But what began as an issue of genetic engineering has developed fast into an issue of corporate dominance of the food chain; the very basis of human life on earth. "[German] opposition has begun to centre on the American character of this technology, on transnational corporate threats to the consumer, and on the role of Monsanto in particular."
"There is considerable evidence," the report continues, " that the anti-biotechnology discourse focuses on American companies in general and Monsanto in particular. The company is seen to employ aggressive practices and to enter the market with a certain disregard for the German consumer. In Germany, genetic engineering and biotechnology are associated with big multinational and globally active corporations. For the opponents in particular, these companies are 'surrounded by a certain aura of mystery and threat'. The anti-corporate discourse in Germany already includes the idea of corporate control of the food chain and threats to independent farming. Biotechnology companies are seen [by the general public] to be willing to risk great human danger in order to make profits."
Open Letter from Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace UK
Dear Robert Shapiro, As chairman and chief executive of Monsanto you may know that last week UK Greenpeace released two of your internal reports, one from Britain and the other from Germany. They say that there is 'an ongoing collapse of public support for biotechnology and GM foods' in the United Kingdom. They also say that 'overall feeling towards foods with genetically modified ingredients have grown dramatically more negative'. The British report goes on to say that this is 'probably the best measure of our declining fortunes in Britain'.
It seems to Greenpeace that these two reports contain information of great significance to your shareholders, because it could materially affect the valuation of your shares. Greenpeace will be writing to your major shareholders in the UK to share the information in these reports with them, information which it seems to us you have so far failed to disclose.
I would be very grateful if you could let me know if you will be making these reports available to your shareholders worldwide, or whether, in the interests of open debate which you say you have spent £1 million promoting in this country, you will take steps to encourage all your shareholders to visit the Greenpeace website at http://www. green peace, org.uk/monsanto where both documents may be viewed.
Greenberg's explanation of Monsanto's PR failure centres not on the products themselves, or on the nature of the technology, but more on what is seen as a backwardness among European consumers, and a general 'immaturity' or ignorance, particularly among the press. "The media elite are strongly hostile to biotechnology and Monsanto. While individual reporters may have improved their knowledge, there is no evidence of that among the media elite - who did not read the [presumably 'educational'] advertising and who do not seem particularly informed on the issue."
Objections raised by a number of media 'elite' interviewed by Greenberg included among other things issues of regulation, of independent agencies, of labelling. They favoured, for the most part, a temporary moratorium on the release of GM foods - a fairly reasonable platform, but one which is apparently incompatible with that of Monsanto. "Reading these comments i t is unlikely that the press is about to usher in a change in the climate in Britain," concludes the report - 'a change in climate' no doubt meaning unconditional acceptance of Monsanto's products.
The problem in Germany, according to Monsanto's advisers lies in "an ideological opposition to 'processed foods' which are seen to not be real." In the UK, the study shows that the public are fast losing their faith in "scientific progress", indeed they are seen by Greenberg to be "the most sceptical in Europe". Similar studies backed by Unilever, the Green Alliance and
Greenpeace understands that there may be further reports available from Stan Greenberg, in particular about public views in the United States on genetically engineered food. Will you make this further information publicly available as part of the 'information campaign' you say you embarked on this summer to 'stimulate informed debate'?
Finally, it does not seem to make good business sense that you are trying to sell a product that your own market research shows the public do not want. We think it is time you took heed of what your pollsters are telling you, and pulled out of the GM0 business.
Reprinted fro m The Observer, 22 November, 1998.
the University of Lancaster have shown, what's more, that consumers in the UK harbour "mixed feelings about the integrity and adequacy of present patterns of government regulation, and in particular about official scientific assurances of safety."
But what is astonishing in all this is a total inability on the part of Monsanto's advisers to rest any responsibility for this 'maturing crisis' on its unacceptable products or on the behaviour of Monsanto itself (except for minor reference to their clumsy introduction of genetically modified soya). What is even more disturbing is their lack of interest in doing so. The purpose of the report seems to be that of analysing means either of sweeping the issue under the carpet until such a time as the issue is forgotten, or else of twisting the language and adapting the arguments until they prove more persuasive to a fundamentally distrustful public. In the UK, the emphasis is on terms used to describe Monsanto's
work, with polls having been carried out to determine which of the various options meets with least disapproval. In Germany, where there is wide-scale rejection of Monsanto's ecological or health justifications for introducing GM foods, the report suggests a shift in emphasis towards "stress[ing] economic and macro benefits and avoidfing], at this point, intrusions on the sanctity of the German consumer."
Monsanto's next advertising campaign (should they be foolish enough to launch one) wil l therefore focus on different arguments in different regions, and wil l be tailored as a result of this and other studies, on exactly that which Monsanto believes we, the consumer, want to hear. We don't like the term genetic modification in the UK we won't be hearing it. The Germans no longer believe the ecological justifications for genetic engineering - they wil l only have to endure the economic ones. In other words, the path of industrial progress has
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 1, January/February 1999 "Absent political support in government, Monsanto would surely face unfavourable decisions on its key products. " - The British Test
"At each point in this project, we keep thinking that we have reached the low point and that public thinking will stabilise, but we apparently have not reached that point." - The British Test
"There is no place in Europe where the public stands so opposed to genetic engineering and the introduction of GM foods " - Germany: The Maturing Crisis
become one in which a product is born, and, regardless of its social value is then sold to a gullible consumer with the use of artificial arguments. Bovine Growth Hormones, as discussed in our special issue on Monsanto, must surely be the finest illustration of that process, whereby a highly questionable means of increasing the milk (and pus) output of a cow has been foisted on a nation already burdened with a massive milk glut.
The overall flavour of the Greenberg report is negative as far as Monsanto is concerned. But there is sadly still scope for Monsanto's further entry into the two countries on which the reports are based.
The British retailers for example, are "quite well briefed, in some cases citing Monsanto briefing statistics word for word." In contrast to a year ago, "they no longer seem focussed on safety concerns."
Among the political elite too, there has been "clear evidence of progress". The reason, according to Greenberg: "these members of the elite saw the advertising and clearly understood the messages." The political elite in Germany too are "strongly supportive, perhaps even proponents." The report uses terms such as 'stability' and 'maturity' for those sectors which are beginning to see things in Monsanto's favour. "The interviews (in Germany) suggest a mature politics that has largely left the issue settled, or at least off the table."
But the best news of all for Monsanto is
a feeling of utter helplessness which seems to have consumed the public both here in the UK, and particularly in Germany.
"The [German] public, while strongly opposed to GM foods, believes these products are on the market and that the public is relatively powerless to stop their introduction."
Even though, according to all available studies, German consumers believe that GM food "constitutes a danger to all mankind," 92 per cent say "GM foods wil l definitely come and cannot be stopped." In what must be one of the more vivid illustrations of the near complete separation of interests between state and citizen, there is now a situation in which the federal state of Germany is seen by a heavily opposed public to be an advocate for biotechnology. As a result, according to one consumer representative, the consumer feels powerless. "One day you're confronted with the stuff, and what can you do? You haven't got any choice." Another consumer representative believes that although "[t]here would be a lot of squabbling, I don't think that genetic engineering can be stopped."
According to Greenberg, "few of the opponents expect the [German] Greens to use their leverage to get the SPD to shift on genetic engineering. Al l the players seem to think these are developments that cannot be stopped."
A British MP is quoted as saying, "I' m sure in five years time, everybody wil l be happily eating genetically-modified apples, plums, peaches, peas." This, despite the fact that the process currently faces enormous (and growing) popular resistance.
Which leaves Monsanto with the question as to what might be done to correct the situation. What is clear in both countries surveyed, is that the more people learn about genetic engineering, the greater is their resistance to it. What is also clear is that the answer does not lie in trying to persuade the public of the merits of GM foods. This is certainly the view of Monsanto's advisers. "The overwhelming weight of evidence argues for a low-profile approach in effect doing little to influence the process and certainly doing little to elevate Monsanto's profile in Germany. Obviously one should continue to press the government for favourable decisions on seed introductions and one should support efforts to expand information and knowledge about biotechnology."
This is also what EuropaBio, Europe's largest biotechnology trade federation, was advised by PR firm Burson Marsteller. The task of persuading consumers to accept the new technology should, they advised, be left to "those charged with public trust - the politicians and regulators". The American
Educatin g Indi a
In a new booklet prepared by Monsanto's public relations consultants in India, with the aim of "Clarifying Myths About Biotechnology...", the corporation portrays itself as 'Mr. Reality' and its critics (as well as its customer target) as 'Mr. Myth'.
'Mr. Reality', a cleancut and friendly looking man has taken it upon himself to rT,p%?v
correct 'Mr. Myth's' \JJ unjustified fears about biotechnology.
After twenty pages of shockingly simplistic 'mythbusting', in which 'Mr. Myth' and 'Mr. Reality' exchange dialogue on issues such as
food shortages and environmental protection, the former is left dazed and confused.
"They're not so bad after all, and their arguments make sense." he seems to be saying to himself.
Naturally enough, Monsanto's arguments remain faithfully inaccurate, and as one might expect, the story ends with scruffy and confused (but now happy) 'Mr. Myth' being shown the light by benign 'Mr. Reality', and the two walk arm in arm towards a future of Food, Health and Hope.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 1, January/February 1999