ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
12 March 2003


The following article from the British Medical Journal is about the activities of Washington DC-based PR lobbyist "Tricky" Rick Berman's lot - what PR Watch describes as his "front group funded by tobacco, booze and food companies" - the Center for Consumer Freedom, a vocal supporter of GM foods.

According to PR Watch, "Berman says there are two things that set his firm, Berman & Co., apart from others in the trade. The first is that "we always have a knife in our teeth." The other is that "we don't chase the smaller issues... Our work is restricted to and focused on issues that affect shareholder value."
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"Our offensive strategy," Berman says, "is to shoot the messenger. Given the activists' plans to alarm beyond all reason, we've got to attack their credibility as spokepersons."

In that context creating "bogus websites to hijack browsers" is the least of it.

The Consumer Freedom campaign on "Food Technology" involves smearing organic food as dangerous and promoting what it calls "genetically improved food". Despite being pro-consumer choice, the Consumer Freedom campaign vehemently opposes GM food labeling.

Berman also paints biotech opponents as terrorists, asserting that "anti-biotech extremists" are part of a "growing wave of domestic terrorism" and that the people we need to worry about are not just al-Qa'ida but "the middle-class kids down the street." [Terrorists On The March -- In America, USA Today]

Berman's list of "anti-biotech extremists" has included not just environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which it accuses of conducting a "public relations jihad" on the issue, but even organisations like Christian Aid whom Berman & Co. label a "far-left leaning" group that "flat-out lies about GE foods". These "future-fearing radicals hide behind a religious facade to more easily malign farmers, scientists, food companies, and even PR people who deal with GE foods."

Berman also claims to root out the funding of the "notorious and extreme groups" that restrict consumer choice on food and drink, although ironically he has been accused of "funneling millions of corporate dollars - donated to non-profit organizations he runs - right into his own bank accounts." Berman started out his PR operations with $600,000 from tobacco giant, Phillip Morris.

According to Michael Jacobson, the director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "The so called Center for Consumer Freedom deceives the American people every day of the week by posing as a consumer group, when it's really a front group that does PR dirty work..." (item 1)

1.Industry group created bogus websites to hijack browsers
2.excerpt from CORPORATE PHANTOMS by George Monbiot
3.Blair won't be forgiven, even if Iraqis dance in the streets
War leaders must sound adamant, but he didn't listen from the start


1.Industry group created bogus websites to hijack browsers

Ray Moynihan, Washington, DC
British Medical journal
BMJ 2003;326:463 ( 1 March ) News

The panel that settles disputes over internet domain names has found that an industry backed "consumer" group in the United States deliberately created bogus websites to hijack internet traffic from a health advocacy group.

The National Arbitration Forum ruled in January that the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) set up websites in bad faith, to "create confusion" among internet users seeking access to sites of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The CCF does not disclose its sponsors, but in the arbitration panel's decision the group is described as "a coalition of more than 30000 restaurant and tavern operators working to protect the public's right to a full menu of dining and entertainment choices" (

By contrast the CSPI, a 30 year old health advocacy group, does not accept corporate or government grants and is funded by subscriptions to a nutrition newsletter and by foundations listed on its website (

The two disputed domain names were (an attempt to disrupt traffic to the CSPI website) and (an attempt to disrupt traffic to a site offering nutritional, cooking, and campaigning tips to children and teenagers).

The finding is not the first time the CCF has been caught engaging in dirty tricks. Last January the National Arbitration Forum ruled that the CCF had in bad faith sought to disrupt the business activities of Chef's Collaborative, a group committed to such goals as sustainable food production and imparting cooking skills to children.

Executive director of the CSPI, Michael Jacobson, has described the CCF's activities as Orwellian. "The so called Center for Consumer Freedom deceives the American people every day of the week by posing as a consumer group, when it's really a front group that does PR dirty work for the restaurant and tavern industry."

The CCF's communication director, Mike Burita, said that it was the CSPI that was using "big brother" tactics, by seeking government regulation of what people should eat.



George Monbiot
The Guardian, Wednesday May 29, 2002

Bivings is just one of several public relations agencies secretly building a parallel world on the web. Another US company, Berman & Co, runs a fake public interest site called, which seeks to persuade the foundations giving money to campaigners to desist. Berman also runs the "Centre for Consumer Freedom", which looks like a citizens' group but lobbies against smoking bans, alcohol restrictions and health warnings on behalf of tobacco, drinks and fast food companies. The marketing firm Nichols Dezenhall set up a site called StopEcoViolence, another "citizens' initiative", demonising activists. In March, Nichols Dezenhall linked up with Prakash's collaborator, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to sponsor a conference for journalists and corporate executives on "eco-extremism".

What is fascinating about these websites, fake groups and phantom citizens is that they have either smelted or honed all the key weapons currently used by the world's biotech enthusiasts: the conflation of activists with terrorists, the attempts to undermine hostile research, the ever more nuanced claims that those who resist GM crops are anti-science and opposed to the interests of the poor. The hatred directed at activists over the past few years is, in other words, nothing of the kind. In truth, we have been confronted by the crafted response of an industry without emotional attachment.


3.Blair won't be forgiven  - ACTION ON IRAQ

Blair won't be forgiven, even if Iraqis dance in the streets
War leaders must sound adamant, but he didn't listen from the start
Polly Toynbee
The Guardian , Wednesday March 12, 2003

"In this miasma of conviction, the prime minister ignores the damage done already, before a soldier's life is lost. The plunging stock markets, soaring oil price, vanished US tourists, decimation of pensions, destruction of the UN and the EU are prices too high to pay. Is it grubby to talk of money? The costs of the war are already astronomic: Britain could have built renewable wind and solar energy to make us green and self-sufficient for ever on the price it has cost us already. Add to that the spectre of smallpox or mustard gas attacks, the "when, not if" terrorist attack on London that might or might not have hit otherwise. Is it cowardly to be afraid? Or is it the better part of valour? ...One sign that he drifts in fairy realms is his triumphalist insistence that when this is all over, he will embark on that even greater challenge - the euro referendum. It is as if he has not understood how his war strategy has left no Europe to join... The prime minister will not be "vindicated" by dancing in Iraqi streets: even as a victor he will return not in triumph, but to a stony faced party."
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