Fwd: Biotech Face New Foe - Internet

From Chuck0 <chuck@tao.ca>
Date Sun, 19 Sep 1999 19:07:55 -0400
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Subject: Biotech Face New Foe - Internet
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 1999 14:23:28 -0400
From: Doug Hunt <dhunt@center1.com>
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Organization: UCC Netwk for Environmental & Economic Responsibility
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From:          "Biotech Activists" <biotech_activists@iatp.org>
To:            jeaton@fox.nstn.ca
Subject:       Biotech Face New Foe - Internet
Date:          Sun, 19 Sep 1999 12:53:21 -0500

Date Posted: 09/19/1999
Posted by: blilliston@uswest.net

Posted: Sunday, September 19, 1999 | 6:41 a.m.
E-mail this Story to a friend

Biotechnology companies face new foe: the Internet
By Bill Lambrecht
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Analysts at Deutsche Bank in Germany came up
with some grim conclusions this summer about the financial
prospects for genetically modified crops, saying companies
such as Monsanto were losing battle after battle.

A few years ago, the German report never would have traveled
outside the rarefied air of global investors. But that was
before the World Wide Web.

This month, a consultant in Idaho arranged for the bank
analysis to be posted on the Web, and in three days,
thousands of people had downloaded the 25-page report and
further disseminated it around the globe. Critics, farmers
and people still making up their minds about the new
technology had a new piece of information.

The Internet is enabling mobilization like never before and,
in the process, giving biotechnology companies fits.

In recent months, St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and its
rivals in the new science of genetically engineering food
have watched in dismay as pockets of protest have
mushroomed. Europe and Japan are demanding the labeling of
modified foods. A trade war is brewing between the United
States and Europe. American farmers are wondering whether to
continue sowing tens of millions of acres with gene-altered

What is behind the recent developments? More people,
especially Europeans, are raising questions about
environmental safety, potential health effects and the power
of the companies to determine the nature of food.

But perhaps no single factor looms larger in biotechnology's
tumble than the role of the Internet. The Web has given critics and
skeptics the arena to post studies, opinions and vitriol for
the world to consume. E-mail and listserves -- electronic
mailing lists -- enable activists to work with one another
and to exchange scraps of information instantly. All the
activity leaves the impression, real or imagined, of a
vibrant global movement.

The "life science" companies and biotechnology devotees use
the Internet, too, and in time they hope that it will play a
key role in convincing the world that biotechnology can yield food
that is not only safe, but better.

But as it stands, one powerful new technology may be
functioning to stem the growth of another powerful new

The Idaho consultant who distributed the German report,
Charles Benbrook, contends that people who had misgivings in
the past about farm and food policies had no means to link
up and reinforce their beliefs. The Internet has changed all

"Activists can transfer fresh and important information
around the world with speed and ease," Benbrook said. "And
that's something we've never experienced before."

Changing policy

Until last year, the most public responses received by the
Department of Agriculture on a new rule was 7,000. Then
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman asked Americans to tell
him what they thought of a new organic foods policy that
would let food that was genetically engineered, irradiated
or fertilized with sludge carry the government's new
"organic" label.

More than 250,000 people responded, mostly by e-mail, and
the vast majority said it was a terrible idea. Under the
nearly completed rules, genetically engineered food in the
United States won't be labeled as organic.

The Internet is becoming an important factor in politics and
public policy debates on a host of issues. Until recently, interest
groups usually consisted of associations with national memberships
and slick magazines. Now, with the Internet, people can mobilize
and pressure governments with the push of a button.

"It changes the presumptions of representative democracy,"
said Phil Noble, a political consultant and founder of
PoliticsOnline. "I think the Internet is going to do for public
policy what the telephone did for lobbying."

People can be mobilized, too, in ways that don't give a true
picture of public sentiment.

"In literally a matter of hours, I can create an interest
group of tens of thousands on whatever my issue is right now, and
mobilize them to send mail, e-mail or even rotten eggs," Noble said.

Political scientist Michael Cornfield of George Washington
University said "cyberlobbying" soon will dominate
grass-roots organizing because of its speed and low cost.

"It won't level the playing field between those who don't
buy access and those who do, but it will make it easier for
people to be involved in grass-roots lobbying," he said.

Anti-genetic engineering forces seem to be finding it easy
right now.

A PR headache

With a staff of five in the United States and Canada, the
Rural Advancement Foundation International has about 30,000
fewer employees than Monsanto.

Yet RAFI's "Terminator" campaign has created a monumental
public relations headache for Monsanto and triggered
anti-biotechnology sentiments around the world.

The Terminator is the RAFI-coined name for a genetic
technology that renders seeds sterile so they can't be saved
for the next crop. That way, farmers must buy more modified
seeds and pay the additional "technology fee." The
sterile-seed invention was patented last year by the U.S.
government and a Mississippi seed company that Monsanto is

Using the Internet, RAFI has persuaded some of the world's
leading agriculture researchers and even the biotechnology-friendly
Rockefeller Foundation to condemn the Terminator on the
grounds that it is unfair to low-income farmers and might even be
harmful if farmers planted them unknowingly.

RAFI's Hope Shand said that the Internet has dramatically
increased her organization's power to reach people. In a
recent 16-month period, she said, RAFI had 1.3 million
"hits" on its Web site, from which visitors downloaded
455,000 pages.

"The Terminator campaign would never have been possible
without the spread of information on the Internet," she

Another Internet campaign torpedoed an effort by Monsanto in
Bangladesh. Last year, Monsanto agreed to give $150,000 to
the Grameen Bank, which is known internationally for giving
loans to poor farmers. But after the bank received a barrage
of e-mail critical of Monsanto, the arrangement was

Distorting reality?

Dozens of groups - from the Union of Concerned Scientists to
direct-action proponents such as Greenpeace - use the
Internet to work against biotechnology.

Friends of the Earth and some of the biggest environmental
advocacy groups wage online global campaigns. An Internet
drive to force mandatory labeling of modified food is being
waged out of Washington state.

Crop saboteurs, such as genetiX snowball in Britain, hook up
with the Direct Action Media Network and organizations that
take a militant approach to advocacy.

Then there's Mutanto, a Web site that parodies Monsanto's.
Instead of Monsanto's slogan of "Food, Health and Hope,"
Mutanto offers "Fraud, Stealth and Hype."

The critics of genetic food are simply exploiting their
Internet advantage, said Michael Hanson of Consumers Union,
which publishes Consumer Reports. "The other side has just
as much access, but they're just not as good at it."

The "other side" thinks that the anti-biotechnology
campaigners succeed on the Internet through distortion:
distorting the facts about safety and creating the false
impression that consumers, not just activists, worry about
modified food.

A relatively few activists have been able to create a sense
of movement that didn't exist before the Internet,
biotechnology companies say. As a result, news outlets and
others believe there's more out there than there really is,
even though some of the anti-biotechnology sites get very
few visitors.

"It's a dual-edged sword," Monsanto's Jay Byrne said. "On
one hand, the Internet allows people with opinions or even
spurious facts to share that information broadly. But at the
same time, it allows the public access to scientific and
academic information that so far has been generally
supportive of the technology. The challenge lies in
discerning between the two."

Monsanto uses the Web aggressively and has won awards for
it, including one this month from an agribusiness magazine
for its French Web page. The company tailors individual
sites around the world to combat anti-genetic food

In the United Kingdom, Monsanto's Web site went so far as to
offer a link to Greenpeace and post critical press accounts
of itself to stimulate debate. Monsanto uses its British
site to sponsor a public dialogue on the outbreak of
European incidents of crop destruction by protesters.

By the same token, detractors accuse Monsanto of
exaggerating in cyberspace biotechnology's potential to feed
hungry people.

Despite the Internet's power and potential, both sides in
the biotechnology debate concede that it will come down
eventually to people sorting through issues themselves just
like they've always done.

Benbrook, the Idaho consultant, said, "If the public doesn't
believe what is said, the fanciest Web sites and the biggest public
relations campaigns in the world won't amount to much."

Some Web sites in the biotech wars


Union of Concerned Scientists. www.ucsusa.org

Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods.

Consumers Union. www.consumersunion.org

Friends of the Earth. www.foe.org

Rural Advancement Foundation Internationa. www.rafi.org

Jeremy Rifkin; Foundation on Economic Trends.

Greenpeace. www.greenpeace.org

Organic Trade Association. www.ota.com

Edmonds Institute. www.edmonds-institute.org

Ecologist Magazine. www.gn.apc.org/ecologist

genetiX snowball. www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/gs

"Mutanto." www.users.zetnet.co.uk/lean/nonsanto.htm


Archer Daniels Midland. www.admworld.com

Monsanto Co. www.monsanto.com

Monsanto Co. United Kingdom. www.monsanto.co.uk

Novartis. www.novartis.com

Dupont. www.dupont.com

Agrevo. www.agrevo.com

Biotechnology Industrial Organization. www.bio.com

Food Biotechnology Communications Network.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association. www.gmabrands.com

National Food Processors Association. www.nfpa-food.org

Food Marketing Institute. www.fmi.org

Academic, government

Danforth Plant Science Center.

Missouri Botanical Gardens. www.mobot.org

U.S. Government Food Safety Site. www.foodsafety.gov

Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Information

UN Biosafety Information Network and Advisory Service.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


National Corn Growers Association. www.ncga.com

Nature Magazine. www.nature.com

Science Magazine. www.sciencemag.org

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