From: Jim Wasserman, The Sacramento Bee
Published July 27, 2005 12:00 AM

Coalition of Groups Takes Aim at Sacramento, California Public TV Show

A 40-member coalition of food safety groups, environmentalists and anti-biotech organizations is demanding that a Sacramento public television station withdraw its national weekly TV series on American food production scheduled to debut in September.


The groups claim that sponsorship of "America's Heartland" by agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto Co., the American Farm Bureau Federation and other national farm organizations will present viewers "biased" programming favoring genetically engineered crops and other conventional farming methods.


The campaign against KVIE and American Public Television represents a new front in a global fight between groups favoring organic agriculture and companies modifying crops by moving genes between different plant species. At least one national group of food producers and restaurateurs said it typifies attacks from groups funded "by a relative handful of deep-pocketed philanthropies."


"Groups like the Center for Food Safety have (aligned themselves) -- with activists who believe that Americans should be building a bridge back to the 19th century in regard to agriculture," said David Martosko, spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom.


The 30-minute show, which targets an urban audience for agricultural stories, remains on track for a September debut on KVIE, said Jim O'Donnell, the station's director of program marketing. Donna Hardwick, director of communications for American Public Television, confirmed the same on Monday.


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Groups including the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club and Greenpeace USA say the show needs new sponsors to guarantee its integrity. The coalition sent letters Friday to KVIE and its national distributor for the show, Boston-based American Public Television, saying promotional materials for the show suggest its content "may be used to promote the interests of industrial agriculture."


O'Donnell, pointing to the station's long history of producing "California Heartland," rejected claims that Monsanto and other financial sponsors will improperly influence the national show's stories and tone.


"The editorial content and mission of the show was established in the eight years that 'California Heartland' was produced, and that die was cut before we even began fundraising for the national show," O'Donnell said.


Station officials have said costs to produce the series are in "seven figures." A Monsanto official also called the campaign "unfortunate."


American Farm Bureau Federation spokesman Don Lipton said Monday: "Nobody has pushed any agenda on the producers of this show."


Craig Culp, spokesman for the Center for Food Safety, suggested otherwise Monday, saying: "They have an absolute obligation as stewards of public television to find underwriters for this series that do not include industries and organizations that can directly benefit from the airing of that program."


Culp was critical specifically of a 2002 "California Heartland" show on genetically modified foods, saying the segment "was clearly developed to, if not actively promote GE (genetically engineered) foods and crops, certainly to place it in a favorable light and put the opposition in a sort of negative or questionable light."


O'Donnell said the episode was "literally one of hundreds we've done about organic farming, biotech and food safety."


To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com.


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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