GM WATCH SPECIAL
1.Prakash has a make-over! AgBioWorld paints it black - GM Watch
2.Corporate Phantoms - George Monbiot
3.The Covert Biotech War - George Monbiot
4.How Monsanto manufactures Southern support on the net - Jonathan Matthews
1. Prakash has a make-over - AgBioWorld paints it black
Yesterday CS Prakash announced that www.agbioworld.org now boasts a "Redesigned AgBioWorld Website":
"AgBioWorld is proud to announce the launch of our new, redesigned website. We would also like to thank the people who were generous enough to send us donations, which helped make the new site possible."
As part of the make-over the site is now adorned with pensive-looking African children - their staring eyes are doubtless meant to be hungry for the fruits of biotechnology.
Who undertook this latest make-over is unclear but we know who undertook the last one - Monsanto's Internet PR company Bivings - and, funnily enough, Monsanto's Internet homepage also used to be adorned with the faces of Third World children. It was part of an Internet campaign that proved unpersuasive and so led on to the use of independent seeming third parties to imprint Monsanto's black-washing message.
Below are extracts from 3 articles about CS Prakash, his website and Monsanto's use of the Internet as part of what George Monbiot has called the covert biotech war.
For more on Monsanto's black-washing see:
The Uncle Tom Award
2. Corporate Phantoms [extract]
by George Monbiot
The Guardian, Wednesday May 29, 2002
Two weeks ago, this column showed how the Bivings Group, a PR company contracted to Monsanto, had invented fake citizens to post messages on internet listservers. These phantoms had launched a campaign to force Nature magazine to retract a paper it had published, alleging that native corn in Mexico had been contaminated with GM pollen. But this, it now seems, is just one of hundreds of critical interventions with which PR companies hired by big business have secretly guided the biotech debate over the past few years.
While I was writing the last piece, Bivings sent me an email fiercely denying that it had anything to do with the fake correspondents "Mary Murphy" and "Andura Smetacek", who started the smear campaign against the Nature paper. Last week I checked the email's technical properties. They contained the identity tag "bw6.bivwood.com". The message came from the same computer terminal that "Mary Murphy" has used. New research coordinated by the campaigner Jonathan Matthews appears to have unmasked the fake persuaders: "Mary Murphy" is being posted by a Bivings web designer, writing from both the office and his home computer in Hyattsville, Maryland; while "Andura Smetacek" appears to be the company's chief internet marketer [the e-mail front was later tracked right back to Monsanto itself - see Geoerge Monbiot’s follow up article below]
...Bivings is the secret author of several of the websites and bogus citizens' movements which have been coordinating campaigns against environmentalists. One is a fake scientific institute called the "Centre for Food and Agricultural Research". Bivings has also set up the "Alliance for Environmental Technology", a chlorine industry lobby group. Most importantly, Bivings appears to be connected with AgBioWorld, the genuine website run by CS Prakash, a plant geneticist at Tuskegee University, Alabama.
AgBioWorld is perhaps the most influential biotech site on the web. Every day it carries new postings about how GM crops will feed the world, new denunciations of the science which casts doubt on them and new attacks on environmentalists. It was here that the fake persuaders invented by Bivings launched their assault on the Nature paper. AgBioWorld then drew up a petition to have the paper retracted.
Prakash claims to have no links with Bivings but, as the previous article showed, an error message on his site suggests that it is or was using the main server of the Bivings Group. Jonathan Matthews, who found the message, commissioned a full technical audit of AgBioWorld. His web expert has now found 11 distinctive technical fingerprints shared by AgBioWorld and Bivings' Alliance for Environmental Technology site. The sites appear, he concludes, to have been created by the same programmer.
Though he lives and works in the United States, CS Prakash claims to represent the people of the third world. He set up AgBioWorld with Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the far-right libertarian lobby group funded by such companies as Philip Morris, Pfizer and Dow Chemical [and Monsanto]. Conko has collaborated with Matthew Metz, one of the authors of the scientific letters to Nature seeking to demolish the maize paper, to produce a highly partisan guide to biotechnology on the AgBioWorld site.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute boasts that it "played a key role in the creation" of a petition of scientists supporting biotech (ostensibly to feed the third world) launched by Prakash. Unaware that it had been devised by a corporate lobby group, 3,000 scientists, three Nobel laureates among them, signed up.
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 ActivistCash.com, 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.The Covert Biotech War [extract]
The Guardian, Tuesday 19 Nov, 2002
The battle to put a corporate GM padlock on our foodchain is being fought on the net
Six months ago, this column revealed that a fake citizen called Mary Murphy had been bombarding internet listservers with messages denouncing the scientists and environmentalists who were critical of GM crops. The computer from which some of these messages were sent belongs to a public relations company called Bivings, which works for Monsanto. The boss of Bivings wrote to the Guardian, fiercely denying that his company had been running covert campaigns. His head of online PR, however, admitted to the BBC's Newsnight that one of the messages came from someone "working for Bivings" or "clients using our services". But Bivings denies any knowledge of the use of its computer for such a campaign.
This admission prompted the researcher Jonathan Matthews, who first uncovered the story, to take another look at some of the emails which had attracted his attention. He had become particularly interested in a series of vituperative messages sent to the most prominent biotech listservers on the net, by someone called Andura Smetacek. Smetacek first began writing in 2000. She or he repeatedly accused the critics of GM of terrorism. When one of her letters, asserting that Greenpeace was deliberately spreading unfounded fears about GM foods in order to further its own financial interests, was reprinted in the Glasgow Herald, Greenpeace successfully sued the paper for libel.
Smetacek claimed, in different messages, first to live in London, then in New York. Jonathan Matthews [with hte help of the investigative journalist, Andy Rowell] checked every available public record and found that no person of that name appeared to exist in either city. But last month his techie friends discovered something interesting. Three of these messages, including the first one Smetacek sent, arrived with the internet protocol address 184.108.40.206. This is the address assigned to the server gatekeeper2.monsanto.com. It belongs to the Monsanto corporation.
In 1999, after the company nearly collapsed as a result of its disastrous attempt to thrust GM food into the European market, Monsanto's communications director, Philip Angell, explained to the Wall Street Journal: "Maybe we weren't aggressive enough... When you fight a forest fire, sometimes you have to light another fire." The company identified the internet as the medium which had helped protest to "mushroom".
At the end of last year, Jay Byrne, formerly the company's director of internet outreach, explained to a number of other firms the tactics he had used at Monsanto. He showed how, before he got to work, the top GM sites listed by an internet search engine were all critical of the technology. Following his intervention, the top sites were all supportive ones (four of them established by Monsanto's PR firm Bivings). He told them to "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".
While he was working for Monsanto, Byrne told the internet newsletter Wow that he "spends his time and effort participating" in web discussions about biotech. He singled out the site AgBioWorld, where he "ensures his company gets proper play". AgBioWorld is the site on which Smetacek launched her campaign.
4.How Monsanto manufactures Southern support on the net
extract from THE FAKE PARADE
by Jonathan Matthews
Under the banner of populist protest, multinational corporations manufacture the poor
3 December 2002
The Internet provides a perfect medium for... showcases [for support for biotech], where the gap between the virtual and the real is easily erased.
Take the South-facing website Foodsecurity.net, which promotes itself as "the web's most complete source of news and information about global food security concerns and sustainable agricultural practices". Foodsecurity.net claims to be "an independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world". Despite its global reach, however, Foodsecurity.net's only named staff member is its "African Director", Dr. Michael Mbwille, a Tanzanian doctor who's forever penning articles defending Monsanto and attacking the likes of Greenpeace.
There's also an event posting from an Andura Smetacek, recently identified in an article in The Guardian as an e-mail front used by Monsanto to run a campaign of character assassination against its scientific and environmental critics.
The site is registered to a Graydon Forrer, currently the managing director of Life Sciences Strategies, a company that specializes in "communications programmes" for the bio-science industries. A piece of information that is not usually disclosed in Graydon Forrer's self-presentation is that he was previously Monsanto’s director of executive communications. Indeed, he seems to have been working for the company in 1999 - the same year the site of this "independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world" was first registered. Foodsecurity’s "African Director", Dr. Mbwille, is not, incidentally, in Africa at the moment. He is enjoying a sabbatical observing medical practice in St. Louis, Missouri - the home town, as it happens, of the Monsanto Corporation.
Foodsecurity.net forms but one of a whole series of websites with undisclosed links to biotech industry lobbyists or PR companies, as our previous research has demonstrated.
GM WATCH SPECIAL: AgBioWorld paints it black
GM WATCH SPECIAL