Once again Monsanto has shown its strong-arm tactics. After the Great Pacific Northwest's Tillamook Creamery decided to prohibit any of its 147 dairy farmers from using the genetically engineered rBGH (bovine growth hormone) in its cows, Monsanto, which manufactures the hormone, sought a petition to "forever prohibit the Tillamook Creamery board from ever regulating any FDA-approved pharmaceutical."
In Portland, Ore., reporter Vince Patton of KGW TV uncovered Monsanto's plans to reverse the Tillamook creamery's decision. Patton discovered that "two of [Monsanto's] representatives came to Tillamook County accompanied by lawyer James Miller from Monsanto's law firm, King & Spalding in Washington, D.C."
Farmers reported that Miller drafted the petition.
Monsanto director of public affairs Jennifer Garrett claimed that Monsanto was not involved in instigating the petition. Patton also reported that neither Monsanto nor the farmers said they paid the lawyer, thus suggesting that he was paid by King & Spalding, who receive money from Monsanto to represent them.
Shortly after the creamery board's decision, the Portland Oregonian reported that Tillamook had put out a news release asserting that "Tillamook County Creamery Association is facing an aggressive intrusion by Monsanto into the association's decision-making process."
The Tillamook board's action, however, was quickly ratified by a membership vote of 83 to 43 to back up the decision to go rBGH-free, effective April 1, 2005. The vote came on Feb. 28 after a two-hour discussion by the co-op's members.
As Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility spokesperson Rick North pointed out, "It was an incredible display of consumer activism and strength; over 6,500 people commented to Tillamook by phone, email, fax and letter. Over 98% of the comments stressed the desire for the dairy to go rBGH-free! If ever there was a demonstration that this genetically engineered hormone has nothing to offer but increased disease rates in cows and health risks to consumers, this was it."
Anyone who supplies fluid milk to Tillamook has signed an agreement to be rBGH-free by April 1. This includes their outside suppliers, such as Three Mile Canyon in Boardman, Ore. Most of Tillamook's product is cheese that will come from this rBGH-free milk.
At this writing, however, their suppliers of butter, yogurt, sour cream, cream and powder for ice cream don't yet have such agreements.
TV newsman Patton was the first to report the Tillamook/Monsanto story. In relating the background behind Tillamook's decision, he told how dairy farmer Dick Heathershaw decided to try the synthetic hormone four years ago.
"The biotech giant Monsanto wanted him to add 'Posilac' to his cows' routine: a bi-weekly syringe full of the genetically engineered growth hormone. Heathershaw says, 'They [Monsanto] were just really relentless in pushing it, you know. They'd visit you continually.'"
Patton told North that he has never had a story in Portland reviewed so thoroughly by station lawyers. No surprise there!
But the Portland TV station aired its two-part story on the pros and cons of rBGH and the Tillamook decision. That was in contrast to Florida's WTVT/Fox13 in Tampa, Fla., which spiked a story on rBGH and ended up firing husband-wife investigative reporting team Jane Akre and Steve Wilson in 1997.
Akre and Wilson had prepared their documentary for the Tampa station on how Florida dairymen had been secretly injecting the genetically engineered rBGH into their cows and how Florida supermarkets quietly reneged on promises not to sell milk from treated cows until the hormone gained widespread acceptance by consumers.
A jury awarded Akre a $425,000 verdict after she charged she was pressured by Fox management and lawyers to air what she knew and had documented to be false information concerning the widespread use of the Monsanto-manufactured hormone.
While the Florida jurors concluded she was pressured by Fox lawyers and managers to broadcast what the jury agreed was "a false, distorted or slanted story" and was subsequently fired for threatening to blow the whistle, the jury decision was reversed on a legal technicality when a higher court agreed with Fox that it is technically not against any law, rule or regulation to air "a false, distorted or slanted story."
In setting aside the jury verdict, the appeals court ruled that in order to be protected by Florida's Whistleblower Act, the alleged misconduct must violate a written law. The court said the Federal Communications Commission's prohibition against news distortion was merely a policy.
The court also ruled that Akre and her journalist/producer husband Steve had to pay the legal costs and fees the broadcaster incurred defending itself in the case. The couple appealed the latter ruling.
In August, 2004, Florida Judge Vivian Maye denied Fox's motion that would have forced Akre and Wilson to pay nearly $2 million in legal fees and court costs the broadcaster spent to defend itself at trial. In her ruling, Judge Maye cited previous court decisions that allow judicial discretion in deciding whether whistleblowers must reimburse defense costs if they ultimately lose.
In their subsequent lawsuit the reporters charged that Fox Television -- the "fair and balanced" network owned by Rupert Murdoch's multinational News Corp. -- was strongly pressured by Monsanto.
"In essence," Akre points out, "Fox argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to even lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves."
Not only did Fox and Monsanto manage in the case of Akre and Wilson to get away with their Florida scam, but they got an able assist from both the mainstream and liberal media in the fact that the entire case received little notice in this nation's major and alternative news outlets.
One can only wonder whether, when Monsanto gets through with the Tillamook board -- and finishes applying on the dairy farmers that supply the creamery all the pressure it can muster to ignore the recent ban -- it will then attempt to intimidate the Oregon media in much the same underhanded way it made a corporate prostitute of WTVT/Fox 13.
A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free email newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email email@example.com; Web site www.electricarrow.com/CARP/.