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Pesticide industry instrumentalised Pope’s image to defend toxic products

At the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA), organisers from pesticide corporation Syngenta and the European Landowners’ Organisation screened a video featuring footage of Pope Francis. Unlike they claimed, this was not a special address to the FFA audience but a misleading public relations stunt in which pre-existing pontifex clips were combined with stock footage to provide legitimacy to the event, new Corporate Europe Observatory research reveals.

Organised every year, the FFA is an annual Brussels mainstay for the big agribusiness lobby, attended by industry allies and lobbyists, EU officials and politicians from EU member states working on agricultural issues and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy in particular.

The video they were shown was misleadingly titled “FFA 2017 Address From His Holiness The Pope", which in no way acknowledged that the clip had not been provided by the Vatican for use at the Forum. The video’s title on the conference’s website was changed to “His Holiness Pope Francis on agriculture and environmental issues” the day after the conference, with organisers conceding that the former title could have been “potentially misleading”.

As Corporate Europe Observatory research now reveals, participants were indeed misled to think the video had come from the Pope, and that even though the video was at least partly provided by Argentinian communications agency La Machi, which works on projects for the Vatican, it had not been commissioned by the Vatican.

In addition, the Vatican neither authorised the use of the Pope footage in this video nor its framing or messaging, it seems. FFA organisers told CEO that a copy of the video had been sent to the Pope's Nuncio the day before the Forum, but that "there was no authorisation to [be] ask[ed] [for]".

Further comments on who exactly commissioned the video , to which degree FFA organisers were involved in the editorial process at La Machi, and whether there had been a formal endorsement of the video by the Vatican’s Brussels representative, were declined from all three sides.

Corporate Europe Observatory’s agriculture policy campaigner Martin Pigeon said:

"We have been monitoring the pesticide industry's lobbying tricks for many years, including previous editions of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture. This industry has been using these events as a platform to pretend they are part of the solution to the problems actually caused by their products.

“But manipulating an audience with a video made to look like a message from the Pope himself is an unprecedented scam. How low will companies like Syngenta go to defend their poisons?"

Notes to editors:

  • Read the full research article here.

  • The FFA screening of the video was preceded by the reading aloud of a written statement from the Vatican by the Pope’s Apostolic Nuncio to the European Union, Mgr Lebeaupin. In contrast to the video, the statement was, naturally, much closer to Pope Francis' usual points on agriculture and food issues.

  • The Forum for the Future of Agriculture is an annual lobbying event organised by pesticide corporation Syngenta and the European Landowner’s Organisation, which is the EU lobby organisation of large landowners in Europe.

Contact:

Theresa Crysmann, theresa@corporateeurope.org, +32 289 309 3001

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