The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Fear-based Marketing by Organic Retailers: a major factor driving anti-biotechnology public opinion

Alex Avery
Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute,

Graydon John Forrer,

John Carlisle,
National Center for Public Policy Research’s Environmental Policy Task Force,
Washington, DC

This paper examines how the growth of the organic farming industry – principally in the United

States and Great Britain – has, in recent years, been fueled by a coordinated and deliberate misinformation campaign designed to demonize and sow fear of conventional and biotechnology enhanced foods. This "fear based marketing" campaign is orchestrated and funded by a unique convergence of forces that include: large organic retailers, marketers, political and ideological advocates, and their public relations firms. Working together, these interests and businesses have combined to successfully support the unprecedented growth in the organic food retail industry at the expense of public confidence in safe biotechnology and conventional foods. Specifically, the paper demonstrates how the food scare campaigns of recent years have been a major factor in the

continual erosion of public confidence in conventionally produced agricultural products in general, and in products enhanced through agricultural biotechnology in particular.

The paper investigates the history and growth of the organic food business and how it has come depend for sales on the demonization of conventional and biotech foods. For example, how organic food marketers have used a unique convergence of conventional marketing and retail tools in combination with unconventional political and consumer oriented campaign strategies to undermine public confidence in the health and safety of conventional and biotechnology enhanced foods. The power and success of these efforts is most notably manifested in the recent public process in the United States to create standards for marketing organic food.

In addition, the success of organic marketers in creating public doubts and fears about the safety and healthfulness of agricultural biotechnology is also manifest by a growing public perception that organic foods are healthier, safer, more nutritious and better tasting than other agricultural products. The paper shows how the public’s acceptance of this proposition continues to grow in spite of voluminous and credible scientific evidence and testimony to the contrary.

The paper further examines how retailers and organic food producers specifically benefit from efforts to sow fear of conventional and biotech agriculture. Specifically, how retailers have a large stake in being able to continue charging premium prices that garner high profits for organic foods.

Finally, the paper looks at how the organic interests – including growers, marketers, retailers, ideological and consumer activists – have converged with political and public affairs activists and organizations to support the expanding growth of the organic marketplace. Here, the paper looks at how traditional lobby tools and political activism combine with new technologies, such as the Internet, to perpetuate myths of organic superiority and to sow increased fear and doubt about biotech foods.

Home Page Program Registration Hotel accommodation Ravello and surroundings Social program