What makes the following presentation to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association of interest is that it was given by Jay Byrne.
Byrne is Monsanto's former Director of Public Affairs and its former Internet Outreach Programs Director. Prior to Monsanto, Byrne worked for USAID.
Since leaving Monsanto, Byrne has become president of Internet PR company v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations, whose vice-president, Richard Levine, was formerly part of the Monsanto team for Monsanto's Internet PR firm Bivings. v-Fluence is based, like Monsanto, in St. Louis. Monsanto is one of its clients.
Byrne is believed to have been the chief architect of the covert Monsanto-Bivings PR campaign which involved attacks on the company's critics via front e-mails, such as those of 'Andura Smetacek' and 'Mary Murphy', and material posted on the website of a fake agricultural institute, the Center For Food and Agricultural Research (CFFAR). CFFAR material, attacking Monsanto's critics, was also faxed to journalists and planted at a conference. http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=171
Smetacek, Murphy and CFFAR targeted many of the same individuals and organisations mentioned by Byrne below, and in very similar terms. For instance, Michael Hansen of the Consumer Policy Institute, who is one of two people Byrne singles out in his presentation, was one of two people who had a poison-pen 'biography' faxed to the press from the non-existent CFFAR ahead of a press conference they attended.
Much of Byrne's presentation below focuses on funding, and the fake agricultural institute, CFFAR, similarly had a section of its site dedicated to stopping funding to groups critical of Monsanto. Many of the points and associations made in Byrne's presentation below were made on the CFFAR site.
Note also the recommendation of 'ActivistCash' and 'Consumer Freedom', fronts of the particularly obnoxious PR firm, Berman & Co., which has had money from Monsanto. And as Byrne keeps repeating... 'Follow the money'.
For more on Byrne (+ links to CFFAR etc.), see Byrne's GM Watch profile: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=27&page=B
Advocacy Groups And The Money
Targeting Agriculture Growing
By Colleen Schreiber
August 26, 2004
DENVER ”” The number of advocacy groups targeting beef, animal agriculture and agriculture in general are growing daily. Many of these groups are portrayed as having grassroots agendas, when in fact they are fronts for a much larger hidden agenda.
That warning came from an advocacy group watchdog speaking here last week to the annual summer meeting of the National Cattlemen's Beef association.
According to v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations, the combined annual budgets for the top anti-agriculture and food-related protest groups exceeds $500 million. This past year, BSE was front and center for some of these organizations. In fact, just 30 days after the announcement of the BSE case in Washington state last December, some 40 advocacy groups with combined annual budgets exceeding $250 million began focusing their efforts on influencing consumers and regulators regarding "mad cow" issues. They began generating industry-critical statements through coordinated press releases, ad campaigns and lobbying campaigns.
"These are not grassroots a-dollar-a-day lobbying organizations," said v-Fluence president Jay Byrne. "We're talking about a multibillion-dollar demonstration team. These are professionals. These people sit on each other's boards, they share funding, they coordinate their activities, and the money is huge. This is all they do, and they do it very well, and they do it very professionally. They are not going away," he warned.
Byrne's company has been tracking advocacy groups and their allies for the beef, dairy, and crop protection industries for the better part of 10 years. The company works with a number of agriculture stakeholder clients, providing them with e-monitoring, trend analysis, research, strategic counsel, crisis communications and outreach support. Byrne was one of the keynote speakers in NCBA's issues and activism forum.
Byrne identified Carol Tucker-Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America and Michael Hansen of the Consumer Policy Institute, a division of Consumer Union, as two of the top five leading sources of negative information on the beef industry and BSE.
Other groups, such as the organic food industry and other synergistic "alternative" and "natural health" groups, as well as class action attorneys, used scare tactics to fuel the flames about BSE. Organic Valley, for example, issued a press release on December 31 with this tagline: "Organic beef. It's what's safe for dinner."
"It implied that other beef - your beef - is perhaps not safe," Byrne told the group.
Similar kinds of activity and advertising were conducted by Whole Foods Markets, Wild Oats Markets and the Organic Trade Association.
"Whole Foods Markets began sponsoring National Public Radio programming in January, immediately following the mad cow announcements, with the phrase 'a purveyor of natural beef from cattle raised without animal byproducts and monitored throughout the entire production process.'"
A Christian Science Monitor article quoted Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, saying, "Certified organic beef has become the new gold standard for safety."
Byrne did point out that this kind of "black" marketing in the organic and natural products arena was not endorsed necessarily by those marketing "natural" beef.
BSE, however, is not the only issue these activists target. Public Citizen, another anti-agriculture activist group, is leading the "Safe School Lunch" campaign promoting organic agriculture and the banning of irradiated beef, and Consumer Federation has lobbied to significantly reduce or eliminate beef from publicly funded school lunch programs.
These activists and their organizations, he told listeners, are not just using the money for TV, radio and print advertising. They're using it for professional public relations and lobbying firms, litigation, Internet campaigns and training camps.
"Every month there is at least one activist training camp going on in this country. They bring thousands of people together through these camps, and they sometimes spend a week training them on how to engage in effective public relations, effective direct action, and effective consumer boycott campaigns."
The key influences impacting what Byrne referred to as the "new range wars" are money, marketing and the Internet.
"Howard Simons, managing editor of the Washington Post, during the Watergate scandal said it best when he said, 'Follow the money.' When we follow the money to some of the groups that are attacking you, I think you might be surprised by some of their sources," the speaker commented.
Fear is one of the marketing tools used by these groups because, as PT Barnum said, "Fear sells." As for the Internet Byrne quoted Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computer: "Think of the Internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does - but somebody is going to get killed."
The Internet, Byrnes noted, is what ties it all together. It's where it alls starts. It's where the opinion leaders go first, media goes first and consumers go first to find information.
The Internet, he told listeners, is also dominated by people who have extreme views.
"A research study done by Stanford University showed that people with fringe or non-mainstream views had a significantly disproportionate level of influence on the Internet."
One group that is effectively using the Internet to further its cause is Working Assets, a "socially responsible" credit card and phone company.
This group is lobbying federal regulators on behalf of the organic consumers association for stricter regulations on conventionally produced beef, Byrnes said, and a percentage of the money generated from Working Assets phone service goes to advocacy groups via the Tides Center, which supports organizations like Greenpeace. (Tides is a favorite "charity" of Tereza Heinz Kerry. ”” Ed.)
"Working Assets gives a free pint of Ben and Jerry's every month for signing up, and if you don’t uncheck a box when you sign up, they will automatically, on your behalf, send letters to Congress and federal regulators lobbying issues they deem important," Byrne told listeners.
Another activist group, GRACE, used the Internet to distribute "The Meatrix," a flash video attacking animal agriculture by seeking to influence consumers to avoid buying any meat. It has been viewed by nearly 10 million people.
There are still others, Byrne said, who are targeting children with video games that disparage agriculture.
He pointed out that in almost all cases advocacy groups use the Internet much more effectively than do those in agriculture.
All of these activist groups are funded by philanthropic foundations, large donors - individual and corporate - government grants, membership and small donors.
"Our research into their tax files shows that between 1996 and 2003, philanthropic foundations gave nearly three quarters of a billion to groups that were attacking agriculture," Byrne reiterated.
Other significant sources of contributions included the organic/natural products industry and what the speaker categorized as "socially responsible" investment groups like Whole Foods Market, Eden Organic, Working Assets and Patagonia.
"These groups are funneling millions in tax-exempt charitable donations to advocacy groups, who in turn attack their competitors and help promote their alternative, higher-priced products."
Some of the key traditional players targeting beef include the Consumers Union, Public Citizen, Consumer Federation, PETA, Humane Society of the U.S., and Earth Liberation Front, listed by the FBI as the number one domestic terrorist organization. ELF activities alone have resulted in more than $100 million in damaged property in the U.S. over the last 10 years.
There are many others, groups like Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy, Center for Food Safety, and the Organic Consumers Association.
"The Organic Consumers Association openly states that they want to end all forms of animal agriculture," he reminded. "Why do you think some of these foundations and allied activist groups are giving money to some of these organizations that say they represent grassroots farmers and ranchers? Not because they support them. They see it as a very short-term way to achieve another goal. What are the organizations claiming to represent farms and ranches, small or not, doing in bed with folks that want to end all of agriculture?"
There are some whose very names tend to mislead interested parties. The Physicians Committee for Socially Responsible Medicine is just one example. Their website, Byrne said, focuses on eating a vegetarian diet.
He encouraged everyone to look behind the scenes before donating to such organizations.
"In almost all cases, while there may be a well-intentioned citizen standing up, the money is coming from and the strings are being pulled by a group of folks who are seeking an ulterior motive other than what is seen at face value," he reiterated.
Byrne told listeners, however, that they shouldn't be fooled by the seemingly long list of these kinds of organizations.
"With the exception of ELF, what we know about these groups is that they are all the same people," Byrne commented. "They get their money from the very same sources, and those sources sit on their boards, and they sit on each other's boards. They are able to get their message out so effectively and so quickly because they are the same people."
Byrne reminded his audience of the size of its opposition.
"This is a multibillion-dollar professional protest machine, they’re outspending industry on many fronts, and they’re certainly out-organizing folks as well."
Some of these organizations, he noted, the Sierra Club, for example, are considered mainstream.
"I used to give money to groups like this," Byrne admitted. "They have an outstanding reputation in the public, but they engage in some very extreme activities with some very nasty people. We all need to be attentive to what these groups are using the money for."
Members of these organizations or people who donate money to these organizations, he stressed, need to hold the leaders of these groups accountable.
"The Organic Association should not be releasing press releases saying that organic beef is the only way that you can ensure that you’re eating safe beef, because there is absolutely no truth behind that. That hurts all beef producers."
"The Consumer Union says they have 50 million members and that they are representing the voice of 50 million members," he continued. "Those 50 million members are actually subscribers of Consumer Reports, and most who subscribe do not share their views or standards, what I would describe as extreme social and political agendas."
He reminded listeners of the power of the Internet.
"Activists use it much more effectively because they have synergies. Industry is competitive, and they don’t necessarily want to link together.
"Industry needs to identify ways in terms of issues management to share content that addresses common concerns. They need to link together in non-competitive ways so that they can take advantage of the Internet in the same way that advocacy groups do."
Follow the money, he reiterated.
"Environmental Grant Maker’s Foundation is an umbrella for many of the largest foundations, names you hear on Public Radio, names that may have even donated to your local hospitals," he noted, "but on issues of environment and agriculture, some are working hand in hand with very extreme activist organizations, funneling billions of dollars into programs that quite frankly target your business and seek to put you out of business."
He reminded listeners that many of these foundations and advocacy groups are getting government grants.
"They’re using your tax dollars to attack you. In almost all of the cases, the number one source of funding is the philanthropic foundations. Number two is large single corporate donors, and number three is government grants."
Awareness, he said, is a key part of the education process.
"When you make a donation, make sure you understand where the money is going. This is a massive money laundering operation. Money is flowing to and from groups, back and forth, and it's creating an almost impossible trail to follow. We need better disclosure so that we can better track the money," Byrne added.
When responding to claims made by some of these activist groups, the speaker told listeners that they must think strategically.
"In some cases, groups like PETA want industry to react to them. Our initial reaction and response may be exactly what they want. Think about it like playing chess versus checkers."
The beef industry and its allies, the "rational center," need to understand the Internet better and become more effective in using it to get their message out, he insisted.
Finally, he noted that a variety of watchdog groups keep an eye on these activist groups. One he recommended is Activistcash.com, which is run by the Consumer Freedom Coalition.