JUDGE AND JURY: Food modifiers thrive on the Royal seal of disapproval

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 Relations.

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

Relations.



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

concerns.



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

debate.



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