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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK


GM food firm rapped over adverts

Watchdogs objected to adverts promoting Monsanto's pro-GM views

Biotechnology company Monsanto has been criticised by advertising watchdogs over its campaign for genetically modified (GM) foods in the UK.

The BBC's Karen Bowerman: "The ASA said the claims were misleading"
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld four out of 13 complaints made about full-page press advertisements which put forward Monsanto's pro-GM views.

They featured straplines such as 'Food Technology is a matter of opinions. Monsanto believes you should hear them all,' and 'More biotechnology plants mean less industrial ones'.

[ image: Campaigners objected to the use of GM tomatoes in one Monsanto advert]
Campaigners objected to the use of GM tomatoes in one Monsanto advert
The seven ads sparked 81 complaints nationwide from pressure groups opposed to GM foods - including the Soil Association, the Green Party, GeneWatch and Genetix Food Alert - as well as concerned individuals.

A Monsanto spokesman admitted that mistakes had been made in the campaign. "With our advertising campaign last year we intended to inform the public of our opinion - and enthusiasm - on the subject of plant biotechnology.

"We perhaps did not take sufficiently into account the difference in culture between the UK and the USA in the way some of this information was presented."

'No intention to mislead'

However Monsanto said it had not intended to mislead or deceive, and changes had been made to ads during the campaign to comply with two complaints.

It said the ads also featured contact numbers for environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, enabling consumers to hear both sides of the debate.

"We expected some criticism of the campaign as it was, and still is, the only attempt by any biotech company to explain the issues," said Tony Combes, Monsanto's UK director of corporate affairs.

"It was not our intention to mislead or deceive and we apologise to anyone who might have misunderstood these advertisements."

[ image: The ASA has warned Monsanto to be more careful]
The ASA has warned Monsanto to be more careful
The first two complaints referred to advertisements which carried the headlines: "We believe food should be grown with less pesticide" and "Food labelling. It has Monsanto's full backing" next to pictures of GM potatoes and tomatoes.

The complainants said the text implied that such GM crops had been approved in more than 20 countries - including the UK - when in fact neither product is licensed for production in the UK.

In the third complaint campaigners contested Monsanto's assertion that it had tested GM foods for 20 years.

The ASA found only evidence for 16 years of testing.

On the fourth complaint the ASA found that Monsanto had not made it clear in the series of seven ads that expert opinion on GM technology was divided.

Media spotlight

Steve Ballinger: "We are taking this seriously"
ASA spokesman Steve Ballinger said the watchdog's lengthy adjudication was not a judgment on the ethics of GM foods, but conceded that biotechnology firms were more likely to have pressure groups watching their campaigns more closely than most other advertisers.

A spokesman for the ASA commented on the ruling saying: "When Monsanto clearly state what its beliefs are we do not have a problem with it.

"But the complaints we upheld were about factual statements that were made.

"A big company like this knows there are pressure groups out there who will pick holes in everything it says and should be very careful with their advertising."

Media coverage of "Frankenstein" foods have made genetically modified crops a controversial subject in Britain.

Consumer fears have led major supermarket chains including Tesco and Sainsbury to begin removing GM ingredients from some of their product lines.

The government says carefully supervised GM crop trials will determine whether the modification of plants may lead to cheaper and tastier foods - but anti-GM campaigners have carried out a series of attacks in recent months destroying fields where GM food is being grown.

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