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Strange Bedfellows: GMO and Vaccine Partnerships

Over the years, I've written a number of articles outing industry front groups1 such as the Genetic Literacy Project, the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH),2 Science 2.0, GMO Answers, Independent Women's Forum, Science Codex, Center for Consumer Freedom and the Center for Inquiry.

Once you start to investigate these front groups, you'll find the same names appearing again and again, cowriting articles, interviewing each other and referring to each other's work in a closed loop.

I've also written about academics and journalists who, while presenting themselves as independent experts, are actually shills for industry. This is a fairly close-knit group of individuals, so the worst actors are not hard to identify based on their associations.

Well-established actors include Forbes contributor Kavin Senapathy;3 Henry Miller; Steven Salzberg;4Bruce ChassyJon Entine,5,6 Kevin Folta, Keith Kloor7 and Mark Lynas.

Learn to Recognize Astroturfing When You See It

In the TED Talk above, award-winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson discusses strategies used by industry to manipulate public opinion and steer online discussion.

A strategy that has become phenomenally popular with the advent of social media is astroturfing, which is when a special interests group creates a fake grassroots campaign for or against a particular agenda. You might think it's a group of moms devoted to children's health that is touting the benefits of GMOs or vaccines, for example, when in fact the campaign is run by industry.

Increasingly over the past year or so you may have seen a number of articles simultaneously criticizing both the "anti-vaxxers" and "anti-GMO movement," making contemptuous and sometimes wildly insulting comments about people who question the safety of either of these industries and their wares.

While GMOs and vaccines may seem like strange bedfellows, the cross-linking of these two industries in propaganda material is neither accidental nor haphazard.

Industry Messaging Example

In a May 18, 2017, Forbes article,8 Senapathy (one well-known mouthpiece for the GMO industry) took aim at the "anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements," saying they're "inextricably linked and cause preventable suffering."

"The thoroughly answered question of whether vaccines cause autism isn't really a question outside of conspiracy-theorist circles," Senapathy writes.

"The body of evidence shows that vaccination has … vastly reduced suffering and death … and that vaccines don't cause autism, cancer, dementia or long term health problems, and that any minute risk is vastly outweighed by benefits to individuals and society.

Yet with the backing of prominent leaders like Robert DeNiro and Robert Kennedy Jr., anti-vaccine groups fuel common narratives that keep herd immunity down, directly leading to suffering and death.

Now with Donald Trump embracing vaccine skeptics, the anti-vaccine movement has earned a hallowed place on the shelf next to other tinfoil hat clad schools of thought.

The question of the safety of genetically engineered crops (GMOs) has been answered just as thoroughly, and the anti-GMO movement deserves its own place on the same shelf, not just for being wrong but for its role in unconscionable suffering …

She goes on to point out how similar the communication tactics are between vaccine and GMO detractors. Ironically, her article reveals just as much if not more about the biotech and vaccine industries' messaging tactics. You can go through her article and check off numerous boxes for how to spot a piece of industry propaganda.

That includes the claim that the science is settled (which automatically precludes the need for further discussion), citing a fellow industry shill (in this case Kloor), using strong, derogatory language when describing those who disagree with industry talking points, making ample references to "conspiracy theories" and "other tinfoil hat clad schools of thought."

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