The New Environmentalist and the Old Ideologies

-January 9th, 2013, Guelph, Ontario

In Response to Margaret Wente’s article on “Environmentalist” Mark Lynas, “An activist recants on GM foods”

by Jodi Koberinski

Margaret Wente announces the arrival of a new, balanced kind of environmentalism that is “science” based rather than “ideology” based in Mark Lynas. Yet Mr. Lynas’ speech at Oxford on GMOs is riddled with ideology masking as fact.

Let us be clear about the main thesis: GMOs are not about “feeding the world”. They are about controlling the seed. Continuing to attempt to divide the global north and the global south on this notion that anti-GMO people are pro-hunger is ridiculous.

We have a confrontation of world views: the old reductionist, mechanistic world view tied to commodity-focused, corporatist assumptions associated with capitalism, and the world view great thinkers like Vandana Shiva posit of collective responsibility, the primacy of the commons, and the centrality of the seed to evolution and survival.  Her concept of “Earth Democracy” is steeped in honouring diversity and requires life-oriented, scientifically sound, philosophically rigorous approaches to policy and regulation where our ecosystems are concerned. Where the economy serves life, not the other way around.

All Ms. Wente admires in an environmentalist is there in Dr. Vandana Shiva: Dr. Shiva thinks technology can be a force for good. Dr. Shiva teaches that environmental responsibility is completely compatible with human betterment and economic progress. The methods employed at Navdanya, Dr. Shiva’s research farm, yield twice the nutrition per acre over moncropped systems.  Is this not both better for people and the economy?

And therein lies the rub. What exactly does Ms. Wente mean by “human betterment” and “economic progress”? The way she writes it, these are self evident.  She uses those terms like I would use “ocean”. I think we can agree what an ocean is, but I can assure you what Ms. Wente thinks “betterment” looks like and what Dr.Shiva’s millions of supporters think “betterment” looks like are worlds apart.

Where are conversations about our assumptions and what we believe the problems are that need solving taking place? Rather than responding to disinformation, we need to look at root assumptions to reach some understanding if we are to act responsibly as global citizens. Just because Dr. Shiva’s ontological framework is different from Mark Lynas’ doesn’t mean Mr. Lynas speaks “truth” and Dr. Shiva speaks “ideology”. Its just that Ms. Wente and Mr. Lynas share a framework. That is why it is invisible to them both.

The reason we reject GMOs in our food system is not because we are anti-science: biotech is anti-science, that is why they won’t allow experimentation or inquiry or proper regulation as a novel food. We reject GMOs in our food system because good science requires us to.

One thing Ms. Wente got spot on? GMOs are a moral issue. Brewster Kneen wrote Farmageddon to assess GMOs from a place of morality: just because we can gene splice, ought we do it? What problem is biotech the solution to that agro-ecological approaches can’t solve?

In her article, Ms. Wente takes issue with Dr. Vandana Shiva’s recent tweeted “rapist” comment, which dealt with GMOs as a moral issue. “To seize and take away by force; an outrageous violation”. Rape. Dr. Shiva suggesting allowing farmers to plant GMOs is akin to permitting rapists to rape is accurate. The GMO farmer can impregnate his or her neighbours’ seed crops with offending GMO materials that the assaulted farmer did not choose to grow. There is no consent. It is an act of force, a violation. How is this so outrageous? Let us not pretty it up with words like “cross contamination”. It is only outrageous if one doesn’t understand farming.

The myths being re-inforced through Mr. Lynas’ oratory are almost worthy of The Rick Mercer Report, not a podium at Oxford.  Does Ms. Wente buy Mr. Lynas’ apparently straight-faced assertion that the cost of developing biotech and corporate concentration are due to green opposition? Really? This talking point is strikingly similar, along with the other 20+ fallacious claims Lynas makes, to the talking points of EurpoaBio and other biotech lobby organizations.

OCO received a leaked letter dated Ocotber 2011 on EuropaBio letterhead. EuropaBio is the trade association for big biotech firms, and through the letter, the group sought spokespeople for its PR campaign to try and re-educate Europeans on GMOs. In the letter, they detail how EuropaBio will book the engagements, the interviews, how they will write the bylines, the letters to the editor. In the letter, they claim to already have the participation of Mark Lynas and others.  There isn’t anything wrong with having spokespeople- its the attempt to be covert that is troublesome, as was revealed in EuropaBio’s recruiting letter dated October 2011 painstakingly describing the effort to distance speakers from EuropaBio despite the campaign being entirely funded and coordinated by the group.

Since originally publishing this post, Mark Lynas has contacted us refuting the connection. EuropaBio has also, unsurprisingly, published online there is no connection between Lynas and their organization and distancing themselves from the letter I have read.

Let us be clear: GMOs are about controlling seed, not about feeding the world. Trotting out the ideologically-based 2050 Myth is becoming tired. Loblaw Sustainability Chair Dr. Ralph Martin’s analysis shows we could feed 9 billion without adding any “productivity” to yield or acreage by dealing with our underlying issues: post harvest handling and food waste (40% of what is grown is wasted), appropriate protein sources and ratios of calories, emancipation of women, and geo-political will to distribute food equitably, apply appropriate technology and share responsibility for climate-change induced hunger. FAO itself states that agro-ecology and not “biotechnology” is the way to meet the demands of the next 100 years.

Indian farmers watched the price of cotton increase by as much as 8000% since bT cotton was introduced. We’ve also seen a quarter million farmer suicides – most from consuming the very pesticides they went into debt to buy – in India’s cotton belt as a result of farmers crushed by debt created through the GMO seed-chemical dependence cycle and the failed promises of yield and quality Monsanto made. GMOs are not about helping poor farmers or feeding the world. If we can do no more to educate ourselves on the real issues of control and ownership at stake with this “technology”, let us at least stop repeating this lie.

Jodi Koberinski is the Executive Director of the Organic Council of Ontario. She has over 15 years experience as an activist, entrepreneur and food systems analyst. Ms. Koberinski also sits on the Organic Value Chain Round Table.


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