Engineering Opinions on Engineered Foods
Monsanto and Burson-Marsteller Hire a Consumer Organizer
Executives at the Burson-Marsteller PR firm are saying as little as
possible about their pro-biotech PR campaign for the Monsanto company.
Jerry Morrison, a longtime consumer and labor organizer who now runs a
firm called the Strategic Consulting Group, says he didn't even know
Monsanto was the end client when B-M hired him in early November to
pitch local groups about the merits of genetically modified foods.
Morrison has especially close ties with Citizen Action of Illinois,
state's leading consumer organization. In 1998, he ran the successful
U.S. congressional campaign of Jan Schakowsky, a member of the Citizen
Action board of directors who is well-known as a Chicago consumer advocate.
Morrison's wife serves on the Citizen Action board, and his business
partner, Bob Creamer, is Schakowsky's husband and was Citizen Action's
executive director prior to resigning last year under a cloud related to
his handling of the organization's finances.
Morrison was hired in conjunction with public hearings that the Food
Drug Administration has scheduled as part of its "Biotechnology in the
Year 2000 and Beyond" program. In Chicago, a hearing was held on Nov.
18, with some environmentalists complaining that they received very
little advance time to register. The FDA initially booked a room with
seating of only 100, and some people say when they called they were told
the roster was already full. After the number of people wanting to speak
surpassed 500, FDA moved the hearing to a larger venue.
Morrison readily admitted that B-M has hired him to meet with farmers,
unions, consumer and "faith-based" groups to counter what he describes as
"environmentalist public hysteria" about biotech foods.
"I've been a union organizer, a community organizer," Morrison said.
not going to have my credentials questioned by these folks. On most
issues I work with environmental groups. I disagree with them on this
issue. Burson-Marsteller has approached me to work with them on a number
of other issues in the past and I declined because I disagreed with
them, but I agree with them on this issue."
In fact, Morrison's liberal credentials appear to be precisely the reason
he was hired. PR Watch interviewed several activists who disagree with
Morrison's position but declined to be quoted on the record. "I'm a
friend of Jerry's," explained one, who said he is "pissed off" at his
decision to work for Burson-Marsteller. Morrison's connections, he said,
make it easier to stifle organized consumer opposition to biotech foods.
"It may not mean that Citizen Action goes out and says they're fine," he
said. "It may just mean that they're silent, and that can be worse."
Both Morrison and Burson-Marsteller have been cagey about the details
their work. Morrison told O'Dwyer's PR Services that he coordinates his
work with B-M's Chicago office, but refused to give the name of the
person he reports to. John LaSage, B-M's Midwest Region Chairman, said
he wasn't aware that Morrison had been hired. Peter Himler, B-M's
executive vice president for media relations, even refused on Nov. 11 to
confirm that Monsanto was a client. However, the New York Times reported
on Nov. 12 that Monsanto "recently retained Burston-Marsteller . . . at
an annual cost of millions of dollars."
Direct Impact, a subsidiary of B-M specializing in "grassroots PR,"
also been involved in trying to get pro-industry testimony at the FDA