Culture

Big Organic’s Losing Battle

(Anna Omelchenko/Dreamstime)
The anti-GMO movement verges on collapse as the benefits of transgenic foods proliferate.

Liberal foodies are on a collision course with genetic engineering that may soon result in the welcome crash of the anti-GMO movement. As emerging technology promises an answer for nearly every issue on the movement’s agenda — from animal welfare to food security to environmental protection — it also exposes the movement’s hypocrisy and hollowness. Activists are increasingly hard-pressed to defend their illogical, irrational positions (who in their right mind can oppose an apple that doesn’t turn brown?). And, as is the case with most faltering political crusades, anti-GMO leaders are becoming more and more desperate — even downright silly — in their efforts to revive their dying cause.

Case in point: Next October, anti-GMO activists will conduct what they’re calling the “Monsanto Tribunal” in The Hague. The St. Louis–based biotechnology company is the anti-GMO movement’s chief target; each year, cities around the world host a “March Against Monsanto,” which is really just a symbolic protest showcasing the movement’s anti-capitalism, anti-corporate ideology.

But apparently the aging hippies and granola grannies who attend those annual marches aren’t suitably effective PR tools, so Monsanto-haters are upping their game. A group of high-profile activists announced at the COP21 conference in Paris last week that they will put Monsanto “on trial” next year to face a variety of alleged crimes:

The Tribunal will rely on the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” adopted at the UN in 2011. It will also assess potential criminal liability on the basis of the Rome Statue [sic] that created the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2002, and it will consider whether a reform of international criminal law is warranted to include crimes against the environment, or ecocide, as a prosecutable criminal offense, so that natural persons could incurr [sic] criminal liability.

“Certain groups like the Organic Consumers Association use fear and scare tactics to belittle science-based innovations that help to improve agricultural sustainability. This fake trial has no legal basis and is an attempt to mislead the public,” says Monsanto spokesman Nick Weber. But activists hope their faux “court” will treat Monsanto executives the same way they would treat genocidal African dictators. And while it obviously has no official or legal standing — and certainly isn’t sanctioned by either the UN or the EU — the Tribunal’s sponsors will no doubt attempt to persuade the buying public otherwise. Pretend prosecutors will accuse Monsanto of:

Ignor[ing] the human and environmental damage caused by its products and maintain[ing] its devastating activities through a strategy of systemic concealment: by lobbying regulatory agencies and governments, by resorting to lying and corruption, by financing fraudulent scientific studies, by pressuring independent scientists, by manipulating the press and media, etc. The history of Monsanto would thereby constitute a text-book case of impunity, benefiting transnational corporations and their executives, whose activities contribute to climate and biosphere crises and threaten the safety of the planet.

Now this is pretty amusing stuff coming from the Organic Consumers Association, one of the tribunal’s chief organizers. Although the Minnesota-based group professes to be a “public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability,” the OCA is a well-funded front group that carries out much of the organic industry’s dirty work (they are the same quacks who opposed the Ebola vaccine because it profited drug companies).

RELATED: The Beginning of the End of Anti-GMO Hysteria?

The group engages in many of the same activities it accuses Monsanto of: They frequently lobby (and sue) regulatory agencies to stop genetically engineered products, lie to consumers about the benefits of organic food and the dangers of GMOs, and pressure independent scientists to cease communicating biotech’s benefits. This year, the OCA led an appalling smear campaign to harass university scientists who research transgenic crops, trying to tie the researchers to biotech companies. It resulted in the character assassination of good public scientists who had their careers, their families, and even their lives threatened by overzealous anti-GMO activists.

The group’s president is Ronnie Cummins. Donning a beret and ponytail during the Paris press conference, he unequivocally laid out OCA’s agenda: “We are going to up the ante. Monsanto. . . . we are going to show that you are trying to poison us all. And we are going to take down your business and the whole factory-farm industrial-agriculture empire that goes with it.”

#share#Why the hostility? Aside from the fact that folks like Cummins are true-blue socialists, the walls are closing in on the anti-GMO movement, and their funders — mostly liberal, wealthy organic executives — know it. What’s at stake is the $40 billion organic industry here in the U.S. Organic products cannot contain GM seeds, and the industry has led a carefully crafted misinformation campaign to vilify GMOs and convince wary consumers to buy pricier organic products.

Fortunately, scientific progress is starting to drown out the organic fear-peddlers, and this year in particular has witnessed a string of victories for genetic engineering. The USDA approved the Arctic apple, a variety that doesn’t bruise or turn brown when sliced, due to the careful tweaking of a few genes (the company is looking to apply the same technique to other highly perishable fruits, such as avocados). The federal government also gave the green light to the AquaAdvantage salmon, which was created by inserting a gene from one salmon into another salmon to promote faster growth in contained tanks, using fewer natural resources.

RELATED: GMO: Gimmicky Marketing Obfuscations

Recent advancements in genetic engineering show huge potential for the future: Preventing dairy cows from growing horns, which would eliminate the painful, dangerous process of dehorning cattle. Stopping intractable crop diseases, like citrus greening, which is resistant to the strongest pesticides and has decimated the U.S. citrus industry. Creating mosquitos that fight malaria, which kills nearly a million people per year. Fortifying staple crops in poor countries to provide needed nutrients and stop children from going blind, even dying, from malnutrition.

This is why the anti-GMO movement is on such shaky ground. A bill passed by the House of Representatives in July is now under consideration in the Senate; if approved, the law would prevent separate GMO labeling laws in each state. “If you try to ban the future, it will just happen someplace else,” says Jon Entine, director of Genetic Literacy Project and senior fellow at the University of California–Davis. And while the anti-GMO movement plans fake tribunals, science — and progress — marches on.

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