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September 21, 2000


Monarchs and the activists... the media... the money...


Well, the EPA has determined that biotech crops pose
little or no threat to Monarchs... My oh my! All that
alarm and fear for nothing?

Indeed, according a Washington Post article reporting
on the EPA's finding, the elimination of chemical
pesticides associated with these improved crops (8.2
million pounds according to USDA) may be contributing
to reported record numbers of Monarchs found this past
year. (Surprise, Monarchs are not an endangered

Still, many mainstream media reports continue to
include references that biotech kills or endangers
Monarchs. Perhaps this is due to, as columnist Molly
Ivins (who has also made claims that biotech kills
Monarchs), recently noted, "that the American media
are short in trained science writers." Unfortunately,
the media are being trained by fringe scientists and
activist groups whose motivations turn out to be

The Union of Concerned Scientists continues to tout
"The loss of Monarchs is too high a price to pay for
engineered corn" asking their members to lobby EPA for
a ban (source www.UCSUSA.org). UCS's fundraising page
on their web site now adorns the image of, you guessed
it, a Monarch next to the slogan "Give now!". Yet,
according to participants at a USDA biotech advisory
panel, UCS scientist Margaret Mellon told colleagues
she was "satisfied" that Monarchs were not endangered
by biotech corn. (Margaret, why are you telling
different audiences such widely different views on
this important issue?)

Environmental Defense, whose chief scientist is
Rebecca Goldberg, has recently sent out a massive
direct mail campaign envelopes adorned with fluttering
Monarchs asking for donations to help the "Keep the
Monarch off the endangered species list..." The
soliciation boldy notes, "First the Monarchs... then?"
urging contributions so they can get EPA to manadate
buffer zones around biotech cornfields. Oddly, Ms.
Goldberg was quoted last January as taking credit for
then-announced EPA guidelines mandating those very
buffer zones asked for by Environmental Defense.
(Rebecca, why do you need money to lobby EPA for
something they've already done?)

How do these fringe scientist dominate the public
discussion and media coverage of this issue? You
cannot read a story today about biotechnology with
"balance" from one of these self-proclaimed "leading

Well, one reason may by that UCS and Environmental
Defense are frequently cited and promoted by the same
public relations firm now running the "GE Food Alert"
campaign. This firm which represents Environmental
Defense also represents Greenpeace, National
Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council
among other anti-biotech groups.

According to a report out today by a former Clinton
Administration USDA director of consumer affairs and
two think tanks this PR firm and other financial
interest groups have orchestrated the anti-biotech
campaign to help increase sales for their organic and
natural products company clients. These clients
include: Ben & Jerry's, Rodale's Organic, Seventh
Generation, and Kashi Organic Cereals.

Citing similar past scare campaigns, this PR Firm
(Fenton Communications) notes their goals: "Our goal
was to create so many repetitions of the message that
average American consumers (not just the policy elite
in Washington) could not avoid hearing it - from many
different media outlets within a short period of
time," wrote David Fenton... Fenton added in a 1989
memo, "A modest investment by NRDC re-paid itself
many-fold in tremendous media exposure (and
substantial, immediate revenue . . .)."

UCS, Greenpeace, NRDC and Environmental Defense, among
others, use the biotech issue to generate increased
tax-deductible contributions (often from these very
same organic industry interests who benefit from these
scares), the media who cover them get increased
ratings (ergo, ad revenues) from their fearsome
exposes, and the only victims are the mislead public,
conventional farmers, technology companies and future
generations who will not benefit from delayed or
blocked technology advances that produce safer,
higher-yielding foods.

Isn't that the real story here? Perhaps responsible
scientist should share their views with the media via
their professional journals and review publications:

Brill's Content editor: comments@brillscontent.com
American Journalism Review editor: rrieder@ajr.org
Columbia Journalism Review editor: gc15@columbia.edu