Puerto Rico: Monsanto Hires Marketing Firm to Poll Citizens on GMOs

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero | 01.06.2015

The Monsanto corporation hired a marketing firm to poll the Puerto Rican citizenry about the subject of GM seeds and foods. The company chosen for the task is the France-based Ipsos. Founded in 1975, it is the third largest market research company worldwide and currently has operations in 87 countries, including in South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Ipsos has over 15,000 employees and carries out over 70 million interviews every year.

According to the company web site: “Ipsos focuses on a single activity, namely the production, interpretation and distribution of information gathered from individuals about their opinions, desires, attitudes and behaviours… Ipsos experts analyse the subtle differences between individuals to produce accurate snapshots of their expectations, motivations and intentions as citizen-consumers.”

The work Ipsos does around the world is remarkably diverse. In recent years it has worked for UNICEF doing a study on child poverty in the former Yugoslavia, for the European Union polling on attitudes toward immigrants, in Sweden researching citizens’ perception of public transport, for the International Red Cross studying the experiences of civilians in war zones, for the World Bank examining the social inclusion of Roma (gypsies) in Central Europe, and in South Africa surveying gender violence. Clients have also included the Organization of American States, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Program, USAID, BBC, Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Oxfam, World Vision, the World Economic Forum, Transparency International and even Greenpeace.

I ran into one of Ipso’s pollsters in early December 2014… She asked for an appointment with me to ask me about my perceptions regarding the GMO debate. She did not mention that Monsanto was funding the study, until I asked… I jokingly told her that I was “Monsanto’s public enemy #1 in Puerto Rico.”

Ipsos makes much of its corporate social responsibility. In 2008 “Ipsos was the first international research company to join the United Nations Global Compact”, says the corporation’s web site. “Through this initiative, Ipsos will embrace, support and implement principles that support the community, environment, human rights and labour standards. By adhering to the United Nations Global Compact, Ipsos is demonstrating its long term commitment to expand and grow responsibly, i.e. in ways that benefit local economies and societies.”

Ipsos has previously worked for Monsanto in Argentina, where a civil disobedience campaign in the village of Malvinas Argentinas in the Córdoba province has obstructed the construction of a major GM seed facility.

According to a report published in Ecos Córdoba on December 13 2013:

“Ipsos arranges with a local consultant to measure the social thermometer through a methodology called ‘focus groups’. A focus group is basically a tool for the gathering of market information, formed out of a specially selected group of heterogeneous people who will have to debate with their own arguments on some particular subject of interest to the market research and analysis. In this case the corporate image to be appraised was that of Monsanto. The sample of people consulted in this opportunity was of 100 persons, divided in ten groups according to age (18-25, 35-45, and 45-60) and their place of origin (Malvinas Argentinas or Córdoba).”

A person interviewed by the consultant told Ecos Córdoba: “The interview was ill-intended, deceitful, opinion-generating, and manipulative while disguised as innocent. I saw clearly that the aim was to disguise this multinational as an enterprise of solidarity and job creation that only wants to protect seeds and provide employment. The interview’s objective is clearly to bend wills and generate doubts about the truthfulness of the struggles. On the other hand they have a remarkably sinister attitude regarding the people in the sit-in. She (the interviewer) claims to have visited the sit-in and to have felt fear because they wear hoods and then asked us if we knew that those people were being paid.”

Ipsos entered Puerto Rico in 2004 by partnering with the local Hispania Research company. The resulting firm, Ipsos Hispania, has offices in Hato Rey, in the city of San Juan.

I ran into one of their pollsters in early December 2014 at a tropical forestry symposium. She asked for an appointment with me to ask me about my perceptions regarding the GMO debate. She did not mention that Monsanto was funding the study, until I asked. Having worked on industry surveys myself for a number of clients, I know full well that the instructions given to field workers are specific to the letter. I could tell that she was explicitly instructed not to reveal the source of the study’s funding unless specifically asked by the interviewee. I jokingly told her that I was “Monsanto’s public enemy #1 in Puerto Rico”. She giggled and told me sympathetically, “I know what you are talking about, I myself am a biologist”.

Carmeloa Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist, a research associate of the Institute for Social Ecology and a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program. His bilingual journalism web site is Haciendo Punto en Otro Blog and his Twitter ID is @carmeloruiz.