Astroturf's "Southern Missionaries" preaching biotech (28/3/2004)

This is taken from Voices from the South: The Third World Debunks Corporate Myths on Genetically Engineered Crops http://www.panna.org/campaigns/docsGe/docsGe_092203.pdf

For more on all those mentioned in the piece below see the GM WATCH directory at: www.gmwatch.org

Conveying a false sense of need, urgency and safety

Multilateral institutions and U.S. policy makers are in the pockets of those who stand to gain from GM foods - the corporations. Massive corporate expenditures on public relations are creating a false sense of need, urgency and safety concerning new technologies.

Just one biotech industry consortium, the Council for Biotechnology Information, has a $250 million war chest which has helped it place ads promoting biotechnology on television and in the print media. The key arguments being used in this pro-industry publicity blitz are green washing - "biotech will create a world free of pesticides," poorwashing—"we must accept genetically engineered foods if we are to feed the poor in the Third World," and hope dashing - "there are no alternatives."

The public relations industry has, of late, discovered a new tactic called astroturf activism. It looks like regular grassroots activism, except that it's fake. To this end, we've seen an increasing number of "credible spokespeople" - Third World representatives, scientists, professors, farmers, doctors and government ministers - in print media via opinion pieces, interviews and articles and over the airwaves.

These "Southern Missionaries" preach the benevolence of biotech with an evangelical zeal. But how often do those cited as "Third World representatives" supporting GM crops in developing countries have a vested interest in the technology's acceptance?

Dr. Florence Wambugu from Kenya, poster child of the biotech companies, is a Monsanto-trained biotechnician. Wambugu claims that the critics' real agenda is to keep the South dependent on the North: "They don't want Africa to embrace biotechnology because they know the technology has the potential to solve Kenya's famine problems."3

But Wambugu's whole career is a litany of dependency on the North. Under a scholarship from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), she became the first African scientist to take up a fellowship in biotechnology at Monsanto’s Life Sciences Research Centre in Missouri, USA. In 1994 Dr. Wambugu returned to Kenya to take up the post of Director of the African Centre of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) that promotes the growth of GM in the developing world. In addition to being funded by USAID, ISAAA's other donors include biotech companies such as Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta, AgrEvo, Cargill, Dow AgroSciences, and KWS, and the USDA. Until recently, Monsanto was on ISAAA's board and has now been replaced by Novartis.

Currently working as the director of Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Kenya, Wambugu herself sits on boards of Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (Private Sector Committee), International Food Policy Research Institute, DuPont/ Pioneer Company Biotech advisory panel, and African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum.4

Dr Wambugu's support for genetic engineering is cited in numerous articles on www.monsantoafrica.com, www.dupont.com, among many other pro-industry websites, with her views being projected as those of a disinterested "African scientist" taking on self-centered European activism. But her words at www.dupont.com/biotech betray a different concern: "The North is looking for additional markets for the technology they have developed. The South represents untapped markets for the North."

Quoted alongside Wambugu on these websites is another high-profile genetic engineering enthusiast, Dr. C.S. Prakash, director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, Alabama. Though he lives and works in the United States, Prakash claims to represent the people of the Third World. "Western anti-biotechnology activists represent a new imperialism that would condemn developing nations to permanent poverty and despair," lashes out Prakash.5

At a lecture sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs in 2000, Prakash lamented that anti-gene technology activists were trying to vilify the achievements of the Green Revolution in the 1970s and '80s. "Before the Green Revolution, India grew only 10 million tons of wheat. This year it produced 80 million tons." He accused the groups opposed to biotechnology, of having "a broader agenda - they want to control the production and distribution of food, on their terms. But I would rather see it done by multinational companies with enormous skills, resources and investment."6

Prakash ignores the bottom line that the Green Revolution did not decrease hunger. In the year 2000 while 80 million tons of excess food grains rotted in the granaries of the Food Corporation of India and was eaten by rats, newspaper headlines screamed starvation deaths in 13 states and nearly 300 million Indians went to bed hungry.7 The Green Revolution did increase environmental degradation and production costs for farmers who now must depend on purchased pesticides and fertilizers.

The Green Revolution sounded the death knell for those Indian farmers, who unable to sell their crops, have consumed the same pesticides to end their lives.

Lending himself promiscuously to the U.S. State Department to promote biotechnology in the Third World, Prakash has traveled to Malaysia, Tanzania and other "developing countries" - trips often arranged by the U.S. embassies based there. His enthusiasm has been amply rewarded. Prakash, an official USAID advisor, has managed to bring funding to the tune of US$5.5 million by USAID to Tuskgee University. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently signed an agreement with Sub Saharan African countries and Tuskegee University to facilitate technology transfer related to agricultural biotechnology.8

Prakash also runs one of the most influential pro- GM websites, AgBioWorld, with Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the far-right lobby group funded by companies such as Philip Morris, Pfizer and Dow Chemical. The website is connected to the public relations agency Bivings Woodell, the secret author of several [] websites and bogus citizens' movements which have been coordinating campaigns against environmentalists and whose clients include Monsanto, Kraft Foods, Dow Chemicals and Philip Morris.

In addition, Prakash works closely with the International Policy Network (IPN), whose prime mover is Julian Morris of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), [which] has advocated that African countries should be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of "good government."

It was on AgBioWorld that the fake persuaders invented by Bivings launched their assault on an article submitted to the journal Nature, showing the genetic contamination of the center of maize biodiversity in Mexico. AgBioWorld drew up a petition to have the paper retracted.

Prakash claims to have no links with Bivings but as reported by George Monbiot in Monsanto’s World Wide Web of Deceit, The Guardian (May 29, 2002) an error message on Prakash's website suggested that it is or was using the main server of the Bivings Group. A full technical audit of AgBioWorld found 11 distinctive technical fingerprints shared by AgBioWorld and Bivings' Alliance for Environmental Technology site. This is a textbook case of astroturf activism, and one of hundreds of critical interventions with which public relations companies hired by big business have secretly guided the biotech debate over the past few years.

Another biotech zealot is India’s Liberty Institute and its director, Barun Mitra, who gathered hawkers and farmers at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to protest the "sustainable poverty" agenda of environmentalists who want to retard economic development in the Third World. A crusader for the Third World, Mr. Mitra does not inform the listeners that Liberty is part of the deceptively named Sustainable Development Network which shares offices and its personnel with the International Policy Network (of which, recall, Prakash is a member), a group whose Washington address happens to be that of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

It's a small world.

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