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Monsanto's shameful record of false advertising

NOTE: News that Monsanto is in trouble in India over its advertising claims for GM cotton, need to be seen in context:
1.France: Monsanto guilty in 'false ad' row
2. UK: Watchdog slams Monsanto ads
3.South Africa: Falsified GM food safety claims rejected
For more on the Indian decision:
http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/13606
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1.Monsanto guilty in 'false ad' row
BBC News, 15 October 2009
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8308903.stm

France's highest court has ruled that US agrochemical giant Monsanto had not told the truth about the safety of its best-selling weed-killer, Roundup.

The court confirmed an earlier judgment that Monsanto had falsely advertised its herbicide as "biodegradable" and claimed it "left the soil clean".

The company was fined 15,000 euros (£13,800; $22,400). It has yet to comment on the judgment.

Roundup is the world's best-selling herbicide.

Monsanto also sells crops genetically-engineered to be tolerant to Roundup.

French environmental groups had brought the case in 2001 on the basis that glyphosate, Roundup's main ingredient, is classed as "dangerous for the environment" by the European Union.

In the latest ruling, France's Supreme Court upheld two earlier convictions against Monsanto by the Lyon criminal court in 2007, and the Lyon court of appeal in 2008, the AFP news agency reports.

Earlier this month, Monsanto reported a fourth quarter loss of $233m (£147m), driven mostly by a drop in sales of its Roundup brand. 
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2.Watchdog slams Monsanto ads
John Arlidge
The Observer, 28 February 1999 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/1999/feb/28/food.foodanddrink

Monsanto, the US company at the centre of the storm over genetically modified food, has been condemned for making 'wrong, unproven, misleading and confusing' claims in a GBP1m advertising campaign.

The ruling, by the Advertising Standards Authority, the industry's official watchdog, is a humiliating blow to the company which is struggling to persuade sceptical consumers that food from genetically modified crops is safe.

The Observer has obtained a draft report on the authority's investigation into more than 30 complaints about Monsanto's advertisements. It says the US giant expressed its own opinion 'as accepted fact' and published 'wrong' and 'misleading' scientific claims.

The Green Party and food safety campaigners who are campaigning for a total ban on GM food welcomed the ruling yesterday. Patrick Spring, of the Green Party, said: 'Monsanto has been caught out misleading the public. They should apologise to consumers and print a retraction in full-page newspaper ads.

'If they are prepared to hoodwink the public, what have they been telling their friends in Government? We know they have been lobbying ministers and officials to try to get their products onto supermarket shelves. Have they been economical with the truth? The public need answers.'

The Greens, GeneWatch, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Soil Association and members of the public wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority last year complaining that Monsanto had breached the ASA's rules.

The series of commercials, by the London-based advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, began with a full-page ad which read: 'Food biotechnology is a matter of opinions. Monsanto believes you should hear all of them.'

Over the next few weeks the company went on to describe 'the real benefits of biotechnology for both consumers and the environment'. GM foods were 'grown in a more environmentally sustainable way, less dependent on the earth's scarce mineral resources'.

GM technology had undergone 'rigorous tests throughout Monsanto's 20-year biotech history to ensure our food crops are as safe and nutritious as the standard alternatives'. Government agencies in 20 countries, including Britain, had approved them as safe.

In its report the ASA criticised the firm for wrongly giving the impression that genetically modified potatoes and tomatoes had been tested and approved for sale in Britain. The authority also dismissed Monsanto's assertion that GM crops were grown 'in a more environmentally sustainable way' than ordinary crops as unproven.

Monsanto has seven days to challenge the draft report before it is submitted to the full council of the ASA. If it is approved, the criticism will be published in full next month.

Dan Verakis, spokesman for Monsanto, expressed disappointment last night at the ASA's report but pointed out that some advertisements had already been amended.

'We were the first biotech company to attempt to explain this complicated science and to help consumer understand it better. We expected it to be controversial and we expected the activist industry to be very critical,' he said. 'We do not wish to mislead anyone.'
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3.Falsified GM food safety claims rejected by South Africa
Trevor Wells
Farmers Legal Action Group – South Africa
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/documents/monsanto_slammed.htm

On 26 June 2006 Farmers legal Action-South Africa published an article headed "Monsanto tells a pack of lies in South Africa". See article below. The article exposed how Monsanto had told the South African Advertising Authority (ASA) that MON 863 was not their product. MON 863 was in fact their product and had been found to cause damage to rats in independent trials in Europe. Monsanto had in fact made an application for this product to be released in South Africa. The ASA ordered Monsanto SA to withdraw its advert which depicted a mother with two children in a kitchen looking at a cake. Among other false claims the advert stated "no negative reactions to GM foods have ever been reported". The advert also falsely claimed that genetically modified foods contained enhanced proteins, vitamins and anti-oxidants and removed allergens. Whilst there was an uproar from responsible parenting organisations and in fact proof that no commercial GM products had ever been commercially released with the enhanced claims, the ASA found it unnecessary to deal with those aspects. It ordered the removal of the advert based on the false claim that "No negative reactions to GM foods have ever been reported." During the hearing, Monsanto attempted to distract the worthy panel of arbitrators, headed by Justice King, a no non-sense judge who rose to fame as the doyen of "Corporate Governance", by arguing the merits of GM products as against the truthfulness of their claims. They produced a letter from Covance Laboratories in the USA, which claimed that they were an independent laboratory and which "praised the benefits of GM Corn." Justice King ruled that the benefits of GM corn had nothing to do with the case in front of them.

Covance Laboratories have a history of abuse and have been fined on several occasions in Europe and the USA for the appalling conditions under which experiments are conducted and for outright vicious treatment of laboratory animals. Their track record is second only to Monsanto's long history of convictions for racketeering, bribery and corruption. Covance was used by big tobacco to produce propaganda which was also proved false

Monsanto clearly lives under the misconception that South African judges are stupid, because apart from the serious submissions mentioned above they would not have presented Covance Laboratories as an "independent" source in order to verify their safety claim. Covance, USA's support of Monsanto is even more surprising given the fact that European researchers employed by Covance Laboratories (Europe) discovered and reported numerous biological effects on rats fed MON863, i.e. blood stream anomalies that varied by sex (increase in white blood cell levels and lymphocytes in males, decrease in new red blood cells in females, increase in female blood sugar levels, in addition to renal lesions (inflammations, kidney stones) and variations in kidney weight.

The ink on the judgement ordering the withdrawal of this false advert had hardly dried when, on 21 August 2007, Kobus Steenkamp, Marketing Manager for Monsanto, issued this statement headed: "ASA accepts Monsanto's 'GM Is Safe' advertisement" Monsanto's Steenkamp added: "The Advertising Standards Authority has now approved this advertisement and accepts that the facts have been verified by independent and reliable sources." He added "The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA has accepted the revised wording from Monsanto, which states, " no substantiated scientific or medical negative reactions to GM foods have ever been reported". According to the article "Another spin by GM Giant Monsanto" published by The South African NGO net ,the Advertising Standards Authority categorically denied Monsanto's statement.

Monsanto however went ahead and published their advert with the same picture and wording except for the added "No substantiated medical or scientific ......".

Mark Wells, the organic farmer, and founder member of Farmers Legal Action Group, South Africa who was the successful applicant in the previous incident, once more challenged the advert.

On 19 December 2007 Judge King of the ASA ruled that despite the amended wording not being exactly the same, the overall communication remains unchanged. A hypothetical reasonable person would interpret the claim to mean that tests were conducted in this regard and no negative reactions were found The Respondent, Monsanto, is therefore found guilty of breaching the previous ruling.
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Monsanto tells a pack of lies to the Advertising Standards Authority
Trevor Wells
Farmers' Legal Action Group – South Africa

Mark Wells, an organic farmer from Cintsa on the Wild Coast, South Africa, challenged the claim of a Monsanto advert that no negative reactions to Genetically Modified food have been reported. The false claim was made in the Monstanto advert which appeared in the widely read "You Magazine" on February 15th, 2007. Wells produced evidence to repudiate the claim.

An arbitration panel consisting of eight members was chaired by former High Court Judge Mervyn King SC whose cutting edge 'King Report on Corporate Governance' is hailed as the best practice corporate governance bible.

In view of the prima facie evidence produced by the complainant, the ASA opened the proceedings by stating that the matter before them for consideration was whether the advert was in breach of two sections of the Code of Practice:

1. Substantiation 2. Misleading claims

Dealing with the substantiation section first the ASA ruled that the onus is on the advertiser to substantiate the claim.

Monsanto addressed the ASA at length and submitted inter alia that it had a strict code of conduct and that MON 863 was not their product.

The facts are that MON 863 is indeed a product of Monsanto and that Monsanto had suppressed the evidence of serious damage to the liver and kidneys of rats in their own GM maize trials until ordered to release this evidence by a German Court. Furthermore Monsanto had applied to the South African GM regulatory authority for a commodity release permit for MON 863.

Monsanto then argued that after the rats had contracted liver damage Monsanto contracted five 'independent' scientists to assess the data supplied by them and they concluded that MON 863 had no adverse effect as claimed by the complainant.

Monsanto then changed their tack in mid-stream and argued that rather than focus on the two conflicting studies the ASA should focus on the benefits of GM maize.

The substantiation section of the code provides that any advertiser must be able to substantiate any claim objectively with documentary evidence which emanates from an independent, credible and expert source acceptable to the ASA. The ASA then invoked this clause.

Monsanto's lawyers then pulled a letter out of the hat from Covance Laboratories in the USA which inter alia stated that they were not affiliated with Monsanto.

After applying their minds to the letter from Covance in the USA, Justice King ruled that the benefits of "GM-Corn" had nothing to do with the case in front of them. After having given Monsanto every opportunity to substantiate their claim they had failed to do so. The letter from Covenance made no mention of the issue which was before the ASA for consideration.

"The statement which the complainant alleges is false, to wit: 'This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported.' goes beyond merely indicating safety. It expressly states that out of all the studies done in this field no negative effects have ever been reported."

Without reference to the fact that Monsanto had wasted the time of an eight member panel and come to the hearing with dirty hands, Monsanto was politely informed that their claim was unsubstantiated and in breach of the Code of Practice. The ASA further ruled that as the claim was unsubstantiated it was not necessary to consider whether it was misleading.

Monsanto was ordered to immediately withdraw their claim and given the standard polite warning, which applies to all advertisers, that in future they must make sure that they can substantiate any claims before they publish them.

In January, this year, Monsanto was fined 15,000 euros (19,000 dollars) in a French court for misleading the public about the environmental impact of herbicide Roundup.

A former chairman of Monsanto Agriculture France was found guilty of false advertising for presenting Roundup as biodegradable and claiming that it left the soil clean after use. Monsanto's French distributor Scotts France was also fined 15,000 euros.

In 2005 Monsanto was caught smuggling South African produced GM Bollgard cotton seed into Indonesia disguised as rice. Monsanto was fined for bribing Indonesian officials.

More recently in June this month, a second peer-reviewed case involving another variation of Monsanto's GM maize, namely, NK603, has been shown by studies to be potentially toxic to humans. NK 603 has been approved for food, feed, processing, and propagation in Europe and the Philippines The new research, carried out by the French scientific research institute CRIGEN, involves biotech firm Monsanto's NK603 GMO corn (marketed commercially under the name Round- up Ready) which was approved as food and feed in the country in 2003, and for propagation in 2005.

Rats that were fed GM maize showed significant differences in measurements, as well as significant weight differences compared to those fed with normal maize. Almost 70 statistically significant differences were observed and reported – 12 for hematology parameters, 18 for clinical chemistry parameters, nine for urine chemistry parameters, six for the organ weights (brain, heart, liver), 14 for body weights and body weight changes, and eight for food consumption. toxicity, The most alarming was the diminished brain size. Scientists warned that this was a danger warning for growing children.

Here is the unsubstantiated Monsanto's advert which had to be withdrawn after the judgment:

Is your food safe?

Biotechnology – the true facts

The safety of genetically modified food products though biotechnology remains a subject of uncertainty to many people, but after more than twenty years' of research and ten years' commercial use, genetically modified grain products have been found to be just as healthy, nutritious and safe as normal products. All commercially approved grain products that have been genetically modified adhere to strict food, feed and environmental safety guidelines of regulatory authorities worldwide. This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported. In fact, these innovative products also lead to food with improved nutritional value, which includes enhanced vitamin A, protein and antioxidant content, as well as better food safety through the removal of allergens and anti-nutrients. In short, you can use it with confidence!

Tested. Healthy. Nutritious. Safe.