When Prince Charles spoke out against genetically modified foods,
Monsanto turned the attention that he attracted to their advantage, says
Richard Harrison, operations director of Greenwood Tighe Public
Will Monsanto and the other giants in the genetically-modified (GM) food
industry eat their words? The likes of the National Consumer Council
must be hoping so, especially with Prince Charles reiterating its
Charles addressed the global biotech big-hitters head on, calling for a
’wide public debate on the issues’. Monsanto doubtless couldn’t believe
its luck, but nevertheless exploited the situation -his Daily Telegraph
article gave the GM food companies the opportunity to seize the moment
and play out their strategy.
Monsanto knew there would be flak over moves to get permission to test
GM crops in Britain, which is why it started an advertising campaign two
weeks ago to convince consumers that such foods are safe. Its press and
media relations output has been littered with key messages to support
the thrust of its advertising and promote its desire to stimulate debate
and positive understanding.
Its opening tactic was to agree in order to defuse any argument. Ann
Foster, director of public affairs was reported as saying: ’We are
perfectly happy with his (Prince Charles’) contribution. We knew he was
going to do this and decided to press ahead with our launch anyway.’
Clearly the company’s response has been thought out. The overriding
message is simple: that this practice has been around for thousands of
years, it’s not new, we’re just getting better at it.
But Prince Charles is equally part of the problem for consumer and
environmental pressure groups. He can’t speak for organic manufacturers,
environmental or consumer pressure groups. The hope has to be that lobby
groups have the skill and wherewithal to capitalise on his move and take
the debate forward.
It is right that the NCC wants information and choice for consumers
while the green lobby is concerned with environmental implications, but
a meeting of minds would help to create a concerted campaign. For
instance, the NCC has homed in on faceless EU policy makers and
suggested they are out of step with public opinion, rather than
questioning the practices of major manufacturers.
I’m surprised too, that campaigners don’t appear to have made much of an
ICM poll showing that the vast majority of consumers want GM products to
be segregated and labelled properly.
The GM food debate has a long way to go, but on the evidence of the
first round of message-making, Monsanto has thrived on this diet of open