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ERMA calls in the Spin Doctors but at what cost?

ERMA calls in the Spin Doctors but at what cost?

The use of Public Relations consultants Network Communications to improve the image of ERMA (The Environmental Risk Management Authority) raises serious questions about the motivations behind the move, the authority's independence and proper use of funds.

The appropriateness of using Network Communications is questionable given ERMA's role in regulating biotechnology.The PR consultants are an affiliate of Ketchum whose clients include Aventis, Dow Chemicals, Pfizer, and Roche. Products marketed by these companies are regulated under the HSNO act which ERMA is set up to apply.

"ERMA should be above reproach.Building ERMA's profile must not come at the cost of transparency or independence" says Jon Carapiet, a spokesperson for GE-Free NZ ( in food and environment).

"The use of this PR company will not build public confidence," he says.

It is unclear if government Ministers knew ERMA was hiring the PR company, or that the firm is affiliated to consultants for the chemical industry. A study by the PR company into public awareness of ERMA and new organisms appears to be the start of a more extensive campaign which will require taxpayer funding. However it remains highly unlikely that "PR" is the best way to answer the need for genuine dialogue with the community and open decison-making in government.

There are many people who are particularly vulnerable to any PR spin aimed at fostering public compliance. A HortResearch survey shows over 5O% of people do not know GM can move genes from a plant to an animal.

Companies in the biotech industry have significant PR budgets - estimated at US $500 million for the North America market alone over five years.

"The effect is to drown out the legitimate concerns of scientists, doctors and the community at large, says Mr Carapiet. "Now the fear is that ERMA is joining in the same game."

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