Monsanto Wins Headline Sweepstakes

By Keith Kloor | June 21, 2013 11:03 am

I’m guessing that nobody at Monsanto has ever invoked the adage, “There is is no such thing as bad publicity.” The biotech giant, already a bogeyman to the anti-globalization/anti-corporate/anti-GMO crowd, has endured a particularly rough PR stretch of late.

Last month, protesters from around the globe marched against the company. Then came news of Monsanto’s “rogue” GMO wheat, a curious mystery that has reignited the “contamination“ meme.

All this notoriety makes Monsanto a media magnet. So when three scientists were awarded the annual World Food Prize this week–one of them being from Monsanto–most editors and reporters hooked their stories to…you guessed it: Monsanto. The angle was telegraphed by the headlines.

New York Times: “Executive at Monsanto Wins Global Food Honor”

Financial Times: “World Food Prize to Monsanto exec”

Reuters was a bit more inclusive: “Monsanto Exec, other biotech pioneers win World Food Prize”

Same with MarketWatch: “Monsanto exec shares world food prize for genetically modified crops”

The Cattle Network (yes, there is such a thing) was rather parsimonious: “Monsanto scientist, two others win World Food Prize”

USA Today notably departed from the herd: “World food prize goes for work on biotech crops”

An NPR story, titled “And the Winner of the World Food Prize is…the Man from Monsanto,” generated over 250 comments, of which one reader observed:

I think NPR has figured out that if the word “Monsanto” is in the title of the story, they really don’t need anything else to bring in readers and comments.

Indeed, I think most everyone in media has figured that out. And many of the NPR comments are gloriously entertaining, like this one:

Monsanto, the Great Satan of Agriculture, has been given the World Food Prize?? That’s like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to someone like Adolf Hitler, or Miss America to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This kind of sentiment is seemingly widespread among GMO opponents, and it’s rather cartoonish.

I suspect that the World Food Prize is no less fraught with politics and overt messaging than the Nobel Peace Prize, but if the judges wanted to highlight biotechnology this year, then with the (deserved) inclusion of a Monsanto scientist they surely had to know how most of the media would spin the news and how that would be received by all the people who already say GMOs and Monsanto in the same breath.

  • mem_somerville

    Heh. That’s not how it came down in my twitter feed. Mine was full of stuff like “First Belgian to win….” (I was actually unaware how many Belgians I was apparently following)

    Certainly those tweeters were paid off by Monsanto to hide the truth.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Your twitter feed is obviously not representative of mainstream media, which is probably a good thing when it comes to biotech.

  • bobito

    “USA Today notably departed from the herd” – It’s also noticeable that “Monsanto” appears only once in the entire USA Today article, and it’s well below the fold…

    I’m not sure what to make of that? Has USA Today taken to your battle call for progressives against GMO nuttery?

  • Obamalover20122

    Daily Kos is ridiculing Republicans for being anti-science. When will they ridicule their readers for being anti-science on GMO?

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/06/19/1217337/-Vaccine-which-will-NOT-cause-mental-retardation-has-slashed-HPV-rates

    • blueiiris

      What a false equivelance. You are comparing not believing in the results of the scientific method, vs not approving of the way a scientific discovery is applied.

      Like most GMO detractors, I do not doubt any of the science behind GMOs. However I do not approve or consent to releasing technology into the wild where we cannot track or control the unintendedconsequences. This is not an “anti-science” position.

      • Obamalover20122

        That is a very similar argument that anti-vaxxers make about vaccines. How about we just make policy decisions on the available evidence. “unintended consquences” argument is just fear mongering by GMO truthers.

        • Mr X

          when did ‘truther’ become a term of insult?

          • Obamalover20122

            See Steven Colbert and “truthiness.” That is the connotation of truth I’m referring to.

          • Jonathan Graehl

            “Truthers” originated specifically from “9/11 truthers” (who believe the u.s. gov detonated explosives to bring down WTC buildings after the hijacked airplanes hit them). Google the south park episode skewering them if you want to understand how derisory the label is.

  • Mr X

    Follow the money — what really terrifies Monsanto is Chinese guts in the next ten to fifteen years choosing Russian non GMO grain fed beef over American GMO corn fed beef.

    http://www.aeonmagazine.com/being-human/david-berreby-obesity-era/

    The above article presents some pretty strong evidence that it’s the food supply chain — whether hi fructose corn getting into everything processed in North America, GMO corn/soybeans as monocrops across much of North America etc. rather than just sedentary lifestyles or excessive portions that’s making human beings fatter than ever.

    And non-human pet animals like rats aren’t exempt either. Something is going on at the genetic or molecular level here.

    As for the determination to defend GMOs often exhibited by Discover or Skeptic et al, I often wonder how aware they are of just how large the non-GMO grains crop is outside of North America. Principally Russia, Ukraine and Kazahkstan barring a new mini Ice Age stand to outcompete Monsanto in the vast East Asian meat and grains markets. Meaning that Monsanto is increasingly desperate because they understand an affluent Chinese or Indian is more likely to pick the meat or product labelled non GMO than they are the GMO product. Just because Monsanto can magically swing plebiscites that were trending 60% plus against them in California and block labelling in the U.S. doesn’t mean they aren’t losing market share to labelling and non-GMO competitors everywhere else.

    • Mr X

      Even if you COULD show that GMO is safe/has nothing to do with the great bee colony die off to the satisfaction of U.S. critics, you aren’t even close to seeing the big picture. But this is typical for North American ‘scientific’ magazines that discount non-PC scientific theories coming out of Russia and other places like abiotic oil formation (see Saturn’s moon Titan swimming in liquefied hydrocarbons under extreme pressure). Russian scientists also pointed out in 2006 that Mars was heating up and suggesting the warming trend might’ve had something to do with solar activity that would apply to Earth as well. Now those in St. Petersburg who warned about the Earth sliding into a new mini Ice Age like what was experienced from 1300 to 1750 at the end of the Medieval Warming Period. And lo and behold, the coldest spring in a century hits the UK and northern British Isles.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Jess King

        Hold on, I’m having trouble following the string of logic here. You start by making a comment suggesting that GMOs are unsafe and linked to the disappearance of bee colonies, without presenting evidence that GMOs are the perpetrators. You then proceed to state that North American scientific magazines discredit the theories accrued in foreign countries (you use Russia in your example), again without evidence. You then quote research done by Russian scientists on predicting the appearance and affects of global warming on Earth, and conclude by correlating the miniature ice age experienced roughly around the times that you described with the coldest spring to hit Britain in a century. I’m sorry, but I cannot understand what exactly it is you’re arguing, nor the logical links between you’re statements. Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence that you present on your claims. May I kindly ask that you present your argument in a more coherent fashion, and with more evidence?

    • Tom

      What really terrifies Monsanto is the Chinese biotech industry. The Chinese are already growing both GE corn and soy and are about to start with GE livestock.

  • http://www.essayavenue.co.uk juliet

    these are really terrific points and i would appreciate the efforts.
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  • http://www.researchpaperlabs.com/ jimmy

    great efforts and i love this.
    http://www.researchpaperlabs.com

  • Milly

    all the headlines are up to the mark.
    http://www.essayavenue.co.uk/

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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