Backing up the hype

April 2014

When the South African Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) challenged Monsanto to substantiate its broadcast claims of the benefits of GM crops, the best the Company could do was to provide links to its own website (see below).

Code of the South African Advertising Standards Agency

The Code places the onus of proof on the respondent (in this case, Monsanto).
Claims made in an advertisement must be valid and true. To prove this, the respondent must present unequivocal confirmation from an independent and credible expert in the relevant field to support the exact claim made. This verification must apply specifically to the respondent's product as sold to customers.



(COMMENT  Biotech industry's love of sweeping generalisations and habitual hype do not fit well into these requirements.)
Biotech industry science has a reputation for finding only what its commercial masters want it to find [1,2,3].  The ASA didn't consider Monsanto's self-substantiated claims too convincing, and the Company was ordered to pull the plug on its GM promotion “with immediate effect”.

The pro-GM messages Monsanto couldn't prove related to producing food sustainably with fewer  resources and pesticides, decreased greenhouse gases, and “substantially” increased crop yields.

Days before this ASA decision, a report commissioned by the UK Prime Minister's advisers, the Council for Science and Technology (CST), was released amidst much fanfare [4]. 

The report plugged what the Government wanted to hear to support its policies: the necessity for GM crops in Britain.  It repeated the GM for sustainability message, the GM for fewer pesticides message, and the GM for increased yields message.  As one mainstream newspaper editorial summed it up “the case for GM crops is unanswerable”. 

The National Farmers' Unions for Britain, Wales, Ulster and Scotland seem also to concur with Monsanto and with the CST that European farmers need GM crops for sustainability, fewer pesticides, higher yields etc.

OUR COMMENT


Perhaps the CST and NFU are using links to Monsanto's website to back up their advice too?

This looks something like the government advising itself based on what it's told its advisers to say, while its advisers base their advice on industry's own advice to itself based on what it's told its scientists to find.  Got it?

However, since neither the CST nor the NFU are advertising, they can claim what they like because there's no information standards watchdog to question the bases of what they're saying.  That bit's up to YOU.

Background:
[2]  MORE MAYBE GM YIELD GAINS - April 2013
[4]  SCIENCE SERVING POLITICS - March 2014

 

SOURCES
  • Monsanto forced to withdraw unsubstantiated advertising claims on benefits of GM crops, African Centre for Biosafety, 17.03.14
  • Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa press release, 17.03.14
  • Editorial, There's no choice: we must grow GM crops now, Guardian, 16.03.14
  • No scientific “consensus” on GM safety, Thin Ice, Issue 32, January 2014
  • Ruling of the ASA Directorate, MONSANTO / M MAYET AND ANOTHER / 22576, 17.03.14

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