How the FSA's "citizens' jury" was fixed / Monsanto PR agency involvement revealed
In a particularly controversial move during the UK's official Public Debate over GM foods, the FSA operated its own separate "consultation" exercise ON GM, run entirely independently of the steering group which had been set up to oversee the debate and to ensure fairness and balance.
One of the FSA's main consultation exercises was a three-day "citizens' jury" on GM foods. This, as you will see from the item below, was operated without a further critical level of oversight. In contravention of standard practice for citizens' juries, no panel of stakeholders was assembled to oversee balance and fairness in the jury process.
According to senior staff at the FSA, this was unnecessary because the FSA is itself an independent agency. Yet the FSA and its Chairman are regarded in many quarters as extremely biased in favour of GM foods. Krebs has, for instance, dismissed criticisms of GM foods as 'shrill, often ill-informed and dogma-driven' while the FSA's own consumer committee has described the FSA's literature on GM as 'biased' in favour of GM.
But the FSA did not act alone in relation to the "Citizens' Jury", it had commissioned experts to run the jury for it. These experts came from a divsion of PR firm Bell Pottinger. According to a Bell Pottinger letter obtained by a national newspaper, the company states that it works for "Monsanto and genetic engineering of food". Bell Pottinger also has links that go to the very heart of the Blair Government.
The comments below taken from a report from the Policy Ethics And Life Sciences Research Institute (PEALS) of the University of Newcastle make clear just how skewed an exercise the FSA's "citizen's jury" was. It was this which led to the result that the FSA hyped to the media that 9 of the 15 members of the jury had backed GM foods. The FSA was subsequently found to have deliberately suppressed a unanimous verdict of its "citizens' jury" opposing the commercial growing of GM crops in the UK.
1.THE APRIL 2003 FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY "CITIZENS' JURY"
2.Bell Pottinger, David Hill and Monsanto
1.THE APRIL 2003 FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY "CITIZENS' JURY"
[extracted from a report by the Policy Ethics And Life Sciences Research Institute (PEALS)
During April 2003, the FSA commissioned what it called a "citizens' jury" from a division of the public relations firm Bell Pottinger plc (also known as Chime plc). In contravention of standard practice for citizens' juries, no panel of stakeholders was assembled to oversee balance and fairness in the jury process. Senior staff at the FSA stated that it was itself an independent agency and had been advised by Bell Pottinger that no such oversight panel would be necessary.
A major disadvantage of not having drawn on a broad range of interest groups for oversight of the jury process became apparent when the question was set for the jury to consider. This was announced by the FSA as 'Should GM Food be Available to Buy in the UK?'
One of the witnesses to the jury immediately objected to this question, commenting that 'with a question like that I can predict a "yes" verdict without even needing to give evidence'. Not only was this question open to the accusation of being skewed, like some opinion poll surveys, towards getting a particular answer, but it is likely to have severely limited the scope the jurors had to discuss a range of issues relating to the links between GM technologies, the food system and farming that they - rather than the FSA might have thought were pertinent. Citing advice from Bell Pottinger, the FSA 'disagreed that it is good practice to allow jurors to set their own agenda'.
It is possible that the facilitation of the FSA jury by Bell Pottinger counteracted what appears to be a rather loaded exercise, but the FSA has not yet made its video archive publicly accessible, so it is difficult for others to know what went on in the sessions. There has been no evaluation report published to date, or re-convening of the jury that might have allowed them evaluate the process, and their impact on policy, themselves.
Given that the more open technique of jury framing used in the GM Jury has now been used successfully on numerous occasions, we recommend it should no longer be standard practice for citizens’ juries to be given a one line question such as the one given to the FSA citizens' jury. We also believe that it is misguided for any organisation organising a jury process to believe itself so independent that it can forgo the transparent oversight mechanism that a multi-stakeholder panel provides.
2.David Hill and Bell Pottinger
David Hill is Tony Blair's chief media spokesperson, replacing Alistair Campbell who stood down during the scandal over the death of government weapons expert Dr David Kelly. Hill's long-term partner is No 10 media advisor Hilary Coffman.
Up until Hill took over as Blair's chief 'spin doctor', he was a senior executive at Bell-Pottinger Communications and managing director of its subsidiary Good Relations Ltd. At Good Relations he was a public relations advisor to Monsanto.
According to the Mail on Sunday, Whitehall insiders say that Hill 'has always been able to boast to clients that he has direct access to No. 10' (Kinnock's man is new Campbell, Aug 3, 2003). Parliamentary written answers show Monsanto had far more success at winning audiences with government ministers after Hill's arrival. in his first two years with Bell Pottinger (1997-1999) GM food firms met government officials or ministers 81 times and Monsanto was welcomed into the agriculture and environment departments 22 times. (They couldn't be closer to Blair, Daily Mail, February 13, 1999)
Jack Cunningham was amongst the government ministers Monsanto met when he was chair of the cabinet committee on GM. Jack Cunningham's special adviser for 6 years, Cathy McGlynn, went on to join Bell Pottinger.
According to an article in The Observer, Bell Pottinger states 'in a letter obtained by The Observer that it works for "Monsanto and genetic engineering of food". The lobbying firm also states that it can exploit the contacts of Cathy McGlynn -"who previously worked with Jack Cunningham, as his special adviser, when he was Agriculture Minister", and David Hill, former "chief spokesperson for the Labour Party". The latest revelations come exactly a year after The Observer exposed how some lobbying firms had hired former aides to Labour Ministers in order to get favours from the Government for their corporate clients.' (Monsanto's lobby firm pays key MP)
Prior to joining Bell Pottinger, Hill was Labour's director of communications (1991-1997). When Hill left his post to join Bell Pottinger and represent Monsanto, he was replaced by Mike Craven who went on to found PR firm Lexington Communications, which has amongst its clients Novartis and the lobby group ABC, established to promote GM by Monsanto along with Bayer CropScience, BASF, Dow Agrosciences, Dupont and Syngenta.
There have been a number of concerns over the close links between Bell Pottinger and influential Members of Parliament. Two reports in The Observer revealed that Peter Luff MP, in addition to being chairman of the Commons Agriculture Select Committee, was also in the pay of Bell Pottinger. According to the Observer, he had not made this apparent to his fellow committee members even when they were working on a report on GM (Monsanto's lobby firm pays key MP; Resign call over MP's link with GM food firm ).
There was also concern over another Bell Pottinger employee, Stuart Bell MP, in his role as the government's representative on the Church Commissioners at a time that they were discussing the use of Church of England land for GM crop trials. (Church MP in GM row, Daily Express, 8 August 1999)
Bell Pottinger is part of Chime Communications. Its chairman Lord Tim Bell was a PR advisor to Margaret Thatcher. Bell was knighted by Thatcher and given a peerage by Blair. His clients have included Chile's General Pinochet, South Africa's National Party, and Milosevic-led Yugoslavia.