|Here lie the bones of academic freedom and scientific|
objectivity. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Photo:Katrina Koger via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
"A low point for chemical industry messaging was its PR campaign to paint Silent Spring author Rachel Carson (and environmentalists in general) as murderers of millions of children in Africa for raising concerns about DDT. That sort of messaging is making a comeback in the GMO debate."
Why is Cornell University hosting a GMO propaganda campaign?
by Stacy Malkan, The Ecologist, 22 January 2016
Cornell, one of the world's leading academic institutions, has abandoned scientific objectivity, writes Stacy Malkan - and instead made itself a global hub for the promotion of GM crops and food. Working with selected journalists and industry-supported academics, Cornell's so-called 'Alliance for Science' is an aggressive propaganda tool for corporate biotech and agribusiness.
The founders of Cornell University, Andrew D. White and Ezra Cornell, dreamed of creating a great university that took a radical approach to learning.
Their revolutionary spirit, and the promise to pursue knowledge for the greater good, is said to be at the heart of the Ivy League school their dream became.
It is difficult to understand how these ideals are served by a unit of Cornell operating as a public relations arm for the agrichemical industry.
Yet that is what seems to be going on at the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), a programlaunched in 2014 with a $5.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a goal to "depolarize the charged debate" about GMOs.
A review of the group's materials and programs suggests that beneath its promise to"restore the importance of scientific evidence in decision making", CAS is promoting GMOs using dishonest messaging and PR tactics developed by agrichemical corporations with a long history of misleading the public about science.
Communicating science or propaganda?
CAS is a communications campaign devoted to promoting genetically engineered foods (also known as GMOs) around the world. This is made clear in the group's promotional video.
CAS Director Sarah Evanega, PhD, describes her group as a "communications-based nonprofit organization represented by scientists, farmers, NGOs, journalists and concerned citizens" who will use "interactive online platforms, multimedia resources and communication training programs to build a global movement to advocate for access to biotechnology."
In this way, they say they will help alleviate malnourishment and hunger in developing countries, according to the video.
Dr. Evanega said her group has no connections to industry and receives no resources from industry. "We do not write for industry, and we do not advocate for or promote industry-owned products", she wrote in a blog post titled 'A Right to Be Known (Accurately)' in which she pushed back against criticisms from my group, US Right to Know.
Yet the flagship programs of CAS - a 12-week course for Global Leadership Fellows and two-day intensive communications courses - teach communication skills to people who are "committed to advocating for increased access to biotechnology" specifically so they can "lead advocacy efforts in their local contexts."
The group also has unusual dealings with journalists. What does it mean, as the CAS video states, that it is "represented by" journalists?
CAS offers journalism fellowships with cash awards for select journalists to "promote in-depth contextualized reporting" about issues related to food security, crop production, biotechnology and sustainable agricultural. Are these journalists also GMO advocates? How ethical is it for journalists to represent the policy positions of a pro-agrichemical-industry group?
Messaging for corporate interests
One thing is clear from the publicly available CAS messaging: the context they offer on the topic of genetically engineered foods is not in depth and comprehensive but rather highly selective and geared toward advancing the interests of the agrichemical industry.
For example, the video: Brimming with hope about the possibilities of GMOs to solve world hunger in the future, it ignores a large body of scientific research that has documented problems connected with GMOs - that herbicide-tolerant GMO crops havedriven up the use of glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer by the world's leading cancer experts; and accelerated weed resistance on millions of acres of US farmland, which makes crop production harder for farmers, not easier.
There is no mention of the failure of GMO crops designed to ward off harmful insects, or the rising concerns of medical doctors about patterns of illness in places like Hawaii andArgentina where exposures are heaviest to the chemicals associated with GMOs.
There is no recognition that many scientists and food leaders have said GMOs are not a priority for feeding the world, a debate that is a key reason GMO crops have not been widely embraced outside of the United States and Latin America.
All these factors are relevant to the discussion about whether or not developing countries should embrace genetically engineered crops and foods. But CAS leaves aside these details and amplifies the false idea that the science is settled on the safety and necessity of GMOs.
Disseminating selective information of a biased or misleading nature to promote a particular agenda is known as the practice of propaganda...