Monsanto is feeling the heat
Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer and this year’s winner of the dubious World Food Prize, recently admitted that Monsanto made a huge strategic error by focusing educational outreach on growers and ignoring consumers. An interesting analysis of this admission is presented in an overlooked report by Joan Faus published in the April 12, 2014 edition of El País (Spain). Faus quotes Fraley admitting the error: “In the last twenty years almost all of our communication activities and education have been focused on farmers and it went very well. But the mistake we made is that we did not put enough effort toward consumer education.”
Monsanto does seem acutely aware that the battle between supporters and opponents of GM has heated up and is extremely fierce. Moreover, after years of accumulating what Fraley views as an unfairly bad reputation, the Gene Giant has decided to change strategy: It plans to get closer to the consumer so it can work at convincing skeptics and critics of the safety of its products and the positive effects biotechnology presumably has on world agriculture [sic].
Monsanto would have you believe that people opposed to GMOs are irrational and basing their choices on pure fear. Is this presumption of irrationality justified? Not really since the scientific evidence against GMOs is fast mounting, but this is the wrong question posed by too many pundits. More important is what this tells us about Monsanto’s efforts to reframe the public discourse that has ascribed to the brand such a nasty, super-loaded or ‘monkey’ signifier in the form of its nefarious status as the world’s “Most Evil Corporation”.
Despite all this Monsanto’s basic problem will fortunately always be driven by the unavoidable fact that the most enduring controversies go well beyond a simplistic focus on consumer food safety. Our critiques are formidable and play across an evolving set of perceptions covering the entire range of economic, environmental, cultural, and public health effects associated with all of the stacked-traits GMO product lines and their ancillaries. The challenges posed by a diverse and expanding public of scientists, farmers, seed savers, plant breeders, and consumers who question Monsanto’s credibility has now reached a critical mass that will not be easily suffocated by PR stunts and publicity pirouettes.
Anatomy of an Internet troll. Image credit: Frankniceleyfiles.