Biotech tricks or treats
By Steven Milloy
Copyright 2000 Washington Times
October 27, 2000
Anti-biotech activists are urging their followers to take advantage of
Halloween to spread fear about biotech foods. The tactic advocated is
"viral marketing" - inducing Internet users to pass on false and misleading
"marketing" messages to other web sites and users, creating exponential growth in the
messages' visibility and effect.
The message in this case is fear, not facts.
Genetically Engineered Food Alert, the coalition that sponsored the recent
scare about biotech corn in taco shells, is behind the Halloween campaign.
GEFA members include Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Organic
Consumers Association, National Environmental Trust, Public Interest Research
Group, Pesticide Action Network of North America, and Institute for Agriculture
and Trade Policy.
To coordinate efforts to generate media attention and public fear, GEFA has
hired Fenton Communications - a public relations and marketing firm responsible
for numerous false
"scare" campaigns, including the now-debunked Alar and silicone breast implant scares.
Fenton memos boast of their success in generating income for their clients
based on these fear campaigns.
"tip sheet" on viral marketing, GEFA instructs its followers by example:
"We've all probably seen the e-mail that promises a $5 gift certificate from the Gap . . . we just pass the word along to 10 of our
friends. It's utterly false, . . . but they all do it anyway. Yet many
advocacy groups have a difficult time even getting their membership to forward
an action alert to one person."
GEFA's suggested Halloween Alert
"Trick or treat? This Halloween, some of the spookiest stuff out there won't be
found in cemeteries or 'haunted' houses. No, this Halloween, we should all be
looking for the freaky foods on our grocery shelves. . . . Many parents will .
. . not let their children eat the candy they collect while trick or treating .
. . Yet many will unknowingly serve their children with food that could be just
But GEFA will say and do anything to achieve its dubious goals.
Last fall, GEFA members placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times
"Who plays God in the 21st century." The ad featured a picture of mouse with what looked like a human ear attached
to its back. The ad's caption read,
"This is an actual photo of a genetically engineered mouse with a human ear on
its back." The
ad proceeded to rail against genetic engineering.
But the picture had nothing to do with genetic engineering. A mold in the
shape of a human ear was seeded with human cartilage cells and then surgically
implanted on the back of the mouse. The cartilage cells grew into the shape of
a human ear. It is hoped that such
"tissue engineering" may reduce the risk of transplant rejection for children who either were born
without ears or lost them in accidents.
GEFA's Web site proclaims
"genetic engineering can create dangerous new toxics. . . . In 1989, a
genetically engineered dietary supplement, L-tryptophan, was released to the
public. Thirty-seven Americans died, 1,500 were disabled permanently, and
5,000 became sick when the supplement produced a toxic contaminant in their
There is no evidence genetic engineering was to blame for the
L-tryptophan tragedy, according to testimony from the Food and Drug
Administration and Mayo Clinic. The problem is thought to have stemmed from
product contamination introduced via a breakdown of the manufacturer's
GEFA apparently wants its followers to spread false and fear-mongering messages
to the public. Similar false Internet scare campaigns have involved
allegations of an artificial sweetener linked with multiple sclerosis, shampoo
and antiperspirants causing cancer, nonorganic cotton underwear causing
Gonorrhea, and tampons containing dioxin and asbestos.
This Halloween, in addition to their Internet
"viral marketing" efforts, biotech food scare campaigners plan to stage events at local
supermarkets from coast to coast to frighten parents and children preparing
their trick or treat festivities with false and misleading messages about
"freaky foods" made from fish, chicken or insect genes.
The fact that no such foods exist in
any supermarket anywhere in the world is irrelevant to these special interest
It looks as though this Halloween we'll have to watch out for scary e-mails,
supermarket ambushes, as well as ghosts and goblins.
Steven Milloy is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and publisher of Junk science.com.