In a talk to fellow PR professionals, Jay Byrne, Monsanto's former Chief Internet Strategist gave 'CFFAR' as an example of the type of website that Monsanto worked to direct people to who were seeking information on GM food on the internet.
CFFAR stands for The Center for Food & Agricultural Research and its website is not currently available, following adverse publicity, but it can still be viewed in its archived form.
The website presents CFFAR as 'a public policy and research coalition dedicated to exploring and understanding health, safety, and sustainability issues associated with food and fiber production.' However, no details are given of the history, constituent members, organisational structure, administrative location or personnel of this 'public policy and research coalition'.
CFFAR first attracted attention during the 2000 convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Boston, USA. At a counter event to the BIO convention fake biographies were anonymously placed amongst the literature on display. The targets were Dr Michael Hansen of the Consumers' Union and the attorney Steven Druker who were both in Boston to speak at a press conference.
Hansen's 'biography' focused heavily on the controversy over Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug rBGH. Hansen was described as, 'The Crown Prince of Cancer Scares' - a title justified by an apparent attack by a Former Surgeon General on Hansen's 'baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible' cancer claims. This 'attack' on Hansen was a fabrication. The Former Surgeon General's comments, far from singling out Hansen, bore no reference to anything Hansen had ever said.
Although there was nothing in the documents to indicate their source, a reporter from the Boston Herald showed Steven Druker a version of his 'biography' that had been faxed to the paper ahead of the press conference. Attached was a covering page with a website address - that of the Center For Food and Agricultural Research (CFFAR). Hansen's 'biography' was subsequently posted on the CFFAR site.
The CFFAR home page prominently displays a colour photo of what appear to be happy-looking Third World children crop picking, and one of the site sections is on 'Food Production Methods'. Here a series of Fact Sheets are available on the 'primary methods of food production', aimed at fostering 'a better understanding of health, safety, and sustainability issues.'
Of the 3 fact sheets listed:
Organic Food Production
Genetically Modified Food Production
Conventional Food Production
only the 'Organic' one is available - the others have been 'coming shortly' since the site was launched.
The CFFAR's short 'backgrounder' on organics starts off relatively cautiously:
'The basic principles of organic production are to restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony', etc. However, the fact sheet soon hits its stride:
'If we were to attempt a large scale switch to organic farming, we would have to tear down wilderness, hedges and wetlands to make up for the lower yield rates...'
'In 1996, the Center for Disease Control listed 488 confirmed E. coli outbreaks in the United States. Critics of organic farming have linked one quarter of these cases to the consumption of organic or natural foods. This is despite the fact that only one percent of the food produced in the United States is produced organically.'
These claims are derived from the attacks on organic farming of Dennis Avery .
Other than this one page, the site has no other sections that would seem to have any direct connection with CFFAR's proclaimed goal of helping 'policy makers and the general public reach a fuller understanding of food and fiber issues'.
There is, however, a substantial section called 'Stop Anti-GM violence' and further down the home page - beneath the crop-picking children - there are a string of articles offering to inform you 'about the latest anti-GMO violence'. There is also a whole semi-autonomous 'vandalwatch.org' subsection of the site which was clearly developed to incorporate more of this material. This sub-section is larger than the whole of the rest of the site.
Given the number of pages relating to 'violence' and given how little else there is on the site, it seems that other than attacking organic farming and critics of Monsanto like Michael Hensen, hosting the material on 'violence' is really what the site is about.
On the site it is claimed that 'the increasingly violent tactics being used by the anti-GM foods movement' is one aspect of the GM debate that 'has gone largely unreported.' Groups like Greenpeace and the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy are attacked as responsible for violence or as having links to those who are responsible. Words like 'violence', 'terrorism', and 'acts of terror' are used repeatedly.
A 'VandalWatch Closeup' article, 'A Close-up on Greenpeace, Not Your Father's Old Peace Movement' refers to Greenpeace 'vandalizing research facilities' and repeats the claim that it is under the wing of 'left-wing anarchists willing to engage in campaigns of terrorism and intimidation', not to mention 'terrorism and fear campaigns'.
The article also states