Biotech foods PR debate heats up

WASHINGTON, DC: The debate over genetically engineered foods may be ripening on the vine, but fresh developments are drawing the mainstream attention PR pros on both sides of the argument have long craved.

WASHINGTON, DC: The debate over genetically engineered foods may be ripening on the vine, but fresh developments are drawing the mainstream attention PR pros on both sides of the argument have long craved.

WASHINGTON, DC: The debate over genetically engineered foods may be

ripening on the vine, but fresh developments are drawing the mainstream

attention PR pros on both sides of the argument have long craved.



President Clinton’s announcement earlier this month that he plans to

increase FDA oversight of genetically engineered products - a tactic

blasted by opponents of bioengineered food as patronizing and

ineffective - has further enlivened an already caustic debate.



’This was little more than a PR move orchestrated by the FDA and the

White House,’ said Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

communications coordinator Ben Lilliston. ’They are presenting the

public with a regulatory structure, but sidestepping concerns over

further safety testing, which is the main issue.’



Clinton’s announcement should have come as welcome relief for some on

the pro-bioengineered food side of the argument, as it diverted

attention away from the news that several major US fast-food chains,

including McDonald’s and Burger King, were ordering their suppliers not

to use genetically engineered potatoes.



’We didn’t even regard (the potato controversy) as a major event,’

maintained Monsanto spokesman Bryan Hurley.



But Lilliston insisted that this was in fact a major development, as

many companies, nervous of potential PR and consumer backlash, are

quietly positioning themselves to address the issue at a later date.



BSMG senior managing director Stephen Kehoe said that there hasn’t been

a single documented report that genetically engineered food products are

unsafe to eat, and that McDonald’s decision had more to do with PR.



’This was clearly a business decision, as the FDA has looked at these

potatoes and said they are perfectly safe,’ said Kehoe, whose firm was

tapped earlier this year to orchestrate a dollars 50 million integrated

campaign for the Council for Biotechnology Information. ’Our opponent

doesn’t have anything more than ’fear of the unknown’ in its

arsenal.’



John Stauber, editor of PR Watch, cautioned that if safety concerns are

raised about genetically engineered crops, they would lead to court

cases, protests and, ultimately, consumer rejection. ’The PR industry

will feast on this fight, since win or lose they get to wage the war and

soak up zillions in client fees,’ he said.



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