6 of the Biotech Industry's Biggest Marketing Myths to Convince You GMOs Are Great

Here are six of Big Biotech's biggest marketing lies.

By now, you've likely heard of Big Agriculture and Big Pharma, the huge industries behind the food we eat and drugs we take that quite ably tend to avoid government regulation. Less well known is Big Biotech, genetic engineering companies like Monsanto, Novartis and DuPont that work closely with Big Ag to create more "efficient" foods through chemistry. A good example is recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered milk stimulator invented by Monsanto but soon embraced by Big Ag for its profit potential—getting more milk out of each cow. Living animals are called "units," and treated as nothing more than unfeeling machines. 

Another example is genetically modified golden rice, spun as a charitable effort to provide Vitamin A to the world's hungry but likely to make billions for herbicide, pesticide and chemical fertilizer makers, says geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci. The "very concept of relieving suffering throughout the developing world with a monoculture of genetically altered 'super gruel' at face value is both undignified and untenable," he writes. Biotech companies also preempt traditional, localized food systems and development programs, Cartalucci points out.

Many countries reject the brave new biotech foods and Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 countries in Europe ban rBGH. But that did not stop Elanco, Eli Lilly's animal drug division, from buying the drug from Monsanto in 2008 and building a new production plant for it in Augusta, Georgia. Elanco is also the company behind the controversial growth producing drug ractopamine, used in most U.S. pigs and many cows and turkeys despite being banned almost everywhere but the U.S.

Recently, Elanco became the second largest livestock drug company in the world after acquiring Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Animal Health and veterinary products maker Heska Corp., in 2011 and Novartis Animal Health and poultry vaccine maker Lohmann Animal Health this year. Now it is trying to pry open new markets in Europe, Africa and Asia with appeals to addressing world hunger. It is exhorting activists to "feed the world" through supporting biotech food technology with its "ENOUGH" movement, rolled out on the website Sensible Table. Presented like a new program of UN/WHO, the campaign is just a cagey marketing strategy.

Here are six of the biggest marketing lies found in Elanco's new "How We'll Feed The World" report.

1. Unadulterated Food Is "Luxury" Food

People who want and eat unadulterated food are spoiled. "In developed countries, most consumers have many choices when it comes to their food supply," says Elanco. "Yet in developing nations, choices are more limited, and so is the ability to treat food as a luxury item or a lifestyle choice."

Is it a luxury to have food free from ractopamine or rBGH?

Not only does Elanco redefine unadulterated, normal food as a luxury in its ENOUGH campaign, it redefines GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals and production methods like battery egg cages as innovation. "Organics and 'luxury food' produced without innovation have almost become a status symbol for those who can afford it," says Elanco in a zing against organic and local farmers. "Is it fair—or justifiable—for shoppers living in comfort to disregard innovations that can help feed others?" 

2. Consumers Who Want Unadulterated Food Are A Fringe Minority

Despite the throngs who shop at Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and local markets, food consumers seeking non-adulterated food are a "fringe minority voice that does not represent the consumer, but a socially charged agenda," says Elanco. The reason health-conscious consumers appear to be large numbers is because of the way surveys are written, charges Elanco. Instead of asking, "What’s important to you when you purchase beef?" surveys lead the witness by asking "Are you concerned about factory farms growing your food?"

Elanco further misreads the "fringe minority" by claiming they buy food on "vegetarian/vegan principles, support for organic systems, local food, and other ideologies."

Is wanting to avoid pesticides and antibiotics an ideology? Certainly products obtained from sick animals, endangered workers and a polluted environment are not healthy. Plus a recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition shows organic products are also more nutritious. Still, this group of ideologues "seeks to impose their agenda on others and take choices away from the majority," says Elanco.

3. The Web Spreads Lies About "Innovations"

There is a reason Big Pharma and Big Food do not like social media. It can't be bought, manipulated or spun. In 2013 GMOs generated about 70,000 social media mentions, says Elanco, presumably negative, which reveals that "consumer perceptions of innovative solutions in food production may be the biggest misunderstanding in the food chain today." People need to "look deeper to the online dialogue known as media mentions," cautions Elanco.

Big Ag is notorious for wanting to block social media. It has pushed Ag Gag laws through in eight states that criminalize whistleblowers. When Idaho lawmakers were confronted with grotesque undercover video from Bettencourt Dairies Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, Idaho showing workers beating trapped cows and dragging a cow by a chain, they had a swift response: a law criminalizing videotaping of farms. Yet even leading pro-animal agriculture voices say streaming live video on factory farms might be the only way to stop abuse.

Big Pharma just got FDA approval to also fight "factually incorrect postings" on the Web and Twitter without having to list risks as they are required to do on ads. Otherwise, their "reputation can be shattered by bloggers," said the FDA about its industry buddy.

4. Biotech Food Is Green

It was a great moment in factory farming disingenuity. In 2009 the National Turkey Federation's Michael Ryblot told Congress if they took away his antibiotics it would increase manure and pollution and be less green because the animals couldn't be crammed together.

Similar arguments swirled around Monsanto's (now Elanco's) recombinant bovine growth hormone because Posilac made each cow "unit" produce more milk. "Fewer cows means less methane produced by bovine intestinal tracts, and manure production is cut by about 3.6 million tons” per year said an oped in the Washington Times"At the same time, more than 5.5 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel (enough to power 8,800 homes) are saved, greenhouse gas emissions are lowered by 30,000 metric tons."

"More innovation not more animals," asserts the Elanco report, repeating the same biotech greenwashing. "Simply by using practices available today or already in the pipeline, cows around the world can increase their output by a mere half glass per cow, enough to satisfy future global demand," says Elanco in a veiled commercial for Posilac which it is still trying to hawk. In another section of the report, Elanco says innovation could save 747 million tons of feed, 618 billion gallons of water and 388 million acres of farmland a year. (Why does Big Ag only admit to environmental destruction when selling biotech?)

5. Transporting Food Across the World Is Green

Even as many in the U.S. embrace the carbon footprint-friendly idea of locally grown food, Elacno touts the opposite. "Growing food in highly productive areas where the resources exist, then moving it to areas of need, offers far more efficient use of resources," says the report. "In fact, transportation accounts for less than 4% of the environmental impact of food production. Further, it’s cost effective. Refrigerated freight for a pound of meat to Asia adds just 15 cents on average to the cost."

The U.S. chicken industry has done similar computations. Last fall, the Obama administration approved the sale in the U.S. of chickens raised and slaughtered in the U.S. or Canada, "processed" in China and sent back to the U.S. What? Presumably the outsourced labor is cheap enough to offset transportation and refrigeration costs, though no one is addressing the carbon footprint. Sending chickens half way around the world and back has a precedent. Shrimp in the U.S. make a similar voyage.

"The U.S. currently allows shrimp to be sent to China for processing, including breading," reports Bloomberg.

This month new scandals have broken about dangers in China food production, affecting KFC, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and McDonald's.

6. Lack Of Biotech "Innovation" Causes World Hunger

It takes a lot of gall for biotech, which patents foods, corners markets and annihilates indigenous farmers and small farms to accuse its critics of causing world hunger. But that's just what the Elanco report does. Even though the World Food Program indicts climate change, poverty, unstable markets, war and displacement for world hunger (and says "the world produces enough to feed the entire global population of 7 billion people") Elanco blames critics of biotech. But what Elanco means by "hunger" is lack of meat, milk and egg products made with its growth producers, vaccines and other chemicals and therefore its profit centers.

Without Biotech, "consumers in Asia, Africa and Latin America will lack choices and have diminished ability to nourish their families with high-quality animal protein," warns Elanco.

But animal protein is often not a big part of indigenous food traditions. For example the Kenyan runners who consistently win U.S. marathons eat very little meat. And in fact, the World Food Program's High Energy Biscuits, a staple in the fight against world hunger, use grain sources to provide up to 15 grams of protein.

Like the controversial Christian live animal charity Heifer International which Elanco embraces and supports, an animal-based Western diet is deemed an upgrade and better for poor people despite its links to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer. Clearly Elanco's ENOUGH campaign has a lot more to do with feeding biotech than feeding the poor.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter and the author of "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health (Random House)."

Stay Ahead of the Rest
Sign Up for AlterNet's Daily Newsletter
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Rights & Liberties
Education
Drugs
Economy
Environment
Labor
Food
World
Politics
Investigation
Personal Health
Water
Media