Monday, February 11, 2008

It is a Fact (Says Monsanto)

Maybe you've been following the news about legislation popping up in states across the country to ban labeling dairy products that are free of Monsanto's synthetic growth hormone (interchangeably called rBST or rBGH).

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in that quaint idea of freedom of speech and freedom of choice. We should have the right to know how our food was made and be able to choose whether we want to eat it or not.

So far, the efforts to ban hormone-free labeling have stalled. In Pennsylvania, legislation passed that would have banned hormone-free labeling, but it was rescinded after significant citizen protest. And Indiana lawmakers pulled the legislation to ban such labeling there. But there are murmurings that other states will see the introduction of similar legislation soon.

So, who's behind these efforts to ban hormone-free labeling? Would it surprise you to hear it's the company that makes the synthetic hormone, Monsanto?

In the latest public relations twist, a new outfit called American Farmers for the Advancement of Conservation of Technology supposedly voices the concern of farmers who support the bans on labeling hormone-free dairy products.

But dig a little deeper and you'll find that the organization's website was registered to Susan Williams of Osborn Barr Communications, a brand management company whose clients include Monsanto.

In other words, American Farmers for the Advancement of Conservation of Technology is a classic front group. It sounds (and looks) like a megaphone for real farmers when in fact it was created and is funded by Monsanto.

In the media, though, the organization has been identified only with a slight qualification that it is "backed by Monsanto."

Lisa Rathke, of The Associated Press, for instance, quoted Carrol Campbell, a Kansas dairy farmer who co-chairs the group: "There's no question that rBST is safe... That's what's so frustrating to us, that there are organizations out there that would indicate that it's something other than safe."

Rathke's AP article was picked up widely--from the Trentonian to Money to the Nashua Telegragh to The Guardian UK. If you were reading it, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that the organization was a legitimate expression of farmer concern and not what it is: a front group for a multinational company concerned about losing market share for one of its products.

The Center for Media and Democracy (on whose board I sit) has just partnered with the Consumers Union to help us I.D. front groups like this one. Check out their site here.