Center for Food and Agricultural Research

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In a talk to fellow PR professionals, Jay Byrne, Monsanto's former Chief Internet Strategist gave CFFAR as an example of the type of website that Monsanto worked to direct people who were seeking information on GM food on the internet to. CFFAR stands for the Center for Food & Agricultural Research and its website is not currently available, following adverse publicity, but it can still be viewed in its archived form. The website presents CFFAR as 'a public policy and research coalition dedicated to exploring and understanding health, safety, and sustainability issues associated with food and fiber production.' However, no details are given of the history, constituent members, organisational structure, administrative location or personnel of this 'public policy and research coalition' [1]. CFFAR first attracted attention during the 2000 convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Boston, USA. At a counter event to the BIO convention fake biographies were anonymously placed amongst the literature on display. The targets were Dr Michael Hansen of the Consumers' Union and the attorney Steven Druker who were both in Boston to speak at a press conference.

Hansen's 'biography' focused heavily on the controversy over Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug rBGH. Hansen was described as, 'The Crown Prince of Cancer Scares' - a title justified by an apparent attack by a Former Surgeon General on Hansen's 'baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible' cancer claims. This 'attack' on Hansen was a fabrication. The Former Surgeon General's comments, far from singling out Hansen, bore no reference to anything Hansen had ever said. Although there was nothing in the documents to indicate their source, a reporter from the Boston Herald showed Steven Druker a version of his 'biography' that had been faxed to the paper ahead of the press conference. Attached was a covering page with a website address - that of the Center For Food and Agricultural Research (CFFAR). Hansen's 'biography' was subsequently posted on the CFFAR site.

The CFFAR home page prominently displays a colour photo of what appear to be happy-looking Third World children crop picking, and one of the site sections is on 'Food Production Methods'. Here a series of Fact Sheets are available on the 'primary methods of food production', aimed at fostering 'a better understanding of health, safety, and sustainability issues.' Of the 3 fact sheets listed: Organic Food Production; Genetically Modified Food Production; and Conventional Food Production only the 'Organic' one is available - the others have been 'coming shortly' since the site was launched. The CFFAR's short 'backgrounder' on organics starts off relatively cautiously: 'The basic principles of organic production are to restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony', etc. However, the fact sheet soon hits its stride: 'If we were to attempt a large scale switch to organic farming, we would have to tear down wilderness, hedges and wetlands to make up for the lower yield rates...' 'In 1996, the Center for Disease Control listed 488 confirmed E. coli outbreaks in the United States. Critics of organic farming have linked one quarter of these cases to the consumption of organic or natural foods. This is despite the fact that only one percent of the food produced in the United States is produced organically.' These claims are derived from the attacks on organic farming of Dennis Avery. Other than this one page, the site has no other sections that would seem to have any direct connection with CFFAR's proclaimed goal of helping 'policy makers and the general public reach a fuller understanding of food and fiber issues'.

There is, however, a substantial section called 'Stop Anti-GM violence' and further down the home page - beneath the crop-picking children - there are a string of articles offering to inform you 'about the latest anti-GMO violence'. There is also a whole semi-autonomous 'vandalwatch.org' subsection of the site which was clearly developed to incorporate more of this material. This sub-section is larger than the whole of the rest of the site. Given the number of pages relating to 'violence' and given how little else there is on the site, it seems that other than attacking organic farming and critics of Monsanto like Michael Hensen, hosting the material on 'violence' is really what the site is about. On the site it is claimed that 'the increasingly violent tactics being used by the anti-GM foods movement' is one aspect of the GM debate that 'has gone largely unreported.' Groups like Greenpeace and the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy are attacked as responsible for violence or as having links to those who are responsible. Words like 'violence', 'terrorism', and 'acts of terror' are used repeatedly. A 'VandalWatch Closeup' article, 'A Close-up on Greenpeace, Not Your Father's Old Peace Movement' refers to Greenpeace 'vandalizing research facilities' and repeats the claim that it is under the wing of 'left-wing anarchists willing to engage in campaigns of terrorism and intimidation', not to mention 'terrorism and fear campaigns'. The article also states: '...Greenpeace UK director Lord Peter Melchett pulled out and trampled GM crops on several British trial farm sites where Greenpeace activists commandeered the farmers tractors, crashed through fences and chased his family when they tried to stop them.' Despite the fact that this is a complete fabrication, the CFFAR article asks: 'How does Greenpeace reconcile their principles of "non-violent action" with such blatant and potentially dangerous disregard for property and farmers?' and '...What about the farmers who took care of the test sites? Are they also a "biological hazard" to be trampled upon and left on the ground in plastic bags?'

One of the goals of the site appears to be to promote an internet-based campaign targeting those with links (particularly funding links ) to groups opposing the biotech industry, like Greenpeace and the IATP. the aim is clearly to lobby funders to break their ties with these groups because of the 'violence'. '...when corporations, such as Ben & Jerry's, Inc. or Working Assets, provide financial support to Greenpeace and others who engage in these acts, or simply provide links and resources from their corporate web sites, they lend their good name and credibility to the actions of those who intimidate farmers and spread fear within the academic and research communities. Customers and shareholders of these corporations should be aware of these links.'

The CFFAR site appears to have been promoted via links pages, directories or postings, pointing to the CFFAR.org site, usually specifically in the context of biotechnology, though not invariably. The postings are anonymous or made via what appear to be aliases. Several were made by a self-proclaimed 'pro-GM greenie', msgreenlady@aol.com [2]. 'Andura Smetacek' who has been shown to be a front e-mail for Monsanto made repeated reference to the CFFAR site in early postings to the AgBioView list.

That the site was apparently taken at face value is suggested by the nature of some of the website links to it, which included ones from the Santa Monica Public Library and academic sources: http://www.smpl.org/library/internet/gefoods.htm http://plantbio.berkeley.edu/~courses/pb10/websitespb10.htm http://bartik.brynmawr.edu/students/ahayesco/sources.html


Here's the original CFFAR.org domain registration details:

Registrant: THEODOROV, MANUEL (CFFAR-DOM) 8391 Beverly Blvd #107 LOS ANGELES, CA 90048 US Domain Name: CFFAR.ORG Administrative Contact, Billing Contact: THEODOROV, MANUEL (MTW94) etheodorou@EARTHLINK.NET THEODOROV, MANUEL 8391 Beverly Blvd #107 LOS ANGELES, CA 90048 3239604489

The etheodorou in the e-mail address is clearly different to the contact name. At the following webpage , the name 'emmanuel theodorou' is listed with other early signatories to a petition supporting agbiotech launched by Prof CS Prakash who edits the AgBioView list. Interestingly, Theodorou's name appears to have been omitted from the current version of the petition .


The following information is provided by Theodorou: NAME: emmanuel theodorou POSITION: director of associations ORGANIZATION: bivings woodell, Inc. DEPARTMENT: advocacy and outreach [3]

What kind of 'advocacy and outreach' work do 'Bivings-Woodell Inc.' do:

'The Bivings Group has developed 'Internet advocacy' campaigns for corporate America since 1996 . . . the plastics industry and biotechnology giant Monsanto are among the clients who have discovered how to make the Internet work for them.' (Corporations Turn to Internet to Champion Political Causes, Chicago Tribune April 3, 2000)

Theodorou is known to have been part of the Monsanto team at Bivings.

Bivings have also been linked to multiple attacks on biotech industry critics posted by a 'Mary Murphy' on lists and message boards. Many of these attacks were posted on the AgBioView list, often in coordination with attacks posted by Andura Smetacek who has been shown to be a front e-mail for Monsanto.

NOTES

  1. ^ From CFFAR website avaible here in archived form.
  2. ^ Available from the archive at: http://web.archive.org/web/20010717112630/http://www.cfis.org/ubb/Forum5/HTML/000029.html

Notes

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