21 August 1998
Monsanto asks journalists to sign gagging order
By Johann Tasker
BIOTECH giant Monsanto has asked journalists to sign a gagging order prohibiting them from disclosing the location of its test sites used for genetically modified crops.
Reporters who refuse to comply with the order will be turned away from a Monsanto-arranged tour of the companys test sites growing genetically modified sugar beet on Monday (24 August).
The company says it was forced to make the move due to “obvious sensitivities” surrounding the test sites. It fears eco-warriors will destroy the sugar beet if the sites location is known.
The request to reporters was made Ann Foster, Monsantos UK director of public and government affairs. She denied it was an attempt to curb press freedom.
“Its a perfectly reasonable request to try and protect our sites and I dont think its any great issue,” Ms Foster said.
“All I am saying is please dont divulge information to a third party like `Its up the path and the third field on the left. If youve any problems with that, then Im sorry.”
Environmental campaigners accused Monsanto of running scared. So far, an estimated 34 test sites growing GM crops have been destroyed by environmental activists.
“Monsanto is a paranoid company scared of the British people at the moment because theres been so much protest,” said Adrian Bebb, spokesman for Friends of the Earth.
“Making things secret is the totally wrong way of doing things. If Monsanto wants more public acceptance, then it has to be open and honest rather than shrouded in secrecy.”
But biotech companies have little choice other than to ask for media co-operation if sites are to be protected from destruction, said one expert in the methods used by environmental campaigners.
“I dont see what else Monsanto can do,” said Christie Davies, professor at Reading University. “The alternative is that people find out where a site is and then destroy it.”
“What the eco-warriors are doing is illegal and what Monsanto are doing is simply protecting themselves against illegality.”