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Date:

May 11, 2000

Subject:

News by any other name....

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Dear Colleagues,

I stumbled upon some oddities which seemed so odd I felt
compelled to follow up on them, and this draft article is
the result.

As I write this, Mr. Hammond is still refusing to answer my
questions, even while he is dunning my boss with various
claims impugning my integrity, including the allegation that
I am in league with Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Please read the following at your leisure. Meanwhile, those
of you who would like to offer comments on this situation
and are willing to be quoted with attribution are encouraged
to make quotable comments for the final draft of this
article.


Activist Coalition Provides News To Farmers

UPDATED May 10, 2000 A coalition of trade and activist
groups has banded together to form CropChoice, which intends
to act as “an information source for American farmers about
genetically modified crops, alternatives, management
options, and profitability.” As stated on its website
<http://www.cropchoice.com>, its focus is on disseminating
“news that big companies may not want farmers to hear.”

CropChoice Sponsors
American Corn Growers Association
Center for Food Safety
Demeter Association
Environmental Media Services
Family Farm Defenders
Food First
Greenpeace USA
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc.
National Family Farm Coalition
New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY
Pesticide Action Network - North America
The Sierra Club
Sustain: The Environmental Information Group

CropChoice says its news service “provides balance,
complimenting [sic] other news sources and helping American
producers make the best planting and management decisions.”

CropChoice.com does not accept any seed or chemical company
advertising. “Farmers have lots of well-justified concerns
about biotech crops,” Ellen Hickey of Pesticide Action
Network, North America, a member of the CropChoice
coalition, told AgWeb <http://www.agweb.com>. “With
worldwide resistance to biotech crops on the rise, farmers
need to know what the future has in store. Cropchoice aims
to provide that information and offer farmers an alternative
to slick biotech ad campaigns.”

Whether or not relying for financial support on a coalition
such as this results in more balanced reporting than relying
on advertising is not entirely clear.

Some of the supporters have obvious financial interests in
the direction of the so-called “debate” over biotechnology.
Demeter offers a certification service for organic farms
using a ‘Biodynamic’ philosophy of agriculture which it
claims is “widely regarded as the strictest and purest of
all agriculture certification standards.” Family Farm
Defenders is a group of dairy operators working to “put the
control of milk pricing back into the hands of dairy
producers.” One of its fundraising strategies involves
promoting, and selling, “rBGH-free cheese products” to
consumers.

For most members of the coalition, however, such as
Greenpeace, their main business is activism. Sustain says it
is “playing a key national role in mobilizing major public
opposition” to biotechnology, and takes credit for
organizing a Rally to Stop Genetically Engineered Foods in
the federal plaza adjacent to the November, 1999 hearing of
the Food and Drug Administration held in Chicago.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has a
campaign to require labeling of products “with respect to
the sustainability of their production, processing and
transporting,” which it claims “is a powerful tool toward
achieving a more environmentally sound, economically viable
and socially just economy.” It also has a Campaign To Ban
The Patenting Of Life, part of which is to decry modified
foods “which are being sold in the supermarket without
long-term testing, and almost no understanding of the
widespread effect such products might have on our precious
ecosystem.”

The Center for Food Safety supports a prohibition on GMOs
in organic and other methods of agriculture because of their
potential human health and environmental impacts.

The aims of some of the groups are broader and more
general. The Sierra Club, an environmental group, claims
there is “no requirement for long term testing and much is
unknown” about modified crops and the foods made from them,
since “[p]lants are complex and introducing new genes may
result in unanticipated changes.” As a result, the group
says, “toxins and allergens, changes in nutritional
benefits, or spread of antibiotic resistance may occur. Lab
animals fed transgenic potatoes developed damage to their
vital organs. Studies suggest that the genetically
engineered bovine growth hormone (r-BGH) may cause changes
within our bodies which contribute to growth of cancers of
the breast, colon, and prostate.”

Food First, arguably the activist group with the broadest
agenda, is aligned with the aims of the eco-reactionary
movement, as it advocates both the aims and the dedication
to ‘collective action’ of those who recently left a swath of
destruction through Seattle. When it comes to biotechnology,
the top two officials in the organization claim that biotech
corporations are modifying seed to increase profits and
foster farmer dependency through the control of technology,
with products which endanger butterflies and pose “potential
risks” of allergens or toxins in foods, or reducing their
nutritional quality or value.

Remarkably, one of the members of the coalition is a
web-based news service itself. Journalism at Environmental
Media Services (EMS) focuses on environmental news and
events. On the side, it offers advice to “committed”
activists who ‘know their issue’ on how to implement an
effective media campaign. There are, for instance, tips on
how to draft an effective press release. One sample: “New
Research Finds Genetically Engineered Ingredients In Common
Foods; Largest U.S. Consumers Group Calls For Labeling” is
the title. The subtitle is: “Public Health Officials,
Doctors Express Concern Over Long-Term Effects of
Genetically Engineered Crops.”

“We want to help you think about the role that media play
in influencing public policy and how to make that influence
work for you,” the EMS says.

The interests and concerns of the other members of the
consortium are obvious. Not so obvious is the presence of
the American Corn Growers Association, a membership
organization of 14,000 US farmers who have seen their export
markets severely disrupted by the activities and rhetoric of
the other members on the list.

Edward Hammond, formerly a Program Officer with Rural
Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), though he will
not disclose his job title at CropChoice, says he reports
the news found on the website independently of the interests
of its supporters. While at RAFI, Hammond lent strong
support to a media campaign against “Terminator” technology,
which RAFI originally spearheaded. Combined with the group’s
rhetorical focus on the benefits of farm-saved seed and its
stance against intellectual property rights for seed
developers, it was effective in eventually bringing the
technology into disrepute.

A RAFI spokeswoman claims that Hammond now works for the
Seattle office Greenpeace. CropCheck, as it turns out, moved
into space right next door to the Greenpeace office. The
phone number Hammond now answers at CropCheck used to be the
fax line for the Greenpeace office.

Hammond, however, denies that he works for Greenpeace. He
would not, on the other hand, say who the primary source of
income is for CropCheck, nor would he say who spearheaded
the idea of bringing this coalition together for the
creation of a news service. “I’m not going to answer those
questions, because you already know what you want to say,”
Hammond said. “You’re going to do a hatchet job on me, or
say that CropCheck is an outlet for Greenpeace.”