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Monsanto is the agriculture world’s prince of darkness, spreading its demonic genetically modified seeds on fields all over the earth. Or at least that’s the case if you believe the likes of HBO talk-show host Bill Maher, the hazmat suit-wearing activists in Occupy Monsanto or any of a growing number of biotechnology haters.
For years the St. Louis-based company has ignored such critics. But now the biotech giant is attempting a public relations makeover.
In recent months the company has shaken up its senior public relations staff, upped its relationship with one of the nation’s largest public relations firms and helped launch a website designed to combat the fallacies surrounding genetically modified organisms.
And, most importantly, it is recognizing biotechnology has a public image problem.
Monsanto has “been absolutely riveted and focused on giving technology and tools to farmers to improve their productivity and yield and we haven’t spent nearly the time we have needed to on talking to consumers and talking to social media and really intercepting this” opposition to biotechnology, Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer for the company, conceded recently.
He was paying a visit to the offices of POLITICO and other D.C.-area journals as part of what many in public relations would call a “charm offensive.”
Monsanto’s top scientist, a recent winner of the World Food Prize, remains hopeful, however.
“There are loud voices on one end that don’t like the technology and there are people like myself on the other side that are advocates, and fortunately most of the people are in the middle,” Fraley said. “If you talk to the average consumer, biotech is not on the top 10 list of food safety issues, once you get through sugar and salt and all of those other issues. So I think there is an opportunity to reframe that conversation.”