Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to argue with the primitive food movement about biotech crops

Stephan Neidenbach - welovegv@gmail.com - facebook.com/welovegv - @welovegv

To successfully argue with the anti biotechnology movement, you really need to get inside their head a little. Generally their concerns come down to a fear of corporations and a feeling that they are not in control. When we try to defend Monsanto or argue that we shouldn't label biotech ingredients because of cost, our arguments will often play into their fears and biases. Conspiracy minded individuals expect you to make arguments based on defending corporations and their bottom line (cost of labeling). We all know that the cost of labeling will really impact the farmer and the consumer more than the corporation, but saying that will just play on deaf ears. My recommendations won't work with everyone, cognitive bias will cause many to slam the door shut in your face.This isn't just about them though, it is about the people watching on the sidelines. If someone is yelling at you for being a shill, and you are defending corporations, those on the side line are going to look at you funny. If someone is yelling at you for being a shill, and you respond with the fact that corporations are actually benefiting from over regulation by keeping smaller players out of competition, those on the side line are going to find you much more reasonable.

1. Make it clear that you are discussing biotech crops in broad terms, not specific traits. If they wish to discuss herbicide tolerance, make it clear that conventional hybrid and mutagenic crops exist that are tolerant to herbicides as well, and not all biotech crops have that trait. Along with the imazamox tolerant crops made for BASF's herbicide, Cibus has a glyphosate tolerant flax and Washington State University recently filed a patent for a glyphosate tolerant wheat. Biotech crops like the papaya and new Simplot potato have nothing to do with pesticides, yet they require more regulations and safety tests.

2. Put the burden of proof on them. Tell them that you are not going to prove to them that biotech crops are safe. This is a common tactic in science denial, placing unreasonable expectations on science. No matter how much research you show them, they can always say, "can it really hurt to do more?" Make them prove to you that conventional hybrids and mutagenic crops are safer. Actual documented harm has been caused by artificial selection. Read about the Lenape potato and the killer organic zucchini.

3. Refuse to discuss the issue of patents. Not all biotech crops are patented, and many conventional hybrid and mutagenic crops are. Patents are completely irrelevant to the discussion.

4. Find common ground. Discuss the merits of knowing where your food comes from, and having a vegetable garden in your back yard. I grew some for the first time this past summer. I actually agree with many of them that it is a better use for a small yard than grass. I hate grass. It also taught me that there is no chance farmers are going to "drench" their crops in herbicides. Once the vegetables were taller than any weeds growing, even hand weeding wasn't really necessary. Why would farmers waste their money on unnecessary spraying?

5. Using terms like "Big Organic" is just going to make them angry. Instead, remind them of large corporations that might be benefiting from the anti-GMO movement. Exxon hates ethanol, reducing GM corn crops benefits the oil industry. The Fanjul Bros, large sugar barons, are some of the worst agricultural polluters, and sweeteners derived from biotech corn and sugar beets eat into their bottom line. When these guys call the White House, the president literally stops whatever he is doing to take the call. As one brother is a democrat and the other is a republican, it doesn't really matter who is in the Oval Office. I had a little bit of luck once pointing out that pro biotechnology scientists are being intimidated into silence by the mass media, while primitive food scientists are seen as heroes and placed on pedestals in the way pro tobacco scientists were in the 60s and 70s.

6. Don't use their vocabulary. The primitive food movement has worked very hard to change definitions and invent terms. Don't use them. Monsanto needs to, today, remove the words "terminator seeds" from their web page. The FDA has stated the term "GMO" can be misleading to the consumer because all crops are technically genetically modified. Use biotechnology and biotech crops as much as you can. (When will we get a class action lawsuit against companies using the NONGMO Project label?)