Date: 28 November 2000
Big Tobacco Behind Euro Anti-Organic Campaign
Earlier today we posted news about PR Watch, Volume 7, No. 3, Third Quarter 2000, which is now available on-line at <www.prwatch.org>
There were also 2 articles included, one of them, 'How Big Tobacco Helped Create "the Junkman"'. As this was quite a longish item, some ngineers may not have realised the full extent of its relevance to the anti-organic / pro-GM lobby in Europe.
However, tucked well down the article about Junkscience webmaster Milloy
and his work as a lobbyist and frontman for Philip Morris tobacco interests,
which included becoming the executive director of The Advancement of Sound
Science Coalition (TASSC) ( an organization that
PRWatch explains "was covertly created by Philip Morris for the express purpose of generating scientific controversy regarding the link between secondhand smoke and cancer") is a section on the tobacco-funded European campaign. This read as follows:
In 1994, Philip Morris budgeted $880,000 in funding for TASSC. In
consultation with APCO and Burson-Marsteller, the company began planning
to set up a second, European organization, tentatively named "Scientists
for Sound Public Policy" (later renamed the European Science and Environment
Forum). Like TASSC, the European organization would attempt
to smuggle tobacco advocacy into a larger bundle of "sound science" issues,
including the "ban on growth hormone for livestock; ban on [genetically-engineered
bovine growth hormone] to improve milk production; pesticide restrictions;
ban on indoor smoking; restrictions on use of chlorine; ban on certain
pharmaceutical products; restrictions on the use of biotechnology."
The European Science and Environment Forum (or ESEF) should ring some bells. The Counterblast TV programme attacking organic food, and those who tried to stop GM crop trials, was presented by Roger Bate in his then role as director of the European Science and Environment Forum.
We noted previously - see below - how intimately tied in ESEF appeared to be with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) which has also been running an anti-organic/pro-GM campaign which included providing a public platform for Prakash.
Just how intimately is shown by a domain enquiry about the ESEF website: esef.org which revealed the following:
Domain Inquiry: esef.org
Registrant: European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF-DOM) UK
Domain Name: ESEF.ORG
Morris, Julian (JM4309) 101603.3004@COMPUSERVE.COM
European Science and Environment Forum, Kersfield Road, London, SW15 3HE, UK
Interestingly, Julian Morris appeared to hold no position in relation to ESEF but he is, of course, the Director of the IEA which has been a major co-participant in the anti-organic, pro-GM campaign.
Equally interestingly, the ESEF website has now disappeared and the domain name may have been sold off. Bate has also retired as director.
Could these facts perchance have any connection with the emerging information on Philip Morris funding for ESEF?
If so, it's important that the IEA connection to ESEF is made as clear
as possible to all those on the end of IEA propaganda and lobbying.
Julian Morris appears regularly in TV and radio programmes - he seems particularly
popular with the BBC for some reason (eg 'Costing the
Earth', the 'Food and Drink' programme, 'Moral Maze'), and the material below also shows the IEA asscoaiation with anti-organic, pro-GM figures like Prof Philip Stott and journalists Matt Ridley and Richard North.
The following article with links can be found at: https://members.tripod.com/~ngin/rightwing.htm
* * *
In the wake of the massive defeats suffered over their promotion of GM foods, pro-GM lobbyists in the UK have regrouped and with the help of a clique of right wing journalists and academics are coordinating a still more aggressive campaign of disinformation.
It appears that a strategy proven effective in the US is being carefully
replicated here: the use of right wing journalists and academics to smear
GM critics and alternatives to agricultural biotechnology. In the
US figures like Dennis Avery and Michael Fumento have helped fulfil this
role. In the UK significant use is now being made of a similar clique of extreme anti-environmentalists who draw heavily on the ideas and tactics of Avery, in particular.
A key contributor to each of the BBC programmes raising questions about
organic food has been Julian Morris, the Director of the right-wing think
tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs. One of the programmes ('Counterblast'
broadcast on BBC 2 TV on 31 January 2000) was presented
by Roger Bate who was said to be the Director of the European Science and Environment Forum.
Although the Forum describes itself as "a non-partisan group of scientists", in reality it appears to be very closely linked to the Institute of Economic Affairs, of which Bate is a leading member.
Although this fact was not disclosed at any point in the programme, several other contributors to the Counterblast programme (notably Prof Phillip Stott and the journalist Richard North) also seem to be closely associated with the same IEA-connected right wing clique.
Both the Forum and the Institute are vague about their current sourcesof
funding. Equivalent right wing think tanks in the US, such as the
Hudson Institute, are known to receive funding from the usual A-Z of biotech
interests: from AgrEvo to Zeneca. Whatever its current funding,
the IEA has since its inception had good reason to have the interests of industrial agriculture very close to its heart.
The Institute was started in the 1950s by one Anthony Fisher out of a fortune he had made from industrial agriculture. Fisher had successfully founded Britain's very first broiler chicken farm. It is perhaps not so surprising then that, having been established by a pioneer of factory farming who was also an extreme free marketeer, the Institute promotes the view that unregulated industrial agriculture and unfettered free trade are both of great environmental benefit.
This is a somewhat extreme perspective for an organisation based in a country like the UK where in the period of the Institute's existence more than 30 million wild birds have been lost, more than 100,000 miles of hedgerows removed, woodlands cut down and flower meadows ploughed up, all as a result of industrial agriculture.
The Institute's extremist disdain of any protection of the environement
is well reflected in its various publications and, needless to say, the
pro-GM lobby are prominent amongst its published authors. For instance,
a book on tropical rainforests by biotech supporter and Counterblast contributor
Prof Phillip Stott, claims to debunk "the eco-imperialist vision" which
threatens the world, while a pending working paper attacking the Biosafety
Protocol is being authored by none other than
Henry Miller, the rabid deregulator who once presided over the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.
Biotech propagandist CS Prakash, who organised the recent petition among US researchers in support of GM foods, is another contributor to an IEA publication.
Bate and Morris have also edited a recently-published book, 'Fearing
Food: Risk, Health and the Environment', amongst whose contributors is
Dennis Avery. Avery, of the Hudson Institute, has of course been at the
very heart of the anti-organic smear campaign - see: Saving
With Pestilent Statistics
Bate and Morris, needless to say, appear entirely unembarrased by the
dubious quality of Avery's scholarship or the bogus nature of his claims
- claims from which the US's Centre for Disease Control and the FDA have
both disassociated themselves, despite the fact that Avery says that it
is their data on which his health warnings about organic agriculture are based!
Bate and Morris, far from disassociating themselves from Avery's smears,
have revelled in his assertions - not just repeating them in the various
BBC programmes they've contributed to but even using his bogus e-coli claims
in a publicity stunt to launch their book. According to right
wing columnist Matt Ridley of the Telegraph, part of the stunt involved telling people that "according to the United States Centers for Disease Control, people who eat the products of...[organic agriculture] are eight times more likely to contract the strain of E-coli that killed 21
people in Lanarkshire in 1997" ['Unsavoury facts about organic food' August 16, 1999] This despite the fact that, as Bate and Morris must surely know, the CDC has stated, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the
specific risk for infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods." [see: Saving the Planet With Pestilent Statistics ]
In a press release ('Londoners demand regulation of potentially deadly
organic food') to accompany the book's launch, and their organics-are-dangerous-survey
stunt, Bate and Morris wrote, "organic food may well present a danger to
children, the elderly and the sick... such people should be discouraged
from eating so-called 'organic' or 'natural' foods." The underlying antipathy
of Bate and Morris to organic farming, and the real reason for their concerns,
is best captured in an
article on The European Science and Environment Forum website which refers to organics as "a mainstay of the Luddites these past decades and... a staple of the anti-GM battle."
It is obviously no surprise that the likes of Matt Ridley (another member
of the IEA clique, with 2 volumes of his anti-environmentalist articles
amongst the Institute's publications) should be pleased to publicise the
IEA's disinformation campaign. What is more revealing is the way in which
the BBC's science and technology unit and senior academics like Prof Hillman
or Prof Anthony Trewavas, another contributor to Counterblast, have apparently
been happy to promote such
views without serious critical scrutiny of the evidence on which they are based.
Prof Trewavas, for example, has made repeated reference to Avery's claims, as made in Avery's chapter in the Morris' and Bate's book, in an article published in the scientific journal Nature (Nature 402, 231 ). Thus, Prof Trewavas tells us:
- "Going organic worldwide, as Greenpeace wants, would destroy even more wilderness, much of it of marginal agricultural quality15."
- "Mycotoxin contamination, and infection from the potentially lethal Escherichia coli O157, are additional problems15."
- "average crop yields [for organics] on a variety of soils are about half those of intensive farming15-17"
Avery's chapter is the reference (15) given for all three points:
"15. Avery, D. in Fearing Food. Risk, Health and Environment (eds Morris, J. & Bate, R.) 3-18 (Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, 1999)"
However, anyone who actually follows up this reference discovers that
all Avery's highly
partisan claims about organic agriculture lack specific references to supporting evidence. In other words, Trewavas's trail of evidence leads nowhere but to Avery's assertions!
Nothing could expose more starkly the bogus nature of the biotech brigade's
claims to base their promotion of GM crops on sound science, nor the vacuous
nature of their complaints against Pusztai, and other researchers that
have raised questions about GM crops, not to mention
their fury with journals that have published such papers.
If such scientists are really so passionate about "sound science" as they claim, why haven't they been busy denouncing the bogus claims of Avery and his admirers (claims, after all, that seem to involve a far more outrageous treatment of research evidence than anything of which scientists critical of GM have been accused) ?
The answer, of course, is all too plain. They've either been too busy repeating these bogus claims themselves and trying to lend them credibility, or else they recognise that as these claims forward rather than hinder their own interests it is better to remain silent and not enquire too deeply into them. Either way, we once again pay the price of science having become so industrially aligned that many of its practitioners are far more preoccupied with serving private interests than they are with the public good.
The Bate and Morris book also contains a chapter on GM by Prof John
Hillman, who has also engaged in highly dubious public criticism of organic
agriculture . One of Hillman's co-author is none other than Professor
T Michael Wilson, whose highly inaccurate public promotion of
GM has also drawn criticism - see false reports . Wilson and Hillman's chapter contains very similar claims of benefits from GM to the ones which have already come under fire for their lack of substantiation - see false reports .
Hillman and Wilson actually describe these claims as "now proven," though
they produce no new evidence in support of this, and to cap it all, Wilson
and Hillman end their chapter with a prolonged
rant about "disinformation." That Hillman who has made the most lurid claims in relation to organic farming can complain, as he and his co-authors do, without any apparent sense of irony, about those "who raise speculative risks" and "promote public fear", or that he and Wilson can complain about "media disinformation" (see: false reports) is quite remarkable.
And yet there is something peculiarly fitting about these GM zealots
having found such a omfortable home among the radical right, not
only in the light of the latter's passion for unbridled capitalism and
antipathy to environmental protection, but also a tendency to "contrarian"
assertion of causes that are often ludicrous, lost, or just downright dangerous.