool for viral dissemination – it is quick, easy, and you can pass something along to all of your friends at the click of a button. Whether the object being passed along is a link to a cool site, an interesting article, a topical message board, or even another e-mail, it is e-mail that serves as the virtual mouth in the world of the Internet.

The problem with developing a viral campaign is that no matter how much research and planning goes into it, there is never a guarantee that it will work. Gossip by its very nature cannot be controlled. Sure, you can get people to talk about you website, your company, your product, your issue, etc., but there is absolutely no way to regulate what is being said. Sometimes the best laid plans can lead to just the opposite – negative buzz.

So the question arises, how do you create a viral campaign on the Internet that has a reasonable chance for success? The answer varies, depending upon what you are promoting and who your audience is. You should be as transparent in your efforts as possible – even innocuous promotions can anger people if they somehow feel that they are being misled. Just because they know that it is a marketing ploy does not mean that the audience will not pass it along. If you have something good to offer, like a cool branded video game, a relevant topical website, or a coupon for a useful product or service, make sure that it is perfectly obvious that the original messaging is from your marketing machine. People are not stupid, and they will figure it out on their own, so tell them from the very beginning – it will gain their respect, and maybe even their trust.

Message boards, chat rooms, and listservs are a great way to monitor what is being said. Once you are plugged into this world, it is possible to make relevant postings to these outlets that openly present your identity and position. If carried out successfully, others involved in the conversation will begin to forward your ideas to others. Your message is out there, moving along under its own momentum with no further expenditure of time or money.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of viral marketing is that your message is placed into a context where it is more likely to be considered seriously. If a friend forwards you a link to site and tells you that it is “really cool and you need to check it out,” aren’t you more likely to take it seriously than some advertisement directly from an amorphous company or organization? The bottom line is that viral marketing is a very low-cost option that has the potential to really touch your audience. Any organization can put together a viral program – it just takes careful planning and an assiduous attention to detail.

*Recently edited for clarification

Following publication of the Guardian article, Dimock's essay was amended to eliminate the following quotation: "There are some campaigns where it would be undesirable or even disastrous to let the audience know that your organization is directly involved. ... Message boards, chat rooms, and listservs are a great way to anonymously monitor what is being said. Once you are plugged into this world, it is possible to make postings to these outlets that present your position as an uninvolved third party."

-- Kernels of Truth: A team of Cal scientists came under attack from colleagues and biotech interests after finding modified DNA in native Mexican corn. They may be wrong, but given just how much is at stake, why hasn't anyone else bothered to ask the same question?, by Kara Platoni
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Re: Monsanto's dirty tricks campaign: Interview with GM Watc

Postby admin » Wed Jan 13, 2016 9:18 am

Monsanto's Fake Parade: Biotech companies and their PR firms have created a network of front organizations that pretend to represent the poor and farmers in developing countries and urge the use of biotechnology to save the world.
By Jonathan Matthews
December 11, 2002

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"Carrying his placard the man in front of me was clearly one of the poorest of the poor. His shoes were not only threadbare, they were tattered, merely rags barely being held together."

So begins a graphic description of a demonstration that took place at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg ... The protesters were "mainly poor, virtually all black, and mostly women ... street traders and farmers" with an unpalatable message. As an article in a South African periodical put it, "Surely this must have been the environmentalists' worst nightmare. Real poor people marching in the streets and demanding development while opposing the eco-agenda of the Green Left."

And seldom can the views of the poor, in this case a few hundred demonstrators, have been paid so much attention. Articles highlighting the Johannesburg march popped up the world over, in Africa, North America, India, Australia and Israel. In Britain even the Times ran a commentary, under the heading, "I do not need white NGOs to speak for me".

With the summit's passing, the Johannesburg march, far from fading from view, has taken on a still deeper significance. In the November issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, Val Giddings, the President of the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO), argues that the event marked "something new, something very big" that will make us "look back on Johannesburg as something of a watershed event -- a turning point." What made the march so pivotal, he said, was that for the very first time, "real, live, developing-world farmers" were "speaking for themselves" and challenging the "empty arguments of the self-appointed individuals who have professed to speak on their behalf."

To help give them a voice, Giddings singles out the statement of one of the marchers, Chengal Reddy, leader of the Indian Farmers Federation. "Traditional organic farming," Reddy says, "led to mass starvation in India for centuries ... Indian farmers need access to new technologies and especially to biotechnologies."

Giddings also notes that the farmers expressed their contempt for the "empty arguments" of many of the Earth Summiteers by honoring them with a "Bullshit Award" made from two varnished piles of cow dung. The award was given, in particular, to the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, for her role in "advancing policies that perpetuate poverty and hunger."

A powerful rebuke, no doubt. But if anyone deserves the cow dung, it is the President of BIO, for almost every element of the spectacle he describes has been carefully contrived and orchestrated. Take, for instance, Chengal Reddy, the "farmer" that Giddings quotes. Reddy is not a poor farmer, nor even the representative of poor farmers. Indeed, there is precious little to suggest he is even well-disposed towards the poor. The "Indian Farmers Federation" that he leads is a lobby of big commercial farmers in Andhra Pradesh. On occasion Reddy has admitted to knowing very little about farming, having never farmed in his life. He is, in reality, a politician and businessman whose family are a prominent right-wing political force in Andhra Pradesh -- his father having coined the saying, "There is only one thing Dalits (members of the untouchable caste) are good for, and that is being kicked".

If it seems open to doubt that Reddy was in Johannesburg to help the poor speak for themselves, the identity of the march's organizers is also not a source of confidence. Although the Times' headline said "I do not need white NGOs to speak for me", the media contact on the organizers' press release was "Kendra Okonski", the daughter of a US lumber industrialist who has worked for various right wing anti-regulatory NGOs -- all funded and directed, needless to say, by "whites". These include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based "think tank" whose multi-million dollar budget comes from major US corporations, among them BIO member Dow Chemicals. Okonski also runs the website Counterprotest.net, where her specialty is helping right wing lobbyists take to the streets in mimicry of popular protesters.

Given this, it hardly needs saying that Giddings' "Bullshit Award" was far from, as he suggests, the imaginative riposte of impoverished farmers to India's most celebrated environmentalist. It was, in fact, the creation of another right-wing pressure group -- the Liberty Institute -- based in New Delhi and well known for its fervent support of deregulation, GM crops and Big Tobacco.

The Liberty Institute is part of the same network that organized the rally: the deceptively-named "Sustainable Development Network." In London, the SDN shares offices, along with many of its key personnel -- including Okonski -- with the International Policy Network, a group whose Washington address just happens to be that of the CEI. The SDN is run by Julian Morris, its ubiquitous director, who also claims the title of Environment and Technology Programme Director for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank that has advocated, amongst other interesting ideas, that African countries be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of "good government".

The involvement of the likes of Morris, Okonski and Reddy doesn't mean, of course, that no "real poor people," were involved in the Johannesburg march. There were indeed poor people there. James MacKinnon, who reported on the summit for the North American magazine Adbusters, witnessed the march first-hand and told of seeing many impoverished street traders, who seemed genuinely aggrieved with the authorities for denying them their usual trading places in the streets around the summit. The flier distributed by the march organizers to recruit these people played on this grievance, and presented the march as a chance to demand, "Freedom to trade". The flier made no mention of "biotechnology" or "development", nor any other issue on the "eco-agenda of the Green Left".

For all that, there were some real farmers present as well. Mackinnon says he spotted some wearing anti-environmentalist t-shirts, with slogans like "Stop Global Whining." This aroused his curiousity, since small-scale African farmers are not normally to be found among those jeering the "bogus science" of climate change. Yet here they were, with slogans on placards and T-shirts: "Save the Planet from Sustainable Development", "Say No To Eco-Imperialism", "Greens: Stop Hurting the Poor" and "Biotechnology for Africa". On approaching the protesters, however, Mackinnon discovered that all of the props had been made available to the marchers by the organizers. When he tried to converse with some of the farmers about their pro-GM T-shirts, "They smiled shyly; none of them could speak or read English."

Another irresistible question is how impoverished farmers -- according to Giddings, there were farmers on the march from five different countries -- afforded the journey to Johannesburg from lands as far away as the Philippines and India. Here, too, there is reason for suspicion. In late 1999 the New York Times reported that a street protest against genetic engineering outside an FDA public hearing in Washington DC was disrupted by a group of African-Americans carrying placards such as "Biotech saves children's lives" and "Biotech equals jobs." The Times learned that Monsanto's PR company, Burston-Marsteller, had paid a Baptist Church from a poor neighborhood to bus in these "demonstrators" as part of a wider campaign "to get groups of church members, union workers and the elderly to speak in favor of genetically engineered foods."

The industry's fingerprints are all over Johannesburg as well. Chengal Reddy, the "farmer" that the President of BIO singled out as an example of farmers from the poorer world "speaking for themselves", has for at least a decade featured prominently in Monsanto's promotional work in India. Other groups represented on the march, including AfricaBio, have also been closely aligned with Monsanto's lobbying for its products. Reddy is known to have been brought to Johannesburg by AfricaBio.

And here lies the real key to the President of BIO's account of the march, and specifically to the attack on Vandana Shiva. Monsanto and BIO want to project an image of GM crop acceptance with a Southern face. That's why Monsanto's Internet homepage used to be adorned with the faces of smiling Asian children. So when an Indian critic of the biotech industry gets featured, as Shiva was recently, on the cover of Time magazine as an environmental hero, the brand is under attack, and has to be protected.

The counterattack takes place via a contrarian lens, one that projects the attackers' vices onto their target. Thus the problem becomes not Monsanto using questionable tactics to push its products onto a wary South, but malevolent agents of the rich world obstructing Monsanto's acceptance in a welcoming Third World. For this reason the press release for the "Bullshit Award" accuses Shiva, amongst other things, of being "a mouthpiece of western eco-imperialism". The media contact for this symbolic rejection of neocolonialism? The American, Kendra Okonski. The mouthpiece denouncing an Indian environmentalist as an agent of the West is a ... Western mouthpiece.

Paul Krugman, an economist and columnist for The New York Times, has criticised "contrarianism without consequences" in relation to the debate over global warming and the controversy over the bookSuperfreakonomics, saying "The refusal of the Superfreakonomists to take responsibility for their failed attempt to be cleverly contrarian on climate change is a sad spectacle to watch... having paraded their daring contrarianism, the freakonomists are trying to wiggle out of the consequences when it turns out that they were wrong."[3]

-- Contrarian, by Wikipedia


The careful framing of the messages and the actors in the rally in Johannesburg provides but one particularly gaudy spectacle in a continuing fake parade. In particular, the Internet provides a perfect medium for such showcases, where the gap between the virtual and the real is easily erased.

Take the South-facing website Foodsecurity.net, which promotes itself as "the web's most complete source of news and information about global food security concerns and sustainable agricultural practices". Foodsecurity.net claims to be "an independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world". Despite its global reach, however, Foodsecurity.net's only named staff member is its "African Director", Dr. Michael Mbwille, a Tanzanian doctor who's forever penning articles defending Monsanto and attacking the likes of Greenpeace.

The news and information at Foodsecurity.net is largely pro-GM articles, often vituperative in content and boasting headlines like "The Villainous Vandana Shiva" or "Altered Crops Called Boon for Poor". When one penetrates beyond the news pages, the content is very limited. A single message graces the messageboard posted by an myoung@bivwood.com, the domain name of The Bivings Group, an internet PR company that numbers Monsanto among its clients. There's also an event posting from an Andura Smetacek, recently identified in an article in The Guardian as an e-mail front used by Monsanto to run a campaign of character assassination against its scientific and environmental critics.

The site is registered to a Graydon Forrer, currently the managing director of Life Sciences Strategies, a company that specializes in "communications programmes" for the bio-science industries. A piece of information that is not usually disclosed in Graydon Forrer's self-presentation is that he was previously Monsanto's director of executive communications. Indeed, he seems to have been working for the company in 1999 -- the same year the site of this "independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world" was first registered. Foodsecurity's "African Director", Dr. Mbwille, is not, incidentally, in Africa at the moment. He is enjoying a sabbatical observing medical practice in St. Louis, Missouri -- the home town, as it happens, of the Monsanto Corporation.

Foodsecurity.net forms but one of a whole series of websites with undisclosed links to biotech industry lobbyists or PR companies, as our previous research has demonstrated. But despite the virtual circus oscillating about him, if the President of BIO were really interested in hearing poor "live, developing-world farmers ... speaking for themselves", he need look no further than Chengal Reddy's home state of Andhra Pradesh. Here small-scale farmers and landless laborers were consulted as part of a meticulously conducted "citizens' jury" on World Bank-backed proposals to industrialize local agriculture and introduce GM crops. Having heard all sides of the argument, including as it happens the views of Chengal Reddy, the jury unanimously rejected these proposals, which are likely to force more than 100,000 people off the land. Similar citizens' juries on GM crops in Brazil and in the Indian state of Karnataka have come to similar conclusions -- something that the President of BIO is almost certainly aware of.

But rainchecks on the real views of the poor count for little in a world where "something new, something very big" and "a turning point" in the global march towards our corporate future, turns out to be Monsanto's soapbox behind a black man's face.

Jonathan Matthews is a writer and researcher focusing on the biotech industry. He co-founded the campaigning news and research service Norfolk Genetic Information Network, also known as GM Watch.
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Re: Monsanto's dirty tricks campaign: Interview with GM Watc

Postby admin » Wed Jan 13, 2016 9:38 am

Seeds of Self-Reliance
By Meenakshi Ganguly
New Delhi
Aug. 18, 2002

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Vandana Shiva will never forget a lesson she learned at the age of 13. Her parents, who like many educated Indians had supported Mohandas Gandhi's struggle against colonialism, insisted on wearing clothing made only of homespun cotton. One day Vandana, having returned from a boarding school to her home in the Himalayan foothill town of Dehra Dun, demanded a nylon dress, the fashion adopted by her rich friends. Her mother, a teacher turned farmer, agreed. "If that is what you want, of course you shall have it," she said. "But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a bigger car. And the cotton that you wear will buy a poor family at least one meal."

Now 50, Shiva still chuckles when she tells the story. "Of course, I did not get that frock," she says. "I kept thinking of some poor family starving because of my dress." True to her upbringing, Shiva has made it her mission to fight for social justice in many arenas. With a doctorate in physics from the University of Western Ontario, she has been a teacher, an ecologist, an activist, a feminist and an organic farmer.

Her pet issue these days is preservation of agricultural diversity. It is under assault, she says, from global companies that encourage farmers to grow so-called high-yielding crops that result in a dangerous dependence on bioengineered seeds, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. As a result, hundreds of traditional crops are disappearing. Too many farmers, she contends, purchase expensive seeds that cannot adapt to local conditions and require more investment in chemicals and irrigation. Hundreds of debt-ridden Indian farmers, Shiva points out, have committed suicide during the past five years because of failed harvests.

But there is hope. Many farmers are returning to traditional methods promoted by Navdanya (Nine Seeds), an organization based in New Delhi that Shiva helped found 11 years ago. Navdanya encourages farmers to produce hardy native varieties of crops that can be grown organically with natural fertilizer and no artificial chemicals. The group works in an area for three years, helping local farmers form their own self-supporting organization and seed bank. Navdanya has spread to some 80 districts in 12 states and has collected more than 2,000 seed varieties. It has set up a marketing network through which farmers sell their organic harvest. Farmer Darwan Singh Negi, with Navdanya's aid, switched to organic methods five years ago and grows six types of rice on his three-acre farm in the state of Uttaranchal. His farm's productivity is similar to that of his neighbors' nonorganic farms, but he spends almost 70% less for fertilizers, pesticides and seeds.

Shiva's many detractors call her naive, pointing out that chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetic engineering rescued India from its eternal cycles of famine and huge debts from importing food. She responds that high-tech agriculture is a short-term solution that will ultimately destroy the land.

Shiva has by no means proved that organic agriculture alone can feed a burgeoning world population. But Navdanya has shown that in some areas, organic farmers with a knowledge of local conditions and traditional methods can achieve high yields at little cost to the environment. In India at least, Navdanya sets an eco-friendly standard that agribusiness must show it can outperform. The challenge for genetic engineers is to create seeds adapted to particular locales that enable farmers to reduce, not increase, the use of chemicals.

If nothing else, Navdanya provides an alternative approach to modern farming. Shiva wants to preserve nature's bountiful variety in a world too vulnerable to humanity's penchant for standardization. She counsels us to be more humble in the care of our environment. "You are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder," she says. "It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you."
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