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Monsanto's Dirty Tricks Campaign Against Fired Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela

Posted 12/16/04.

Monsanto's dirty tricks campaign against Chapela - Interview with GM Watch

excerpt from: Marina Littek of Italy's 'Green Planet' interviews Jonathan
Matthews of GM Watch

Q: Tell me about your involvement in uncovering who was orchestrating the
attacks on the Berkeley researcher, Ignacio Chapela.

GM WATCH: That really is a tangled web. To understand it you need to
understand what happened with the Internet campaign in 2000. In 98 and 99,
the biotech industry really took a hammering in the way that unfavourable
information exploded across the Internet. On top of that, their own PR
attempts to promote GM as the saviour of the developing world blew up in
their face. Their answer was CS Prakash, who launched his website and his
AgBioView list at the beginning of 2000, as part of a campaign that he said
was all about supporting GM crops for the developing world.

We initially took Prakash completely at face value. We saw him as a pro-GM
scientist who was genuinely standing up for a cause he believed in. But it
soon became clear that his list was being used as a conduit for black
propaganda. There was stuff on his list accusing those who were critical of
GM of everything from murder to terrorism to God knows what. GM-critical
scientists were even accused of having blood on their hands over 9/11!!

...Gradually... our research started to show us that Prakash was not
operating alone but was intimately connected to a network of rightwing
pro-corporate lobbyists. In fact, it turned out the co-founder of his
campaign was Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Over time,
Prakash has been forced to be more open about this CEI connection, but back
then Conko just appeared to be a contributor.

You can see why they wanted to present the whole thing as if the AgBioView
campaign were really that of a lone Indian scientist rallying the science
community to the GM cause. As soon as you admit to the CEI connection then
you have the fact that the CEI has had money out of Big Tobacco and the
likes of Dow Chemicals and Monsanto, and that it lobbies just as vigorously
against restrictions on smoking and toxic chemicals as against those on GM

By the end of 2001 our research had taken us further. We had a whole dossier
showing AgBioView was a major vehicle for covert biotech industry PR. We'd
also uncovered the involvement in all this of Monsanto's Internet PR
company, Bivings. In particular, regular poison pen attacks against critics
of GM had been appearing, principally on AgBioView, though later, they
started turning up elsewhere as well, posted in the name of 'Mary Murphy'.

We'd tracked Murphy's IP address. It was that of Bivings. We were also
interested in a similar contributor to the AgBioView list - Andura Smetacek.
Smetacek kept promoting the website of a fake agricultural institute which
also led back to Bivings. That website tried to link Monsanto¹s critics to
violence and terrorism.

At this point we teamed up with the investigative journalist Andy Rowell
whose research had helped expose the treatment of Arpad Pusztai. Andy got a
private detective on the case, trying to track down Smetacek, and we were
also getting help from a couple of technical experts. They confirmed that
Monsanto¹s Internet PR firm also had a role in designing Prakash¹s website
and that they were running the AgBioView archive off the company's server,
although they¹d tried to disguise that.

It was while we were busy tracking this, that the Berkeley researchers,
Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, had their paper on Mexican maize
contamination published. We then witnessed this vicious campaign of
vilification being unleashed on AgBioView. Chapela compared it to "being fed
to the dogs".

That campaign really impacted on coverage of the research and even led to a
kind of editorial disassociation from the paper by Nature, the scientific
journal that had published it. And the catalysts in all of this were Murphy
and Smetacek. Their hate mails against Chapela came out on AgBioView on the
very day the research was published and those mails fuelled a frenzied
campaign against the researchers with Prakash calling on the scientific
community to inundate Nature with complaints. Because we knew who the actors
were we could see the whole thing unfolding right in front of our eyes. It
was extraordinary.

The result of our research was a whole series of articles that appeared in
The Ecologist, The Guardian, New Scientist, Wired News and elsewhere, as
well as stuff on radio and TV. Importantly, alot of the coverage not only
questioned the way in which the Berkeley scientists had been attacked and
the role of Prakash, AgBioView, Monsanto¹s PR firm and so on, it also
brought into question the wider campaign to overturn the research and why
that had succeeded to the extent it had. The editor of Nature faced some
pretty tough questions about why he'd buckled when the majority of the peer
reviewers supported the principal conmclusions of the original paper, and a
lot came out about the threats against Chapela even before he published his

Q: In the end I think you tracked the whole thing back directly to Monsanto.

That was an amazing break. A few weeks before the story broke, they had
suddenly suspended the AgBioView archive - my guess is that they had sussed
it pointed to Bivings¹ technical involvement. They would also have known by
then we were on their trail - we were making so many enquiries -and this was
a good way to obstruct us. But one result of all the publicity, particularly
following George Monbiot's first two Guardian articles, was that a couple of
people who¹d kept personal archives of Prakash's AgBioView from the very
start of the list, forwarded us all their Murphy and Smetacek postings. And
when we looked at the earliest postings from Smetacek we realised that they,
like all the other very early postings on the list, had gone to subscribers
with the posters¹ technical headers, ie you could track exactly where the
Smetacek mails had been e-mailed from. Smetacek in these mails presented
herself as an ordinary citizen - in fact, as a lady living in London - but
the mails¹ IP address showed they had been sent directly from Monsanto in St
Louis. George Monbiot then revealed this in The Guardian.

This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's
Own Foundation and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association <>