EuropaBio lobby. The name for propaganda
The main lobby of the biotech sector in the European continent is called EuropaBio, an institution promoting the biotech agenda and nothing else but the instrument of the top 1800 biotech companies including Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and BASF in order to press politicians, influence the media and support research and business people to join the biotech boom. EuropaBio is considered the European branch of BIO (Biotechnological Industry Organization) The BIO international annual conventions in US are the largest gatherings of biotech proponents. Notably, since 1998, most of these conferences have been met with resistance in the form of counter-conferences, marches and other large gatherings (See www.biodev.org)
EuropaBio became most famous ten years ago when some leaked documents revealed how its promoting agenda had been organised in order to manipulate public opinion about Biotechnology and Genetically Modified organisms (info following by the Corporate Europe Observatory). Back then a strategy proposal for EuropaBio by a Public Relations company the Burson Marsteller had been leaked. This paper was outlining a scheme aimed to soothe public fears and outrage over the new biotechnologies and to ensure general acceptance.
A storm of protest and concern has been raised amongst citizens both in the US and in EU and a the fundamental problem that consumers won't accept biotech products due to feared health or environmental risks was still hanging over their heads although their relations with both the EU Commission and Parliament were pretty good. In their words, they are "actively engaged in dialogue with the European institutions and contribute to the creation of a coherent legislation for bio-industries. EuropaBio ensures a steady flow of information about biotechnology to the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers"
According to Burson Marsteller, EuropaBio has "firmly established [itself] as the primary representative of European bio-industrial interests within the political and regulatory structures of Europe" and the organization has an "indispensable direct role in the policy-making process." However, "this role is no longer in itself sufficient to ensure the supportive environment Europe's bio-industries need to achieve global competitiveness through the new biotechnologies. A sustained communications strategy and programme able to generate favourable perceptions and opinions beyond the policy world is now essential."
The leaked paper was recommending four basic strategies: "stay off the killing fields", "create positive perceptions", "fight fire with fire" and "create service-based media relations". The were talking about symbols not logic, stories not issues, products not technologies, beneficiaries not benefits and other usual PR methods to promote the favorable effect on Commission and EU citizens.
The Greek connection
In 2004 Bionova Ltd was appointed the Greek National Association representative of EuropaBio (EuropaBio Hellas). Bionova was first founded in 2002 as a communications and consulting firm in the Bio-Industry sector. The mission of Bionova is stated as to promote and actively support technology transfer and investments in the biotechnology sector and to provide leading management and consulting services though partnerships of excellence. They gradually built a network of leading external advisors and partners-like university professors, biotech multinational executives and others, to assist development of selective university spin-offs or other biotech start-up companies, out-license and commercialize intellectual property (bio-patents) to the global bio-industry market. In other words, to take all necessary actions to promote an alliance between research and business sector and make as much profit possible out of it.
Local propaganda platforms
A Biotech Journal named BIO and an annual International Biotech Conference (igbf.gr), plus other satellites forums and seminars, are the main communication tools Bionova is using to promote the lobby agenda.
BIO a luxurious magazine is edited with the purpose to tempt with its hi-tech design and sophisticated yet popularized knowledge. It is circulated, except to the public, to scientists, research institutes, even schools, and intents to give a glossy image to the brave new world of commercially aggressive science. Sporadically articles for the benefits of the Genetic Engineering and the potentialities of cloning can be found among scientific publications for Gene Therapy and Biotech Pharmaceutics, when the promises that the Biotech sector, regarded as the new industrial revolution, can reach hyper-profits, flows among the pages.
On the other hand the annual international conferences are some very expensive fests of Bionova including scientific presentations, bio-industry-mass media relation seminars, and business transfer of knowledge. Officially the topics covered are Bio-pharmaceutics (Red biotechnology), Agro-Biotech issues (Green Biotechnology) Environment (White biotechnology) and the necessary Bio-economics. The conferences often host spectacular names of the global Bioscience sector, like Nobel-prized researchers and famous names of Medicine with no other purpose but to give an aura of advanced validity, seducing local scientists, especially younger ones, and establish the good reputation of the Biotech forum. Integrated seminars for the public opinion management and the promises of biotechnology can leave on the other hand, no doubt for the subconscious intentions of the forum hosts: Promote Biotech on any spectacular mean.
Nowhere is mentioned of course the huge amounts of money invested by the lobby partners to organize such big events aiming to create a solid basis of a biotech-friendly think tank, attract local labor intellectual force, and capitalize research in order to favour the lobby partners-big multinational chemical companies, spreading now their spectrum to novel sciences and regions.
The sponsors (a complex of corporations, Greek State and US and Israeli embassies)
Syngenta, Bayer, Novartis and other big biotech global players have already appeared in the sponsors of Bionova-circulating every year so all of the bog corporations can join. But most interesting thing about the conferences is that they are usually held under the auspice of several Ministries including Agriculture, Development and even the Ministry of Arts and Culture. This appeared mostly under the governship of the Greek right-wing party where the number of supporting Ministries has raised to seven. Introductory speeches of Ministers are also included every year and when one minister cannot somebody else will appear, like if the physical appearance of a State's representative can give a higher estimation to the conference, The minister are always emphasizing the forum's crucial role to progress and society and the importance of biotechnology to sectors like Agriculture, Medicine etc. And naturally nobody asked for the voting public opinion having rejected 95% genetically modified organisms and the decisions of all Greek prefectures not to allow GE cultivations on their land. Last not least, foreign embassies like the one of USA and Israeli state have appeared as Bionova's sponsors, no strange if we consider the interests of these governments to expand market and support on European field.
EU's money for Biotech research through Bionova (How the wolf feed the flock)
Another outrageous fact is that for the money of the 7th Framework-Program (European Union's subsidies for investigation given to Institutes, Universities etc) Bionova was addressed by the Greek State to be the National Agent of the show-how-where-to-distribute on the issues of Food, Agriculture & Biotechnology. The fact that Bionova holds as the national representative of EuropaBio leaves few doubts about which investigation field will be favoured. It is rather now more than ever before that GM tomatoes will be cultivated in Greek research Institutes.
Counter-action up to now
The generation of local representatives of big Global Biotech Engines has not left indifferent activists around Greece counter-informing and acting against the establishment of a well supported network of propaganda and influence. Already many active initiatives have corresponded and acted with demonstrations, info-tours and interventions in order to disrupt all efforts of the EuropaBio lobby representatives. Last year's conference met the biggest mobilization of all with several hundreds protesters marching towards the igbf's conference centre, plenty info-material been spread to the media-published even to high-circulation editions- and a substratum for future joint action established.
This year's conference of Bionova takes places in 2-3 of February, 2008, in the center of Athens. All major issues of Biotechnology regarding Medicine, Agriculture with special issues for Agrofuels, Environment and Bio-economics will be presented. Counter-action is already being organised with the aim to inflict the institutionalised status of the Greek representatives of Global Biotech Engines.