Russians reportedly trolling Americans into hating GMO foods

DCNFChris White, DCNF

(Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Russian media outlets operating inside the U.S. are doubling down on propaganda to sway public opinion on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to research from the University of Iowa.

RT and Sputnik produced more anti-GMO articles than Huffington Post, Fox News, CNN, Breitbart News and MSNBC combined, researchers noted. RT accounted for more than 34 percent of all such stories among the seven sites. Articles from Sputnik, meanwhile, made up for 19 percent.

“RT and Sputnik overwhelmingly portrayed genetic modification in a negative light,” researchers wrote in their study. “Among U.S. news organizations, the left-leaning Huffington Post produced the most ‘anti’ articles, followed by CNN. Fox News produced the most neutral or mixed coverage of GMOs.”

The bulk of U.S. crops are genetically modified. For instance, about 90 percent of Iowa and U.S. farmers grow corn and soybeans engineered to tolerate herbicides and pesticides. Russia and several other countries either severely restricted or banned GMO use in their agriculture products.

RT’s campaign is designed to hurt U.S. agriculture interests and bolster Russia’s position, Shawn Dorius, an Iowa State University assistant sociology professor, told reporters. Turning U.S. public opinion against GMOs, he said, “Would have a clear negative effect on an industry in the U.S. and could advantage Russia.”

Russian media outlets have been criticized in the past for promulgating propaganda designed to hurt the American industry. U.S. intelligence officials confirmed in a declassified report in 2017 that RT ran pieces critical of hydraulic fracturing to ward off challenges to Russia’s energy empire.

“Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet,” ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported in January 2017. The report was part of a more comprehensive document presenting evidence of Russian intelligence attempts to delegitimize the results of the 2016 election.

Dorius and his colleagues argued that presenting negative reportage about GMOs plays into the Russian playbook. “The idea in an asymmetrical war, you look at where you’re weak and your opponent is strong, and you’re really trying to undermine their strength … This is an area where U.S. science is strong worldwide — especially so, relative to Russia,” they argued.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment Feb. 16 for 13 Russian nationals affiliated with three Russian companies suspected of interfering in the 2016 election. The goal of their campaign was to sow discord in the U.S. political process.

The indicted Russians operated both pro- and anti-Trump social media accounts, and accounts were also used to support Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

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