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

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

Postby admin » Wed Jan 13, 2016 5:55 am

Monsanto's dirty tricks campaign: Interview with GM Watch editor, Jonathan Matthews
by Marina Littek
Green Planet



This wide ranging interview with GM Watch editor, Jonathan Matthews, takes in amongst other things: the history of GM Watch, the industry's attacks on GM-critical scientists, Monsanto's Internet dirty tricks campaign, the herd mentality that drives the uptake of GM crops, and the industry's current assault on the South.

Marina Littek of Italy's Green Planet interviews Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch.

Q: When I first came across GM Watch, you seemed to have all the juiciest stories on GM and all the breaking news, and that's been really useful for what I do. But how did it all begin? Wasn’t it a local campaign at the start?

A. We started out as Norfolk Genetic Information Network or NGIN (pronounced "engine") in the Spring of 98. Our main concern was that while GM was rapidly going into farmers’ fields and our food supply, little or no information was getting to the public and we wanted to remedy that.

Q: Of course, both sides say this - "if only the public had more information".

A. Yes, but the people who support this technology mean “if only they had more of our information”. That may sound cynical, but it's something that I've observed over and over again. Whenever we - the critics - set up a debate on GM food and crops, it’s almost invariably even-handed - 2 speakers for and 2 against, and so on. When the supporters set up a debate, it’s almost invariably fixed!

And when you look at the experience with citizen’s juries around the world who've sat and deliberated on this technology, you see why that is. When people are genuinely exposed to both sides of this argument, they invariably come down on the side of caution. “What’s the rush?”, they want to know. “Why don’t we check this out before rushing headlong into changing the molecular base of our farming and food supply”. And, of course, there’s no answer to that. The only reason for rushing is money.

Q: So how did you try to remedy the lack of information.

A. We started by launching a regular news sheet - Genetic Network News - which looked at scientists' concerns about this technology, and that sort of thing. The focus was primarily local, with campaigns to get GM banned from school dinners and local supermarkets and the like, but some of our campaign activities quickly began to attract wider attention.

This was also a period of intense campaigning against local GM crop trials in Norfolk. We worked closely with a lot of individuals and groups in local communities opposing them, including campaigners at Lyng in Norfolk who were faced with a particularly aggressive trial farmer who had a lot of support from the industry, and political support and so on. We helped link them up with Peter Melchett, the then head of Greenpeace UK who farmed in Norfolk, and the campaign culminated in 28 Greenpeace volunteers, including Melchett, being arrested during the attempted decontamination of the site.

That made headlines around the world, not just at the time but during the two court cases that followed here in Norwich in 2000. Throughout that period we worked in close liaison with other local campaigners to make Norfolk a notable hot-spot for the biotech industry, although our focus was also widening from the local to the global throughout that time.

Q: At what point did your campaign go online?

A. Quite early on. From the start the Internet was a great way of staying abreast of news, new reports, and so on, and that flow of information really triggered our own campaign. Then a web-savvy reader of Genetic Network News set up a free NGIN website, in order to try and win a bigger readership for the news sheet. But he soon got fed up with all the stuff I kept asking him to stick on the site, so he gave me a quick lesson in how to edit a website and left me to it!

Then in January 99 we launched the daily NGIN e-mail list and it quickly started to attract subscribers from well beyond Norfolk. Part of its success seems to have stemmed from the comments, analysis and summaries of material we have always tended to put out with the items we post, to try and point up important new information, trends, interesting quotes, and the like.

Q: What else has given your campaign its distinctive character?

A. Right at the start, in the very first issue of Genetic Network News, we said we were particularly concerned to counter the misleading information being put out by the biotech industry, and by its lobbyists, and its powerful supporters, and that has never changed.

To start with, much of our concern about questionable lobbying and misinformation by biotech proponents was triggered by the "science communication" activities of a number of scientists at the John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory, which is Europe's leading plant biotech institute and happens to be based here in Norwich. That concern accelerated in autumn 98 when the JIC, which presents itself as a publicly and charitably funded institute, entered deals worth around £60m with Dupont and Britain's then leading biotech company, Zeneca - later part of Syngenta.

We’ve also tracked the efforts of the pro-GM lobby to gain greater control over the media's reporting of controversial science issues like GM. This led to articles with the geneticist Mae-Wan Ho like The New Thought Police: Suppressing dissent in science.

And our research has repeatedly shown how some pro-GM scientists in their desperation to endorse GM will resort to totally bogus information and industry hype that really does not stand up to critical scrutiny. Yet these are exactly the same people whose constant refrain is that all opposition to GM is based on misinformation and emotion, while support for the technology is based on compelling scientific evidence! We’ve tried to draw attention to these extraordinary double standards.

Q: Is that what led to the Pants on Fire awards?

A. Yes, we launched the awards back in 2000 as part of our battle to expose the bias and misinformation promoted by pro-GM and anti-organic lobbyists. The name’s maybe a bit confusing for some non-Brits, but basically it was just a sly reference to the playground rhyme: "Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!" The idea was to use humour to lubricate a carefully referenced indictment of bias.

Through the awards, and online characters that we created like Prof Bullsh*t, and also some of the articles I’ve written or helped others to write, we’ve tried to expose not just bogus hype but also the disgusting nature of the attacks that have been made on scientists who’ve raised questions about this technology. We’ve really tried to hold some of the people involved in the attacks to account and to publicise how they’ve sought to vilify and victimise these scientists.

Claire Robinson, my co-editor at GM Watch, and I have both been very fortunate in having the chance to have some contact with scientists like Arpad Pusztai and Ignacio Chapela, and to listen to what they have to say. It’s very affecting to get a sense of just how badly these scientists have been treated. In terms of the way he was gagged and vilified, Pusztai even draws unfavourable comparisons with his experiences in Eastern Europe under the Soviets. It's hard not to feel a sense of shame at what's happened. This is a man who came to Britain as a political refugee, who built up a formidable scientific reputation, whose years of research into lectins has almost certainly saved lives, and yet he had his reputation trashed for the sake of corporate science.

Q: Tell me about your involvement in uncovering who was orchestrating the attacks on the Berkeley researcher, Ignacio Chapela.

A. That really is a tangled web. To understand it you need to understand what happened with the Internet campaign in 2000. In 98 and 99, the biotech industry really took a hammering in the way that unfavourable information exploded across the Internet. On top of that, their own PR attempts to promote GM as the saviour of the developing world blew up in their face. Their answer was CS Prakash, who launched his website and his AgBioView list at the beginning of 2000, as part of a campaign that he said was all about supporting GM crops for the developing world.

Monsanto’s Dirty Tricks

Monsanto really did carry things to an extreme in this case, and the story I am about to tell is hard to believe. The very day Quist and Chapela’s article was published in Nature, November 29, 2001, an obviously well-informed woman named Mary Murphy sent an e-mail to the pro-GMO science Web site AgBio World in which she wrote: “The activists will certainly run wild with news that Mexican corn has been ‘contaminated’ by genes from GM corn. . . . It should also be noted that the author of the Nature article, Ignacio H. Chapela, is on the Board of Directors of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), an activist group. . . . Not exactly what you’d call an unbiased writer.”12

The same day, a person named Andura Smetacek posted on the same Web site a comment titled ”Ignatio [sic] Chapela—activists FIRST, scientist second,” in which she had no qualms about spreading lies: “Sadly the recent publication by Nature Magazine of a letter (not a peer-reviewed research article subject to independent scientific analysis) by Berkeley Ecologist Ignatio Chapela are being manipulated by anti-technology activists (such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Organic Consumers Association) with the mainstream media to falsely suggest some heretofore undisclosed ill associated with agricultural biotechnology. . . . Research into Chapela’s history with these groups of [eco-radicals] demonstrates his willingness to collude with them to attack biotechnology, free-trade, intellectual property rights, and other politically motivated agenda items.”13

At the time the “smear campaign” that derailed Chapela’s career was getting under way, Jonathan Matthews came upon these strange posts by chance.14 Matthews was the head of GMWatch, an information service on GMOs based in Norwich in southern England. “At the time I was looking into AgBio World,” he told me when I met him in November 2006, sitting in front of his computer. “It was breathtaking: the two e-mails from Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek were distributed to the 3,400 scientists on AgBio World’s distribution list. The campaign spread from there. Some scientists, such as Professor Anthony Trewavas of the University of Edinburgh, called on Nature to retract the article or to have Ignacio Chapela fired.”

“Who is behind AgBio World?”

“Officially it’s a nonprofit foundation that claims ‘to provide science-based information on agricultural biotechnology issues to various stakeholders across the world,’ as its Web site declares,” he answered, showing me the site.15 “It’s run by Professor Chanapatna S. Prakash, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Originally from India, he is an adviser to USAID, and in that capacity, he has intervened frequently in India and Africa to promote biotechnology. He became famous in 2000, when he launched a ‘Declaration of Support for Agricultural Biotechnology,’ for which he secured the signatures of 3,400 scientists, including twenty-five Nobel Prize winners.16 AgBio World had no qualms about accusing environmentalists on its Web site of ‘fascism, communism, and terrorism, including genocide.’ One day, when I was consulting the AgBio World archives, I received an error message giving me the name of the server that hosts the site: The Bivings Group, based in Washington, is a communications firm, one of whose clients is Monsanto, and it specializes in Internet lobbying.”17

Matthews showed me a 2002 article by George Monbiot in The Guardian revealing that the firm had presented its expertise in an article on its Web site entitled “Viral Marketing: How to Infect the World.” “There are some campaigns where it would be undesirable or even disastrous to let the audience know that your organization is directly involved . . . it simply is not an intelligent PR move. In cases such as this, it is important to first ‘listen’ to what is being said online. . . . 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. . . . 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.” A senior executive from Monsanto is quoted on the Bivings site, thanking the PR firm for its “outstanding work.”18

“Do you know who Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek are?” I asked, feeling as though I were in the midst of a detective novel.

“Well,” the director of GMWatch said with a smile, “The Guardian, to which I sent my findings, summed it up well: they are ‘phantoms’ or ‘fake citizens.’ 19 I spent a lot of time trying to find out who these two ‘scientists’ who had launched the campaign against Ignacio Chapela were. As for Mary Murphy, she has posted at least a thousand e-mails on the AgBio World site. For example, she put online a forged Associated Press article criticizing ‘anti-GMO activists.’ When you trace back to find the address of the server hosting her e-mail address, you find: So ‘Mary Murphy’ seems to be a Bivings employee. When it came to ‘Andura Smetacek,’ I thought it should be easy to find a scientist with such an unusual name, especially since she claimed to be writing from London. She was the one who had initiated a petition demanding that José Bové be incarcerated. I went through the electronic phone directory, the electoral registry, and the list of credit card holders, but it was impossible to find any trace of her. I hired a private detective in the United States, but he didn’t find anything either. Finally, I examined the technical details at the bottom of her e-mails indicating the Internet protocol address: When you type it onto a directory of Web sites, you come upon ‘,’ with the owner’s name, ‘Monsanto Corporation, St. Louis.’ ”

“Who do you think is hiding behind ‘Mary Murphy’?”

Matthews responds, “George Monbiot of The Guardian and I think it’s Jay Byrne, who was in charge of Monsanto’s Internet strategy. At an industry meeting in late 2001, he stated that it was necessary to ‘think of the Internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed.’ ”20

“Fake scientists and fake articles—it’s incredible!”

“Yes, they’re really dirty tricks that represent the exact opposite of the qualities Monsanto claims it stands for in its Pledge: ‘dialogue, transparency, sharing.’21 These methods reveal a firm that has no desire to persuade with arguments and is prepared to do anything to impose its products everywhere in the world, including destroying the reputation of anyone who might stand in its way.”

-- The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption, and the Control of Our Food Supply: An Investigation into the World's Most Controversial Company, by Marie-Monique Robin  

We initially took Prakash completely at face value. We saw him as a pro-GM scientist who was genuinely standing up for a cause he believed in. But it soon became clear that his list was being used as a conduit for black propaganda. There was stuff on his list accusing those who were critical of GM of everything from murder to terrorism to God knows what. GM-critical scientists were even accused of having blood on their hands over 9/11!!

During 2000 and 2001 we repeatedly used the NGIN list and postings to other lists, including postings to AgBioView itself - although those postings increasingly didn't make that list! - to expose and challenge this misinformation. I think in one case, where a particular environmental group had literally been branded as murderers, we actually extracted an apology. But that was a rare event. Usually, they tried to come back with more of the same. It was incredibly unpleasant.

Gradually, though, our research started to show us that Prakash was not operating alone but was intimately connected to a network of rightwing pro-corporate lobbyists. In fact, it turned out the co-founder of his campaign was Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Over time, Prakash has been forced to be more open about this CEI connection, but back then Conko just appeared to be a contributor.

You can see why they wanted to present the whole thing as if the AgBioView campaign were really that of a lone Indian scientist rallying the science community to the GM cause. As soon as you admit to the CEI connection then you have the fact that the CEI has had money out of Big Tobacco and the likes of Dow Chemicals and Monsanto, and that it lobbies just as vigorously against restrictions on smoking and toxic chemicals as against those on GM crops.

By the end of 2001 our research had taken us further. We had a whole dossier showing AgBioView was a major vehicle for covert biotech industry PR. We’d also uncovered the involvement in all this of Monsanto's Internet PR company, Bivings. In particular, regular poison pen attacks against critics of GM had been appearing, principally on AgBioView, though later, they started turning up elsewhere as well, posted in the name of “Mary Murphy”.

We’d tracked Murphy’s IP address. It was that of Bivings. We were also interested in a similar contributor to the AgBioView list - Andura Smetacek. Smetacek kept promoting the website of a fake agricultural institute which also led back to Bivings. That website tried to link Monsanto’s critics to violence and terrorism.

At this point we teamed up with the investigative journalist Andy Rowell whose research had helped expose the treatment of Arpad Pusztai. Andy got a private detective on the case, trying to track down Smetacek, and we were also getting help from a couple of technical experts. They confirmed that Monsanto’s Internet PR firm also had a role in designing Prakash’s website and that they were running the AgBioView archive off the company's server, although they’d tried to disguise that.

It was while we were busy tracking this, that the Berkeley researchers, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, had their paper on Mexican maize contamination published. We then witnessed this vicious campaign of vilification being unleashed on AgBioView. Chapela compared it to "being fed to the dogs".

That campaign really impacted on coverage of the research and even led to a kind of editorial disassociation from the paper by Nature, the scientific journal that had published it. And the catalysts in all of this were Murphy and Smetacek. Their hate mails against Chapela came out on AgBioView on the very day the research was published and those mails fuelled a frenzied campaign against the researchers with Prakash calling on the scientific community to inundate Nature with complaints. Because we knew who the actors were we could see the whole thing unfolding right in front of our eyes. It was extraordinary.

The result of our research was a whole series of articles that appeared in The Ecologist, The Guardian, New Scientist, Wired News and elsewhere, as well as stuff on radio and TV. Importantly, a lot of the coverage not only questioned the way in which the Berkeley scientists had been attacked and the role of Prakash, AgBioView, Monsanto’s PR firm, and so on, it also brought into question the wider campaign to overturn the research and why that had succeeded to the extent it had. The editor of Nature faced some pretty tough questions about why he’d buckled when the majority of the peer reviewers supported the principal conclusions of the original paper, and a lot came out about the threats against Chapela even before he published his research.

Q: In the end I think you tracked the whole thing back directly to Monsanto.

A. That was an amazing break. A few weeks before the story broke, they had suddenly suspended the AgBioView archive - my guess is that they had sussed it pointed to Bivings’ technical involvement. They would also have known by then we were on their trail - we were making so many enquiries -and this was a good way to obstruct us. But one result of all the publicity, particularly following George Monbiot’s first two Guardian articles, was that a couple of people who’d kept personal archives of Prakash’s AgBioView from the very start of the list, forwarded us all their Murphy and Smetacek postings. And when we looked at the earliest postings from Smetacek we realised that they, like all the other very early postings on the list, had gone to subscribers with the posters’ technical headers, ie you could track exactly where the Smetacek mails had been e-mailed from. Smetacek in these mails presented herself as an ordinary citizen - in fact, as a lady living in London - but the mails’ IP address showed they had been sent directly from Monsanto in St Louis. George Monbiot then revealed this in The Guardian.

Q: It was after that that you launched GM Watch and then LobbyWatch.

A. LobbyWatch was George’s idea. We’d built up a directory of profiles of a whole array of lobbyists, corporate scientists, think tanks, extreme political networks and so on that were busy promoting this technology. We launched that on the GM Watch site and George suggested we launch as a sister site to make that information more widely available, because exactly the same people were often promoting a much wider agenda than just GM and in a similarly dishonest fashion. The "GM Watch" name itself actually stemmed from a monthly column we did at one time for The Ecologist that went under that name.

Q: Your activities must have made you a target. I saw the Guardian piece about the e-mail you had from Prakash’s son abusing you. That was quite comic in a way because of the language he used, but I imagine it’s not always so easy to laugh off.

A. Compared to all that people like Pusztai and Chapela have gone through, the hate mail is no more than a minor irritation, and sometimes, as you say, it's actually a source of amusement. As you'd expect, we get all the usual accusations - we’re Luddites, we're Nazis, we're communists, we need psychiatric treatment, we consort with terrorists.

One particular piece that was posted on the Net by a sidekick of Prakash's even dragged the school where I work and the professional association it belongs to into its attack. The Secretary of the association came across the attack, because of the pejorative reference to the association, and phoned me wanting to know why it said I associated with terrorists! She was puzzled when I laughed about it. She said some nutcase might believe it and come after me. I asked what else I could do but laugh?

The main thing that they threw at us after the Bivings stuff was that we were "conspiracy theorists". That made me smile because I’m someone who's terribly sceptical of any kind of conspiracy theory. In fact, with Prakash and AgBioView I initially took the campaign completely at face value. I thought he must just be attracting the wrong sort of people to his campaign and that they were responsible for all the nastiness. I thought he might even be their victim, in a certain sense, although I couldn't understand why he published their attacks so prominently.

I was actually in correspondence with him at that time, because he knew I was unhappy about what was going out on his list, and I even warned him it was not in his interest to associate with these people! But over time, as the trail of evidence led more and more directly to Monsanto’s door, I was forced to concede I’d been terribly naive and that this was an industry PR set up from start to finish.

One positive impact of the revelations we’ve made, I like to think, is that it seems to have led to a lessening in the viciousness of the attacks made via the Internet on GM-sceptical scientists and others, although off the net Prakash still pops up at conferences that denounce us as eco-imperialists and killers of the poor, etc. And I’m not so naïve as to doubt that the Internet hate could just be turned back on again, like a tap, at any time they felt like it.

Part of what's happened, I think, is that they’ve been made to see that if what they’re doing is going to be so widely exposed and made to stick to the attackers, then that may not be the smartest tactic to adopt! If that means some of the attack dogs have been put back on the leash, that has to be in everyone’s interest, and it certainly makes AgBioView a lot less hair-raising to read!

There is another reason for the change though, I think, which is less comforting, and that’s that they actually need a more respectable profile. What’s been happening more and more is that the U.S. administration has got right behind the drive to push this technology globally.This has taken the likes of Prakash and Conko absolutely to the heart of the U.S.-industry campaign. At the press conference where the U.S. launched its WTO action against Europe over GMOs, there were Prakash and Conko centre stage with Prakash appearing as the principal orator to indict Europe in the name of the poor for its resistance to GMOs. It was a moment that spoke volumes. Unfortunately it’s the people in Africa and Asia who are bearing the brunt of the accompanying U.S.-industry onslaught.

Q: GM Watch has focused heavily on the industry’s campaign there.

A. Among the many issues we’d always focused on were the agronomic and economic problems with GM crops, which were a world away from all the hype about these wonder crops that were going to feed the world.

Just how flawed this technology was, even at the most practical level, was much less widely appreciated in those early days than it is now, even by opponents of the technology. People had often accepted that there must be some truth in the claims of major benefits for farmers.

We used the NGIN list, and a Farming News section we created on the NGIN website, to popularise the material of UK land agent, Mark Griffiths, and the work of a leading independent agronomist in the U.S., Dr Charles Benbrook, which showed the poor performance of GM crops in terms of both yields and chemical use. Benbrook later said we were a major gateway to Europe for his work.

Q: But if there are these problems with the crops, why do Brazilian farmers, for instance, smuggle in GM seeds from Argentina to grow them? What’s the attraction?

A. It’s various things but it's not what the biotech boosters would have you believe, or even what some of the farmers will tell you. Part of my background is in psychology and one thing that quickly teaches you is that you don’t just accept the reasons people give for their actions without checking it out.

The GM soya that some Brazilians have been smuggling in is incredibly convenient - it really suits a certain sort of farmer. It’s a kind of junk agriculture where you really don’t have to pay too much attention to what’s going on in your fields. You just plant the seeds at a certain time and pour the Roundup all over the place and you know it will kill absolutely everything apart from the crop - or at least that’s what happens at the beginning. Junk farming is like fast food and microwave cuisine - it may not be good for you in the longer term, and it may be destructive of precious culinary traditions, knowledge and skills, but it’s a real time saver, and people get hooked by that convenience.

As with other destructive habits, though, there’s a gap between what GM crops may really have to offer and what those growing them believe. And that’s mainly to do with the power of hype and fashion - something that, sadly, farmers and governments and scientists are no more immune from than the rest of us. Donald White, a University of Illinois plant pathologist, describes what’s going on as “a herd mentality”. “Everyone has to have a biotech program", he says, and that chimes in with a University of Iowa study on why farmers are growing GM soya. That study found that while increasing yields was cited by the majority of farmers in the study as the reason for planting GM soya, the research showed they were actually getting lower yields!

And this isn't peculiar to Iowa. An annual review of the uptake of GM crops for 1998 reported yield improvements of 12% for farmers in the U,,S growing GM soya, based on their own estimates. But a review of over 8,000 university-based controlled varietal trials involving GM soya in the US for that same year showed almost exactly the opposite - yield reductions averaging 7%. In other words, you've got a nearly 20% gap between perception and reality.

But even though the reality of GM crops is lacklustre, the industry’s PR machine works overtime to maintain the fiction that it’s a glittering success. A week before the publication of the most recent Benbrook report showing how much GM crops have increased, rather than decreased, pesticide use, up pops a report from an industry funded institute saying the exact opposite. It's beyond belief that that timing was accidental. That institute was funded to do that job of work, precisely to smother what Benbrook - a scientist who for 7 years presided over the National Academy of Science’s Board of Agriculture - was disclosing.

And that same kind of hype and concealment’s going on right around the world. You've got people like Prakash telling farmers in Africa GM will double their production. In India you’ve got Monsanto pumping out studies and claims that GM cotton is great for Indian farmers, sales are up etc., etc., and at the same time you’ve got carefully conducted research in India showing the diametric opposite. You've also got protests going on and even stories of farmers killing themselves because their crops failed, but Monsanto's PR machine captures far more of the headlines.

There's an extraordinary schizophrenia. You’ve got Indian politicians talking up biotech because they think it makes them look progressive and like they’re doing something for the country, at the same time that you’ve got angry farmers going on the rampage because of the problems they’re getting from just this one GM crop. In Indonesia Monsanto had to pull GM cotton out completely because of all the problems, and yet I regularly see claims that Indonesia is one of the Asian giants embracing GM!

Q: You’ve also investigated how the industry manufactures support in the South.

A. A few years back I wrote an article called The Fake Parade exposing how a widely reported pro-GM march by farmers in South Africa was actually carefully orchestrated by pro-corporate lobbyists and how it fitted into a wider pattern of manufactured support from the South. We’ve got special sections on the website just tracking the corporate lobbyists active in Asia and Africa because they are such a problem there. In fact, in countries like South Africa they’re practically running the show - and that’s partly why the biotech industry’s headed down South.

You've got "experts" there who are up to their ears in industry interests and yet who are being allowed to play a leading role in developing regulatory protocols and legislation governing GM crops. It's because of this that South Africa's become the industry's open door to Africa. One of these lobbyists was quoted the other day saying, "If the activists don't get their way, we're going to see biotech crops spread right up through Africa".

Then on top of the industry and its tame scientists, you've got the U.S. using diplomatic pressure and bilateral trade agreements, and you've got USAID pouring money into GM crop-related schemes. They're all trying to browbeat African and Asian governments into accepting weak biosafety regulations and GMOs.

Q: Your last Pants on Fire award celebrated one of those lobbyists.

A. Yes, we gave the award to the Kenyan scientist, Florence Wambugu, who typifies the kind of thing that's going on. She's a Monsanto protege and, if you read the citation, it almost defies belief that somebody could be so shameless in the way she's promoted this technology.

Wambugu claims GM will literally solve all the problems of Africa. She said somewhere that GM crops would lift the whole "African continent out of decades of economic and social despair".

Her career as a propagandist has been built out of a Monsanto GM sweet potato project that she was recruited for. For year's she's hyped that project around the world's media as the answer to hunger, and as the way to massively increase sweet potato yields in Africa. She wears traditional African dress, and speaks in such evangelical terms that some journalists have even assumed that the project must already be working out in the fields, that Kenyan farmers are already reaping the benefits, and that it's already helping to feed the hungry. But when the results of the 3-years of field trials were finally published, it emerged the whole thing was a total flop. The GM crop didn't give the virus resistance it was supposed to, and the yields were worse than those of the conventional sweet potatoes that it was supposed to replace.

Yet despite this disaster, Wambugu's still going around proclaiming the project a success! And she's had all kinds of awards and honours bestowed on her by the industry and their pals, as if she had achieved something quite remarkable. So we thought she should be given the one award that she really deserved - the Pants on Fire award.

Q: But, some people would ask, given Africa's problems, what's the alternative?

A. It's a fair question. Aaron deGrassi from the Institute of Development Studies has carefully researched these kind of GM showcase projects in Africa, and he's found that while in empirical terms they're a failure, they help generate great PR. And that's the problem - that's their real purpose. He contrasts these expensive PR confections with more humble projects, such as one on sweet potatoes in Uganda which - with a fraction of the huge investment that's gone into the Monsanto project - has used conventional means to breed a sweet potato that is virus resistant, that is popular with farmers and that actually doubles yields.

So here's this great success, which could be even bigger if more resources were behind it, and yet all the world hears about is the likes of Wambugu puffing GM. Articles have appeared saying she and Monsanto are 'reshaping the future' and 'serving millions' in Africa, but their projects have actually wasted literally millions of dollars and helped feed precisely nobody. This is what we pointed out in her award citation. These industry PR confections are a massive and shameful distraction from the real task of assisting the poor and hungry in Africa.

There are some important projects out there which are already succeeding in a quiet way despite being massively under-resourced. They involve ecologically-friendly farming systems that are suited to the needs and conditions of small-scale farmers in Africa. They offer the chance of greater food security and sustainable livelihoods without environmental devastation. Another Africa is possible, but to get to it we have to stop the biotech industry and the USA using all their leverage to force the world into a GM cul-de-sac where genetically modified crops are relentlessly promoted as the panacea to all our problems.
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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
April 1, 2002



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



"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, 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, which promotes itself as "the web's most complete source of news and information about global food security concerns and sustainable agricultural practices". claims to be "an independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world". Despite its global reach, however,'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 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, 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. 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



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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