Biotechnology, the Media, and Public Policy
About This Event

For more than two decades, scientists have been working to develop a range of animal, agricultural, and industrial products (such as foods and pharmaceuticals) made with the help of genetic modification. As has often been the case with the introduction of new scientific methods, gene manipulation has stirred intense and contentious debates. This sometimes-confrontational atmosphere has limited the use of this new technology by negatively shaping public attitudes and government policies toward bioengineering around the world.

This conference will focus on the origins of this debate; how the dialogue on genetic modification has shaped public policy around the world; how it impacts the commercial realities of companies developing new products; how it might alter the course of future research; and what strategies might be formulated to develop a more rational public policy that would foster more constructive discussion over the costs and benefits of genetic manipulation.


8:15 a.m.



Continental Breakfast



Jon Entine, AEI


Opening Address:

Lester Crawford, Food and Drug Administration


Panel I: Biodiplomacy and Public Perception


Tim Friend, USA Today


Vivian Moses, King’s College, London

Robert Paarlberg, Wellesley College

C. S. Prakash, Tuskegee University

Javier Verastegui, CamBio Tec-Canada



12:20 p.m.

Keynote Speaker:

Andrew S. Natsios, U.S. Agency for International Development

1:30 Panel II: Emerging Challenges for Commercializing Biotechnology
Moderator: Justin Gillis, Washington Post
Panelists: Rob Horsch, Monsanto
Joseph McGonigle, Aqua Bounty Farms
Patrick Moore, Greenspirit
Martina Newell-McGloughlin, University of California
3:15 Panel III: GMOs and Communications Issues
Moderator: Jon Entine, AEI
Panelists: Jay Byrne, v-Fluence, Inc.
Carol Tucker Foreman, Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute
Tony Gilland, British Institute of Ideas
Thomas Hoban, North Carolina State University
Doug Powell, University of Guelph, Ontario



Event Summary

June 2003
Biotechnology, the Media, and Public Policy


GMOs, Media Perceptions, and Regulatory Concerns
Lester Crawford: FDA deputy commissioner; the former director of the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Virginia Tech has been involved in every aspect of the public debate over GMOs, including the contentious issues of labeling and the new frontier of biopharming.

Andrew S. Natsios is administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Mr. Natsios has served previously at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance).


Jon Entine

: Adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and scholar-in-residence at Miami University, Ohio. Formerly an Emmy-winning news producer for NBC and ABC News, he now writes for publications around the world on a range of subjects, including business ethics, media bias, and science and politics. He authors a column, "The Ethical Edge" for the British-based international magazine Ethical Corporation, was contributing author to Case Histories in Business Ethics: The Virtues and Moral Decision Making in Business (Routledge, 2002), and won a National Press Club award for his 1994 article, "Shattered Image: Is The Body Shop Too Good to Be True?" in Business Ethics, which detailed the hypocritical practices of green business icons, and is considered a classic in its field. Author of Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We are Afraid to Talk About It (PublicAffairs, 2000), which explored the impact of the genetic revolution on sports performance, he is now writing a book on Jewish Genes for Penguin/Putnam that examines the nexus of social and genetic identity. Assisted by Ryan Stowers, program manager of AEI’s National Research Initiative.


Tim Friend,

USA Today science writer

Justin Gillis,

Washington Post science, biotechnology, and business reporter

Panelists and Paper Summaries

Jay Byrne

: president of v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations. Jay has 20 years of experience in public relations, campaign communications and government affairs. He has held senior communications positions at the White House, U.S. State Department, Monsanto Company and for the City of Boston. Jay has directed communications and media relations for various U.S. political campaigns, global activist campaign responses and other international public relations initiatives. His media relations and interactive campaigns have won numerous awards and recognitions.

The Tangled Web of Biotech and Corporate Activism:
How the Internet and the Era of Social Responsibility Have Changed the Rules of Engagement

From grassroots organization of shareholder resolutions and sometimes-violent protests to aggressive lobbying campaigns targeting government, the Internet has become the fulcrum for attacks on free enterprise. The anti-biotechnology movement is both a proving ground and a principal point of engagement; currently leading the way is the campaign against plant-produced biopharmaceuticals and other innovations in agricultural biotechnology. Key combatants in this arena are surprisingly well-funded activist groups, whose influence was once significantly limited in scope. Now, however, they are leveraging the online world to influence public opinion, change the regulatory environment, engage in disruptive litigation and in the process make themselves mainstream stakeholders influencing the future of biotechnology innovation.

Those involved in biotechnology innovation, commercialization, regulation, and public reporting who ignore these groups do so at their own peril; those engaging these groups without full knowledge of their interests, funding, and affiliations do so at a significant disadvantage. Special-interest groups and industries that compete indirectly with biotechnology such as the organic industry are successfully using the Internet, tax-exempt funding mechanisms, and other tools to shift the balance of power, sometimes successfully. Industry has notched some successes online but also committed some notable failures. A thorough understanding of these stakeholders, their tactics and the online environment are crucial for effective public dialogue.

Tony Gilland:

science and society director, British Institute of Ideas; author of Science-Can We Trust The Experts?, Nature’s Revenge?, Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle; Organizer of public dialogues on the biotech controversy, including the 2003 "Genes and Society Festival" and the 2000 London Royal Institution’s "Interrogating the Precautionary Principle" conference.

The Politics of Changing the "Risk Averse" Mentality in Western Society

What is the political context that gave rise to the negative reaction to GM crops and food within? Issues related to human health and the environment have assumed increasing political importance. This has little to do with any increased risk posed to health or the environment by modern technologies. Rather, with the gradual collapse of the traditional "Left/Right" political frameworks that dominated the twentieth century, new frameworks for contention have emerged-"risk consciousness" being one of the most prominent. Within the risk framework "risk averse" perspectives clearly dominate any positive viewpoints on the benefits of risk taking.

Whilst risk aversion cannot be portrayed as a conscious political program, it certainly underpins the concerns of consumer groups and environmental NGOs. Governments have for been nervous about their standing amongst a public whose level of trust has steadily declined. One consequence has been the embracement of the concerns of consumer and environmental NGOs. The twin trends of an uncertain and unconfident political elite and the emergence of a new political class drawn often from risk averse NGOs has led to the precautionary principle being institutionalized across the European Union. If we want to build a more constructive path towards the consideration of GM technology, and innovations more generally, then we are unlikely to be able to rely on talking about risks and benefits in narrow terms. Rather it will be necessary to develop a political framework within which technological innovation can be understood and thereby establish a more thoroughgoing alternative to the evolving risk averse agenda.

Thomas Hoban

: Thomas Hoban is a professor in the Department of Sociology and the Department of Food Science at North Carolina State University. For the past decade, Mr. Hoban has worked with government agencies, farm groups, biotechnology companies, and others to help understand public perceptions of biotechnology. He is the director of the Center for Biotechnology in Global Society. He has been invited to give over 500 presentations and is regularly interviewed by the media. He recently completed a telephone survey of the food industry, as well as a mail survey of global government leaders on biotechnology.

Global Stakeholders’ Views on Biotechnology

Opinion leaders serve as gatekeepers for biotechnology to enter the food system. The goal of a recent research project was to understand views worldwide representing the food industry and governments including, commodity producers, packaged food manufacturers, and food retailers and restaurants. Overall, the food industry opinion leaders were very supportive of food biotechnology. Government representatives appeared less comfortable. All agreed that increasing crop yields and enhanced nutrition were important priorities for farmers and the food industry. Industry leaders tended to be more likely to say that biotech has already provided benefits. All factions agreed that consumer education is key to ensuring market acceptance of foods produced through biotechnology. Both sectors trusted university scientists and medical associations the most. Not as many had high trust in farmers or the biotechnology companies. Both groups reported relatively low trust in consumer groups (especially Greenpeace.) Results of this research suggest ways to improve social understanding and acceptance of biotechnology, including:

* Speed up the development of products with clear consumer benefits.

* Provide balanced information through a variety of credible sources.

* Improve and maintain confidence in science and government regulatory system.

* Work to develop a cost-effective and efficient identity preservation system.

* Address global supply chain challenges (for example, liability with labeling, traceability).

Rob Horsch: vice president, public-private partnerships, Monsanto Company; U.S. National Medal of Technology Laureate for contributions to the development of agricultural biotechnology; formerly director of Crop Transformation Group, which introduced the Bollgard, Yieldgard, and Roundup Ready traits in soybeans, cotton, and corn that are in broad use today; coeditor of the Plant Biotechnology Journal; member of the UN Millennium Development Goal Task Force on Hunger.

Growing Partnerships in the GMO Debate:
Monsanto’s Experience in Moving from Message-Based to Relationship-Based Communications

Earning permission from society to produce new products such as genetically modified crops is a dynamic process, not simply an exercise of choosing the right words for presenting a persuasive argument. A traditional strategy often reflecting industry perspective was built on expert decision systems with clear and defined rules, such as regulatory processes or customer-marketing models, coupled with effective arguments and messages to deal with challenges outside of this expert system. This strategy continues to work reasonably well for pesticides, which have measurable risks, understandable benefits, and several generations of familiarity to society. But for the newer and less familiar field of biotechnology, this strategy has been losing effectiveness.

New technology, the rapid expansion of the Internet and shifting societal expectations has changed the realities of doing business in biotechnology. The new model is based on building relationships instead of messages. Recognizing the need for a new approach, Monsanto launched a stakeholder dialogue program about three years ago. This program began with us listening carefully to a wide range of stakeholders concerns and recommendations. After taking to heart what we heard, we made a public pledge to change our behavior in ways responsive to what stakeholders have told us is important for developing a better relationship. This set of commitments, described in the "New Monsanto Pledge," was designed to be successive elements of a relationship-based approach to communications. Effective relationships built from common ground and based on mutual interests, respect, and trust are at the core of addressing contentious issues and dilemmas.

Joseph McGonigle

: vice president, Aqua Bounty Farms, and former executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association; part of the team producing and marketing one of the first transgenic animals, fish which incorporate genes from two different fish species.

Transparency Is Not Enough
The Aqua Bounty Experience in the Commercialization of Transgenic Salmon

Aqua Bounty Farms has been working towards the commercialization of hybrid salmon for over a decade. The company has developed a public acceptance strategy based on open communications with the food distribution chain, the media, and industry supporters as well as NGO opponents. Despite the privacy protection afforded the company by the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, the company has also said that it will release all safety related data as it is completed and that it supports appropriate labeling. Transparency is considered the best defense to criticism. Aqua Bounty’s experiences lead it to understand that the issues surrounding the introduction of these foods are more emotional in nature than scientific and that effectively counteracting them depends on proactively and repetitively countering these concerns. Messages delivered to the public must be based on verifiable facts and stress safety, the rigor of the regulatory process and benefits to all constituencies: producers, distributors, consumers, and the environment.

The biggest problems faced by those preparing to commercialize these products are getting the media to report complex issues accurately and countering statements by organizations that misinterpret information. With regards to producers, the food chain and investors, the issues are to help separate their perceptions of potential consumer behavior (negative) from actual consumer behavior (positive). Underlying this is the necessity for a clear regulatory process that assures developers of a science-based, time and cost limited oversight process while assuring the public that approved products are safe.

Patrick Moore

: ecologist and co-founder of Greenpeace in the early 1970s; Founder of the environmental group Greenspirit, Vancouver, BC; critic of activists who use "pagan beliefs and junk science"; referred to as "the man environmental activists love to hate."

Fighting Back: Responding to the Adversarial Tactics of Activists and NGOs

The professional activist movement has been very effective in associating GMOs with scary and negative images though there is no basis in reality for such claims. How can industry and government combat misinformation? A conservative, defensive posture will not work. The only successful approach is an aggressive, proactive one that aims to get GM technology out in front of the so-called environmental agenda. This means focusing on sustainability, corporate responsibility, engagement, transparency, science, and most of all, real human and environmental stories. For example: when an NGO claims to defend poor farmers from multinationals; GMO supporters must show how this technology helps poor farmers in China, Indonesia, Brazil, India etc.; when Greenpeace tries to debunk Golden Rice, the complete story of how it can help the blind children of the world needs to be made. Activists use images from scary Hollywood movies; Frankenstein, Killer Tomatoes, Terminator Seeds. Those sympathetic to GM technology must create associations with comfort, health, clean environment, etc., that are more effective. Biotechnology promises huge improvements in human welfare and environment.

Vivian Moses

: visiting professor of biotechnology, King’s College London; director of the Centre for Genetic Anthropology at University College; chairman of CropGen, an independent organization that makes the case for biotechnology; coordinator of an EU project, Educating the European Public for Biotechnology; editor of Biotechnology: The Science and the Business.

The Media and Public Attitudes in Britain and Europe

The European press have been having a field day with the GM issue. From 1998 to 99 we saw the flowering of the "Frankenstein" headline culture. But the anti-GM mood may be changing. We have begun seeing articles such as "Green shoots of recovery for GM" and "Sowing the seeds of a better future" in the Financial Times and "Ignore the doubters; GM crops can help feed the world" in The Guardian, not noted for its pro-GM stance. Depending on the paper, we often have more stories about GM benefits than risks. There is also a growing anti-organic sentiment. In summer 2001, the Financial Times ran "Organic facts are hard to digest"; the Times followed with "The great organic con trick" and Nature with "Urban myths of organic farming." The Daily Mail ran a recent spread on "The great organic con?." In May 2003, the British began their National GM Debate ("GM Nation? The Public Debate") after which the British Government may come to some sort of decision about the commercialization of GM agriculture in the UK. The role of the media will be key in shaping public opinion and the public response as this debate unfolds.

Martina Newell-McGloughlin:

director of the UC Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program. Before this position, she was director of the UC Systemwide Life Sciences Informatics Program and the UC Davis Biotechnology Program and has worked for the government and the private sector. She has published numerous papers, articles, and books on

biotechnology focusing on disease resistance in plants, scale-up stability for industrial and pharmaceutical production in microbes, and microbiological mining. The UC Davis Academic Federation selected her to receive its 2001 James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award.

Bio-Pharming: Opportunities and Challenges for Producers, Consumers, and Regulators

Commercialization of the first generation of products of recombinant DNA technology is just another facet in a history of human intervention in nature for food production. It must be undertaken within a regulatory framework that insures adequate protection of the consumer and the environment while not stymieing innovation. Research has focused on expanding the therapeutic value of plants and animals through biotechnology, using them as living factories for the commercial production of vaccines and other products such as industrial enzymes and biosynthetic feedstock. Production of medically important substances via biotechnology offers multiple advantages. For plants, manufacture can be done virtually anywhere and seeds are the ideal packaging for production, shipping, storage and possible delivery of valuable proteins. The system has the potential to address problems associated with provision of vaccines to people in developing countries. There are, however, new challenges to oversight, risk assessment, and public perception. The most pressing concern is to insure adequate segregation from conventional foods to prevent unintentional commingling. There is potential for environmental and food safety mishaps. Especially in the case of active vaccines, there is genuine concern of gene escape and the possibility of failure to segregate from the food supply. No matter how comprehensive the containment measures in place or how vigilant the oversight, the potential exists for unexpected events. The opportunities, risks, media coverage, and regulatory challenges of various pharming systems will be discussed.

Robert Paarlberg

: professor of political science, Wellesley College (MA); associate of Harvard Center for International Affairs; consultant with International Food Policy Research Institute, U.S. AID, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. State Department; books include The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries and Governance and Food Security in an Age of Globalization

The International Policy Struggle over GM Crops

The future development of GM crops will depend heavily on the global regulatory environment. Will the international regulation of GM crops in areas such as food safety, biosafety, trade, and intellectual property rights be permissive toward this new technology (for example, similar to United States regulations) or highly precautionary (for example, as in Europe)? Increasingly, it seems that a more precautionary European regulatory approach will become the internationally norm. This precautionary approach is spreading into the developing world through at least four different channels: intergovernmental organizations (which tend to be heavily influenced by Europe), international development assistance (where Europe is the largest donor region), European-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international food markets (where Europe is the biggest customer).

These more precautionary EU-style policies will be seen by exporters of GM crops in the United States as a threat to the trade and the U.S. Government will be tempted to challenge Europe’s restrictions on GM crops (including its continuing moratorium on new crop approvals and its looming regulations concerning traceability and labeling of GM foods and feeds) using the dispute settlement mechanisms of the World Trade Organization. The United States may win such a challenge legally in the WTO, yet still lose politically and commercially. The EU has no history of altering its internal food safety or environmental protection policies in response to a WTO challenge, and a trade-led U.S. challenge in the WTO might only harden world opinion against GM crops and foods. This would be an unfortunate outcome for poor farmers in developing countries who may need GM crop applications in the future to overcome the unique crop production constraints they face, from insect pests, disease, water stress, and low soil fertility.

Doug Powell:

associate professor of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph, Ontario and director of the Food Safety Network, which conducts farm-to-fork research, analysis, and extension to enhance the safety of the food supply.

Where’s the Trust? GMOs, Risk Assessment, and Communications Strategy

Assessing the scientific risks of agri-food technologies must be coupled with appropriate, evidence-based risk management and communication activities, in order to provide consumers, the media, and others with an evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of a particular technology. Those responsible for risk management must openly communicate their activities to reduce levels of risk. Media coverage of genetically engineered food (and biotechnology) has often been polarized: safety versus risk; science moving forward versus science out of control; and competitiveness versus safety. Films and novels have a long history of feeding the image of science out of control. When this is coupled with society’s tendency to attach unrealistic expectations to technology, an ideal environment for public apprehension is created. This paper will examine the relationship between the media, public opinion, and public policy using recent high profile media stories such as the effects of Bt pollen on monarch butterflies, so-called super-weeds and the alleged escape of the GE bacteria Klebsiella planticola. Risk communication strategies will also be discussed using a case study of a demonstration farm and market where GE sweet corn was marketed to the public in Canada.

C. S. Prakash

: director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University; member of the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee for the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India; director of AgBioWorld Foundation, the influential academic discussion group on biotechnology, with over 3,000 researchers on emerging public attitude issues

Caught between the War of Giants: How Can Developing Countries Benefit from Ag-Biotech?

The quality of life of most people on this has been enhanced through agricultural research that has led to an affordable food supply, boosted incomes for millions of farmers, and reduced the incidence of famine and starvation despite massive population increases in the past few decades. Nevertheless, food insecurity and malnutrition still persist in parts of the developing world.

To further increase agricultural productivity equitably-in an environmentally sustainable manner in the face of diminishing land and water resources-is a highly challenging task ahead. Knowledge-based approaches, including the development of ‘value-added’ crops through gene transfer and genomics can provide powerful solutions enhance food security: by improving local agricultural productivity, minimizing the use of chemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers, insulating crops against losses from diseases and pests, curtailing post-harvest losses including food spoilage, improving food quality and nutrition, and by increasing crop tolerance to stress factors such as drought and problem soils. However, the integration of biotechnology into agricultural research in the developing countries faces many challenges that must be addressed: financial, technical, political, environmental-activist, intellectual-property, biosafety, and trade-related issues.

Carol Tucker Foreman:

director, Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute; former assistant secretary of Agriculture for Food and Consumer Services; member of the EU/US Consultative Forum on Biotechnology; member of the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee for Trade; served on USDA Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology; oversaw development of the federal government’s first Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Food Is Special: Public Trust in Risk Management Vital to Public Acceptance of Biotechnology

It is not surprising that the introduction of a major new technology affecting the food supply has stirred public debate. The controversy over the potential risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology involves science but has been, and will continue to be, influenced by societal concerns and other factors. In democratic societies, the public will be the ultimate arbiter of the success of any new technology. Public acceptance is shaped by public trust in government risk managers. The current U.S. regulatory system does not support a high level of public trust and unless strengthened, will continue to burden the development of agricultural biotechnology.

Javier Verastegui

: executive secretary CamBio Tec, a Canadian initiative undertaken by the International Development Research Council; past director of technology in the Institute of Industrial Technological Investigation (Peru) and of the Peruvian for Society Scientific & Technological Management)

The Development of Ag-Biotech in Latin America: Public Concerns and Expectations

1) The biotechnology market in Latin America, including a brief overview on ag-biotech development and public perception.

2) The main concerns in Latin America: trade risks, biodiversity loss, high cost to develop local innovations, dependence on foreign seeds and patents from big corporations, high cost and inadequate staff to ensure sound biosafety regulatory systems, and illegal transgenic crops.

3) The main expectations in Latin America: ensuring food security, ensuring untroubled food exports to traditional markets, using the Precautionary Principle, increasing value-added products from local biodiversity, developing strong linkages with modern biotechnology actors in the world, and filling the S&T gap in biotechnology.

4) The role of the media and NGOs in influencing public perception in Latin America: the need to inform, communicate, and build capacities.

5) CamBioTec strategies to address the main concerns prevailing in Latin America.

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