San Diego--Mar 29--A coalition of seven, competing biotechnology companies is poised within the next several days to launch an unprecedented multi-media, multi-million dollar advertisement campaign to better explain the controversial genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology, a member of the organization coalition's outreach effort said Wednesday.
The Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) is in the final stages of readying a North American campaign that will include a television commercial, print advertising, a web site and more, Randy Krotz told members of three National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) committees during a meeting here.
Krotz is director for industrial affairs at Monsanto Co, one of the largest US pharmaceutical and agricultural company.
The CBI, which comprises funding from such US industry giants as DuPont de Nemours, Monsanto and others that manufacture genetically modified seeds, was formed late last year amid growing global debate about genetically modified foods.
Seeds that have been genetically modified to grow corn able to resist pests, or soybeans able to withstand some chemical applications, have become a focal point of concern in some parts of the world. Some environmental activists oppose such technology, saying they are afraid of yet untested side-effects which they say could harm humans and plants.
The CBI advertising effort is expected to last 3 to 5 years, initially starting with a 60-second television spot that will be "very low key, but fast paced" said Monsanto's Krotz. Monsanto is just days away from merging with US drug maker Pharmacia & Upjohn.
The coalition's television spot poised to start airing early April will not feature the logos of the specific firms involved in the effort, but will refer viewers to a web site that will list sponsoring companies, Krotz explained.
Responding why the campaign zeroes in on North America first instead of Europe, where the debate on genetically modified organisms has been more vocal, Krotz said it was an issue of timing. The coalition wants to see how the communications campaign develops before taking the effort to Europe.
He declined to specify how much the companies were dishing out for the campaign, conceding only it entails "several million dollars."
The group is seeking associate support from industry groups and others, although biotechnology firms will continue being prime donors to the advertisement campaign, Krotz added.
Although the matter came up during a separate NGFA committee meeting later Wednesday, the organization's leadership has yet to take a position on any kind of alignment with CBI. NGFA leaders, including grain handlers, shippers and others in the grain industry, however, stressed the group supports the genetically modified foods technology. The group's annual convention ends Fri day.
The CBI commercial comes only a few months after GMO products were one of the targeted, hot-button issues of protestors outside the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings that convened in Seattle late last year.
Among other recent events, American snack-food giant Frito-Lay Inc., manufacturer of popular brands Fritos, Doritos and other chips products, earlier this year told its corn suppliers to stay away from the altered crops. The move came after announcements late last year by Gerber and Heinz that their baby foods will be GMO-free. All three companies, however, note they still believe GMO products are safe for consumers.
With US farmers, meanwhile, the corn and soybean products that provide such traits as built-in insect resistance and the ability to apply weed killers have been popular, accounting for about one-third of last year's corn crop and more than half of last year's soybeans.
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Last Updated on 4/5/00
By Rachel C. Benbrook