Monsanto's campaign against Rachel Carson (27/5/2007)

1.Rachel Carson's centenary: the beat goes on
2.The campaign against Rachel Carson How they tried to silence Silent Spring

1.Rachel Carson's centenary: the beat goes on
Comment from GM Watch

Today's the centenerary of the birth of Rachel Carson (May 27 1907 - April 14 1964), the American biologist celebrated for her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. While Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is to be found listed amongst Time magazine's 100 greatest scientists and thinkers who've changed our world, when Carson's book was first published, she was the subject of ferocious attack.

To the fore was a corporation whose tactics against its critics continue to attract controversy:

"Monsanto tried to destroy her. They mounted a tremendous advertising campaign to discredit her and invalidate her work. They wanted to ruin her in every possible way they could." (Common Ground Interview with John Robbins) http://www.foodrevolution.org/commonground.htm

As well as coming under personal attack, efforts were made to silence her publishers (see The campaign against Rachel Carson). Rachel Carson was, of course, far from the last to be lined up to be silenced in this way.

In 1997, for example, Monsanto succeeded in pressurising Fox TV into not showing a report that two award-winning investigative journalists had made about Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH. The report was pulled virtually on the eve of broadcast, after Monsanto hired a renowned New York attorney to complain to Fox TV. Under pressure from Monsanto, the journalists were ordered to rewrite their report and when they then refused to - in their own words, "broadcast false information and slant the truth to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of special interests", they were sacked.

Then there was, Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food by Dr Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey. Just three days before the book was due to be published by a major publisher, Monsanto sent a threatening letter and the publisher pulled out.

Happily, Against the Grain went on to be published by Common Courage Press in 1998. That same year, though, the printers for The Ecologist - a firm that had worked successfully with the magazine for over twenty-five years - unilaterally pulped the 14,000 copy print run of its special edition, The Monsanto Files.

And even when the special issue went on to be printed by a different firm, two leading UK newsagent chains refused to stock it for fear of the consequences. The Ecologist's editor, Zac Goldsmith, spoke of "de facto censorship" and said of Monsanto, "It goes to show what a powerful force a reputation can be."

The vilification of Rachel Carson herself also bears witness to the fact that it is not just printers, publishers and retailers who have to mind their backs. In 2002 research by GM Watch helped to expose a Monsanto-initiated smear campaign against Dr Ignacio Chapela, following the publication by the journal Nature of research by Quist and Chapela showing GM contamination of native Mexican maize.

Our research also showed that the campaign of character assassination Chapela faced was part of a wider campaign to get fellow scientists to put pressure on Nature to retract his article. We tracked how the whole campaign was initiated and fuelled by Monsanto and its PR agency, the Bivings Group, using third party fronts and proxies to make the campaign appear unconnected to the corporation.

Even though the PR tactics deployed may have been less sophisticated at the time of the publication of Silent Spring, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations involved could still rely on support for their campaign of attack from willing third parties. And this involved not just their friends and supporters in government and the media, but also those in academia.

It's no wonder then that Rachel Carson felt it worth drawing attention to the financial ties between the corporations and the universities, as well as to ask, "When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?"


2.The campaign against Rachel Carson
How they tried to silence Silent Spring

[multiple extracts]

Silent Spring [was] serialized in the New Yorker in June 1962... Even before publication, Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a 'hysterical woman' unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid - indeed, the whole chemical industry - duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media... In their ugly campaign to reduce a brave scientist's protest to a matter of public relations, the chemical interests had only increased public awareness. - Time Magazine names Rachel Carson among top 100 scientists and thinkers http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/carson03.html

Silent Spring was written before big business politics and sophistry were so well versed at setting the terms of discourse about environmental issues. Still, during the four years that Carson spent writing the book, she was well aware that it would unleash the wrath of the chemical industry.

Carson's concerns were well founded. After The New Yorker serialized parts of the book, the New York Times ran an article with the headline, Silent Spring Is Now Noisy Summer: Pesticide Industry Up In Arms Over a New Book. The story began, "The $300,000,000 pesticides industry has been highly irritated by a quiet woman author whose previous works on science have been praised for the beauty and precision of the writing." - Industry Attacks on Dissent: From Rachel Carson to Oprah http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2002/0302orlando.html

...she was almost silenced when one company sought an injunction to prevent the sale of her book. Thankfully it failed, but the attacks continued. Many agrochemical companies launched a serious offensive trying to rubbish her. One of the most vocal critics was a name now familiar to most of us - Monsanto. And among the attacks were the predictable personal ones. Rachel Carson was denigrated as an "emotional female alarmist". A slap in the face, when in fact her sex was irrelevant to her scientific research and the facts she discovered. - Sophie Poklewski Koziell, Two Women of the Soil, Resurgence Issue 195 http://www.resurgence.org/resurgence/issues/koziell195.htm

...industry's attack on Rachel Carson was swift and vicious. The chemical companies banded together and hired a public relations firm to malign the book and attack Carson's credibility. The pesticide industry trade group, the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, spent over $250,000 (equivalent to $1.4 million today) to denigrate the book and its author.

Milton Greenstein, legal counsel and vice president of The New Yorker, was called by at least one chemical company and told that the magazine would be sued if it didn't pull the last installment it planned to run of Carson's book.

Carson effectively got her message across in part because what she had to say was radically new to the public, because her facts were unassailable, and because industry, though quite capable of attacking her and the publications that featured her work, had not yet learned how to overload the media - and by extension the people - with its own point of view.

One chemical industry leader, the Monsanto Company, has a long record of going after its critics... A billion-dollar company when Silent Spring first appeared, it published a parody of Carson's work, called "The Desolate Year," in the October 1962 issue of Monsanto Magazine. Since then, Monsanto has become a corporate role model in sugar-coating unpalatable facts and silencing dissent. - Industry Attacks on Dissent: From Rachel Carson to Oprah http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2002/0302orlando.html

One scientist speaking for the chemical industry warned, "if man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."... Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson wondered publicly why a "childless spinster" should be worried about how pesticides might affect future generations. He concluded that she was "probably a Communist." - Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement http://blog.oup.com/2007/03/rachel_carson_s/

The New Yorker serialisation had taken everyone by surprise; now, every effort was made to suppress or vilify the book, not only by chemical companies such as Velsicol and Monsanto, and the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, but also by government departments, the Nutrition Foundation, and even baby food producers.

When she did feel the need to strike back, however, she was characteristically effective: one reviewer, she said, "was offended because I made the statement that it is customary for pesticide manufacturers to support research on chemicals in the universities... I can scarcely believe the reviewer is unaware of it, because his own university is among those receiving such grants."

She went on: "Such a liaison between science and industry is a growing phenomenon, seen in other areas as well. The American Medical Association, through its newspaper, has just referred physicians to a pesticide trade association for information to help them answer patients' questions about the effects of pesticides on man.

"I am sure physicians have a need for information on this subject. But I would like to see them referred to authoritative scientific or medical literature - not to a trade organisation whose business it is to promote the sale of pesticides." She concluded: "When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?" - John Burnside, Reluctant Crusader, The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4415443,00.html

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