Measure P’s fear, prejudice and ideology, part 1

Corporations, including Monsanto, are in it for the money. If we dictate public policy based on Humboldt County’s’ economic advantages, how would we be different? Promoting sustainability and decreasing human suffering is a more worthy goal than locking in economic advantages.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “If you are against corporate power, then focus on that.” If you don’t want Big Ag in Humboldt County, then focus on that. I would support you. If you don’t want herbicide-resistant crops in Humboldt then focus on that. Herbicide resistant crops have been developed with other breeding methods besides GMOs; stopping biotechnology will not halt herbicide-resistant crops or bad farming practices.

A study issued by the National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences, provided advice to the nation under a Congressional charter. The report found that biotech crops allowed farmers to either reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. The crops also had lower production costs, higher output or extra convenience, benefits that generally outweighed the higher costs of the engineered seeds.

The benefits for the environment from using these or any crops can indeed be negated by irresponsible farming. If you are concerned about superweeds, then focus on responsible farming practices that solve that problem through Integrative Pest Management (IPM) practices like crop rotation. Because failing to rotate crops develops resistance regardless of the breeding type.

Chad badgeInstead of demonizing a technology you don’t understand, promote IPM practices to improve the sustainability of both organic systems and conventional ones, and you will have my support (they both impact the environment and need to continue to improve without being derailed by naturalistic dogma).

We don’t know what agricultural challenges we will face in the future, we should not limit ourselves by prohibiting one of the more promising agricultural technologies which has proven to be a powerful tool.

As someone who cares about our environment, I don’t know that our county has a current need for any of the GE’d crops currently on the market. But Measure P stands to further confuse scientific understanding of the technology while exacerbating prejudice that stigmatizes Big Ag farmers that are moving in a more sustainable direction.

“P” is for Prejudice, and if we adopt this prejudice, this would go against Humboldt’s green image by standing to further stigmatize farmers who are moving in a more sustainable direction with the use of GE’d crops.

“Genetically engineered crops could carry organic farming much further toward fulfilling all the goals of sustainable agriculture” – Organic farming teacher Raoul Adamchak.

I was anti-GMO. I thought I had the evidence on my side, because I had only ever heard anti-GMO slogans from within my communities’ confirmation bias bubble. But I can now honestly say I had no idea how science worked when I initially defaulted to anti-GMO. My knowledge of the subject was inadequate; much of that knowledge I got from biased sources; and I’m sure I suffered from social conformity bias.

I love my open-minded, freethinking community. By open minded I mean having a willingness to look at new evidence, a willingness to reconsider and an ability to revise a previously held position that was in error. By “freethinking” I mean a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition.

When fear and ideology dictate public policy we get some despicably harmful outcomes like the failed war on drugs, like science denial of climate change, same sex couples being denied marriage rights, and wars. Many people are intuitively opposed to gay unions and believe that this has or will bring about harm. Others believe that jailing teenagers for smoking weed will decrease harm. These are not villains; these people care an awful lot, but do not employ critical thinking and do not value reason and evidence.

Instead of questioning everything, some people do not question the claims made by their own in-group. Reason is a guardian of love, and without it false beliefs can lead to dangerous actions. By employing reason and an evidence based epistemology towards the claims made about these issues we would ensure reaching a more reliable conclusion, I think most GMO opponents would agree.

Some say that global warming is a hoax, a product of thousands of scientists conspiring with governments to falsify temperature data and usher in a new age of global socialism. As if 95 percent of the world’s scientists contrived an environmental crisis, but are exposed by oil companies. Junk science has been published and propaganda funded, and even while the coal industry is much more lucrative than Monsanto, it has not managed to overturn the scientific consensus on climate change.

Just like climate skeptics, opponents of biotechnology issue impressive reports based on strategic cherry-picking. By only referencing its ideological allies in a kind of epistemological closed-loop, they push the perspective of a tiny minority of hand-picked pseudo-experts, and tries to capture and control the public policy agenda to enforce its long-held prejudices. Many of the most influential denialists like those at the Union of Concerned Scientists sound like experts; indeed they may even be experts. Many anti-vaccine campaigners, like Andrew Wakefield, started out as qualified medical professionals.

This is why scientific consensus matters – it is the last line of defense we have against the impressive credentials and sciency-sounding language of those who are really on the lunatic fringe.

End of part 1. Next week: free-thinking, changing one’s position based on facts, the denial of choice and the real enemy: hunger. 

Chad White is a local skeptic and science fan.

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8 Comments

  1. Ian Ray said:

    I’m not even trying to promote any particular agricultural method, just saying that the reasons cited for banning biotech crops in Humboldt County all seem to contain pseudoscience, exaggerated risks, or irrelevant issues.

    I have tried to formulate a logical argument for a crop ban and can’t seem to arrive at one. Insecticide and herbicide use appear to fall into all categories of pseudoscientific, exaggerated, and irrelevant. That is, these things are nowhere near as toxic as are claimed by fringe “studies” (pseudoscience), don’t have evidence to suggest the risks cited even if possible (exaggerated), and it is not as if people are going to stop using agricultural chemicals just because a particular type of crop is banned (irrelevant).

    If this measure was about banning specific pesticides, the agricultural chemical argument would be relevant. It’s not. This measure is about banning an entire type of technology. Lumping all the applications of the technology together reeks of ideological bias regardless of the excuses made.

    If another measure banned all organic crops for the supposed benefit of conventional farmers, would this be justifiable? It could be backed with technically correct excuses: organic food is no healthier, organic farming uses too much land, the spread of acceptability for organic farming might be dangerous to conventional biological controls, and some outlier organic farmers have bad practices such as fertilizer runoff. Myself, I woud argue against that measure too as it would rely on faux issues and people’s emotions; it is the same way I think this measure is.

  2. Ken said:

    No, I criticize Brookes because he relies on assumptions about pesticide use data that he criticizes Benbrooke for, his report is mostly self-referential, and that he is part of the GMO posse that nitpicks any study that hints at anti-GMO conclusions. Yes, Bt poison, expressed 24/7 in growing Bt crops as opposed to occasional use by the organic farmer, leeches into soil, water, and critters (including us), results in insect resistance, and reduces the utility for organic farmers, “forcing” their use of other insecticides. But you miss the point: reports of declining insecticide use due to Bt fail to account for the orders of magnitude increase in total environmental burden of Bt, or neonicitinoids applied to non-organic seeds, which would reverse the reported, and misleading, trend data. And yes, spinosad, used commonly by MJ and other farmers and in oral flea medicines, will join Bt as a serious nuisance if and when it becomes incorporated into crops using GEing. Seems the GMO argument of the day is that any increase in poison use inherently associated with GMO crops is rationalized by lower toxicity than worse poisons. Is that the best you can do?

  3. Ian Ray said:

    You criticize Brookes’ criticism by just calling him a “biostitute?” Seriously?

    Bt “poison?” Bt is a bacteria used in organic insect control for things like cabbage worms:
    http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/5344/bacillus-thuringiensis-a-natural-and-safe-microbial-pesticide

    Nobody is really worried about Bt’s Cry proteins replacing organophosphates. It sounds more like organic agriculture wants a monopoly on biological pest control. What will happen when biotechnology starts using spinosad… will spinosad suddenly become a dangerous poison?

  4. Ken said:

    First of all Chad, you never answered my question about what local laws you would suggest to fight “corporate power, Big Ag, or herbicide-resistant crops in Humboldt.”

    You assert, without reference, that Benbrooke has been “widely discredited.” Turns out that it has been narrowly criticized (and then recounted widely) by none other than three infamous biotech biostitutes, McHughen, who will be speaking pro-GMO at HSU this eve after catalyzing a Canadian GMO catastrophe, Brookes, whose article is mostly self-referential and if you actually read it, makes the same kind of assumptions as Benbrooke, and Janet Carpenter, a GMO paid consultant. As they put it in one critique, which if you look at the graphs in the USDA cite you quote you will see is accurate:

    “The USDA pesticide use reporting, on which Benbrook relied for
    much of his analysis, ended during the Bush administration around 2006. This
    is unfortunate because it failed to capture a substantial increase in pesticide
    use that has occurred in response to the unprecedented increase in agricultural
    commodity prices since 2007/8.”

    Certain pesticide uses have declined, as glyphosate use continues to increase associated with HT crops since 2006-7, hence the release of the crops with “stacked” HT traits to resist the effects of 2,4D, dicamba, etc. and combinations.

    Here’s another graph you can check. http://farmwars.info/?p=11515

    That’s only part of the misleading assertions, since pesticide use has tracked resistance and increased plantings. The other huge misconception relates to insecticide use reporting, since they do not report the Bt toxin, or the neonicitinoid toxins on non-organic seeds that are expressed in the soil and water, and in our blood streams and other body tissues as well. Those declining trends report only the extra poisons farmers who plant these toxic crops have to use, as the Chinese farmers are having to do currently in their Bt fields (”http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/13/us-pesticide-china-idUSTRE64C4K720100513)

    GMO enthusiasts like to tout the increased glyphosate use as indicative of reductions in less toxic pesticides. Small consolation, especially in light of evolving information on Glyphosate, it’s degradation product AMPA, its prolonged residence times under common conditions, and, most recently, more than doubling of cancer rates in Argentina near where glyphosate is over-used in conjunction with Round-up Ready crops (“Report on Cancer in Córdoba 2004-2009″)

    Biases on both sides influence reporting and studies, no one has a corner on data.

  5. Ken said:

    So Chad, what laws would you invoke to defend against “corporate power, Big Ag, or herbicide-resistant crops in Humboldt,” since all relevant laws trump local jurisdictions? Your claims about GE crops are controversial, since much credible data reveal increased herbicide and insecticide use associated with GMO crops, especially over time. Basic biology predicts that, reality confirms it. Measure P says nothing about the technology of bio-tech in general, it simply acknowledges that GMO plantings are incompatible with our very valuable organic ag, and no other laws can protect us from chemical and genetic trespass inevitably associated with GMOs. Plenty of credible references for you open-minders to study up on, if you can free your minds from the pack.

  6. Da Bright said:

    good article chad, having an open mind means being willing to admit to yourself that you are wrong when itis shown that you are wrong. this is why science is key. it is self correcting and ever expanding body of knowledge . most people have no idea about the scientific method . also people do not trust science if they say something that goes against there current beliefs .as if some one who may have spent up to 8 or 10 yrs learning there particular field would risk that to falsify results when it is easy to get caught , .

  7. solarae said:

    I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand gene splicing and am trying to be open minded but it is misleading to say that plants have been manipulated genetically for a long time and relate that to gene splicing. Conventional genetic selection can never incorporate the gene of one organism into the DNA of another. This is particularly troubling when you look at species like salmon that still have wild stock that can be contaminated by our experimentation. We do not know what the outcome will be.

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