By Carey Gillam
Feb 11 A group of biotech companies battling to
increase U.S. consumer acceptance of genetically modified foods
is increasing paid advertising efforts as it expands a social
media marketing website it started last year.
The paid ads will seek to drive traffic to the
www.GMOAnswers.com website, started last year by agrichemical
industry players that want to allay concerns about GMO foods,
according to an executive who helps to run the site.
The Internet campaign is part of a broad strategy by the
biotech industry to try to beat back growing calls for GMO food
labeling and for tighter regulation of the biotech seed industry
in the United States.
A consortium backed in part by Monsanto, DuPont
, and Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical,
launched the website in July. So far, the site has logged more
than 650 questions from an array of interested parties, chiefly
focused on the impact of GMOs on health and nutrition.
A pilot project for the new web effort was completed
recently and the expansion is being rolled out now, Dow
AgroSciences spokesman David Sousa said. He said the ad campaign
should raise the profile of the website for individuals
searching for information about GMOs on the Internet.
The group is promoting the site with Google Adwords,
www.google.com/AdWords, and Outbrain. www.outbrain.com.
"There will be continuous updates to the website itself,
Sousa said. "It's not about advocacy. It's about transparency."
The group is also adding to its roster of "experts," which
now is largely made up of GMO-friendly academics and executives
who work for the biotech seed companies. The experts answer
questions posted on the website. Commentators with opposing
views can weigh in and debate the issue.
Sousa said the group hopes that mothers, nutritionists,
medical professionals and others will participate.
Recently discussed topics included GMO contamination of
traditional and organic crops, and questions about medical
studies on animals that have consumed GMO crops.
In addition to the website, the Biotechnology Industry
Organization (BIO) has been holding a series of "salon dinners"
around the United States and making presentations to various
U.S. groups about the benefits of GMOs.
A recent study on consumer food and beverage purchasing
decisions that surveyed 2,642 adult Americans found that 31
percent of them were unable to accurately define the meaning of
the term "GMO." The study was released last month by
AlixPartners business advisory firm.
Biotech crops were introduced in the United States in 1996
and quickly became wildly popular with farmers, largely because
they make crop production easier. The most popular gene-altered
crops withstand dousings of weed-killing chemicals and produce
their own insect-killing toxins.
Biotech corn, canola, soybeans, and other crops are used in
human food and animal feed around the world and biotech
companies say they are heavily regulated and thoroughly tested.
But some scientific studies have cast doubt on the safety of
these biotech crops.
Grocery retailer Whole Foods Markets Inc said last
year it would require suppliers to label any product made with
genetically modified ingredients. Restaurant chain Chipotle
Mexican Grill Inc also is moving to remove GMO food
products from its supply chain.