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What happens when a private company with a long history of producing some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet and now produces our food starts facing public pressure from a growing national grassroots movement to label their products to conform with basic principles of democracy and transparency?
Well, if the company in question is Monsanto, then you take a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook and hatch a secret plan to enlist public university scientists to bury the potential harm of your genetically engineered crops by whitewashing negative studies and systematically demonizing your opponents in the media to mislead elected officials and the American public about the safety of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and their accompanying toxic pesticides.
Here’s a little history lesson, in the 1940s, tobacco companies ran ads with doctors proclaiming smoking cigarettes were perfectly safe. In 1946, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company ran a now infamous campaign called “More Doctors” recommend Camels after “surveying” more than 113,597 doctors “from every branch of medicine.” In reality, the tobacco company’s advertising agency employees questioned doctors at medical conferences and their offices and used these fake results to deceive a generation of smokers.
Today, Monsanto and the biotech industry are copying the same tactics, this time hiding behind the façade of public university scientists and hiring major PR firms to promote GMOs and the toxic weedkiller glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in Roundup, which some scientists are offering to drink on Twitter and in front of classrooms of students to “prove” its safety and hide the fact that it is harmful to humans and the environment.
Last weekend, the New York Times released a stunning expose of how Monsanto and the biotech industry enlisted allegedly independent public university scientists in a deceptive campaign to lobby state legislators in Pennsylvania, interfere with ballot initiatives in Oregon and Colorado and paper over risks of high pesticide usage on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
According to New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton, as the GMO labeling debate was coming to a boil in America in the past three years, Monsanto and their “industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.”
And why would Monsanto want to do this? Because independent scientist from public university come with a major halo effect, something that Monsanto’s top lobbyists mention repeatedly in the recently released emails to public university scientists.