Monsanto Disguises Propaganda as P.R.

By Melinda Hemmelgarn

Upon exiting the special exhibition on “The power of Nazi Propaganda” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in our nation’s Capitol, visitors have the opportunity to sign a guest book in which they can respond to the question: “Do you think propaganda exists today?”

Most signers check “yes,” without explanation. However, on the day I visited I felt compelled to note a current unnerving example. I cited Monsanto’s banner ads lining the corridors of the D.C. Metro, bus shelters, and city buses — all ironically just a stone’s throw from the museum, and USDA headquarters, where officials recently made the chilling decision to approve GMO sugar beets and alfalfa, despite impending economic harm to our nation’s organic farmers.

I noticed Monsanto’s use of simplified messages and emotional appeal, exactly the strategies employed by Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda leader. With few words and powerful images, the agri-business goliath assures us they are “improving agriculture” and our lives, while helping our environment and feeding the world. The Monsanto symbol reveals who owns and ultimately profits from these messages. Using earthy, sepia tones and larger-than-life images of tough and rugged farmers, Monsanto’s marketing wizards paint a vision of national pride. Yet as I viewed the public posters, I recalled the museum exhibit explaining how “promoting a vision of national unity” helped sell Nazism to a democracy.

The exhibit defines propaganda as: “biased information spread to shape public opinion and behavior.” It works by omitting information selectively, simplifying complex issues, and playing on our emotions by using words and images that on the surface appear benign, or even positive. It is “just one weapon in the arsenal of mass persuasion.”

Despite its negative connotation, propaganda isn’t all bad. For example, it can be used to shape opinion and behavior for the common good, such as public health campaigns. The danger lies when propaganda techniques silence competing voices and omit critical information. For example, that farmers bear responsibility if their crops become unintentionally contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMO) seed; or that the chemical glyphosate, used on herbicide-resistant GMO crops, harms soil microbes critical for plant nutrition and disease resistance. Missing information also includes the growing threat of weed resistance, requiring more and stronger chemicals. Don Huber, the respected plant pathologist and professor emeritus from Purdue University says genetically engineered crops require more water, and that GMO-related herbicide residues in the food chain exceed safety levels, showing toxicity to liver and kidney cells.

As for being silenced, Huber describes a letter written by 26 North Central entomologists claiming they were denied access to materials to evaluate GMO safety, or told they couldn’t publish their research.

Americans swim in a sea of propaganda, only today, we call it “public relations.” The term was originally coined by Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. He wanted to use powerful propaganda techniques to drive mass behavior during peace time, but had to find a new term to avoid propaganda’s negative connotation.

Learn about the tools of propaganda used to manipulate our acceptance of biotechnology, and a food and agriculture system that threatens our environment, public health, and American farmers’ freedom to control their destiny.

For more information, see these projects: “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ( Also see the Food Sleuth Radio interview with Don Huber, Ph.D. (; and “Agriculture at a Crossroads,” from the U.N. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology for Development ( This report supports agro-ecological methods of food production to best nourish the Earth’s population.

Melinda Hemmelgarn is a dietitian in Columbia, Mo. She and her husband host the show “Food Sleuth Radio,” broadcast each week at KOPN (

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2011

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