I want to add to Rob Fetter's observations about the undocumented
assertions by Dennis Avery that get passed along as fact. This goes
back to Greg Gunthorp's pass-along, on 12/16, of Johan Bakker's bust
of the /Wall St. Journal/ for passing along undocumented Avery
assertions about the safety of organic foods.
I consider this one of the most pernicious trends that we in
sustainable ag face: the construction of public opinion via the
passing along of empty or undocumented information by purported
experts who are in fact minor media stars. This trend is not limited
to sustag; this is one of the ongoing problems with corporate
megamedia, which make money cranking out Content--regardless of its
quality or accuracy.
Especially insidious, in my mind, is how quotability in the media or
visibility on speaking circuits comes to be equated with accuracy--or
even existence--of supporting data.
In Avery's case, he gets to ignore research-supported data in sustag,
assert his own perspectives, have them be accepted as fact, thus
obscuring the existence of sustag research. By pointing to straw-man
"eco-terrorists" and "environmentalists," he diverts attention from
the impacts of industrial agriculture--jeez, no wonder they love him.
Nothing like a good bread-and-circuses immolation to distract people
from the problems all around them, eh?
It's one thing to offer unsupported opinion or perspective (as I,
for instance, do all the time in this group :^) as an analytical or
rhetorical exercise. It's quite another to assert perspectives as
facts and not back them up. And yet another to ignore existing
IMO, it's important for sustainable and organic ag proponents to
make sure we have good research-based facts and the footnotes to back
them up. But it's just as important to have the ability to tell a
documented fact from a perspective, and have the courage to point
I did a quick Web search on D.A. to see how often I found
undocumented assertions by him, and how often I found documented or
footnoted data backing up his assertions, by himself or as cited,
quoted, or paraphrased by others. It will come as no surprise that
after my 30-minute time-limit was up, all I found were undocumented
assertions among the sites I browsed.
I share with you, below, some of those URLs so you can see for
yourself, if you wish, just how these assertions get used by other
people and by himself.
Chemistry and Industry Magazine; Avery's article, "The Folly of
"Organic Farming Destroys Wildlife," by Avery
Interview including Avery on food irradiation
Food Science and Human Nutrition; about 8/10 way down,
undocumented Avery assertion on organic farming
Realities and Challenges of Crop Protection, including undocumented
March 20, 1997: Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and
Forestry, undocumented Avery assertions:
Factoids about food safety from Agricultural Retailers Assn,
including an Avery undocumented assertion
Avery talks about "The Coming Collapse of Western Europe's Farm
Policies And How That Will Help Save the World's Wildlife," in
Central Soya agbusiness director talking about food supply, demand,
security to 2025, including undocumented Avery assertion
Undocumented Avery assertions on "Food Shortages"
Undocumented Avery assertions cited in a meeting of Advance Trading
(grain merchandizing consultants):
"World grain stockpiles greatly exceed consumption," Human Life
International (sectarian anti-abortion organization), citing Avery's
article "Don't Worry, Eat and Be Happy," The Wall Street Journal, 11
December 1995, A-12.
What emerges is a kind of Star Quality--"this man is an expert
because he has been quoted in the /New York Times/" (which once
interviewed the rock singer Meat Loaf and referred to him as Mr.
Loaf, but I digress), etc. For a concrete example:
Avery's listing/rap sheet in the Agricultural Speakers Network
Among his qualifications listed there are that he's been quoted in
various big media. Not that he said anything documentable or
accurate, just that they quoted him. "Avery reads some 50,000 pages
of up-to-the-minute reports annually which means his speeches are
fact-filled, "politically incorrect," thought-provoking, and
entertaining. Avery has been quoted in such diverse publications as
Time, the Washington Post, Earthwatch, and Successful Farming. He
appears frequently on television and radio with his optimistic look
at the future of our earth. His most recent book, Saving the Planet
with Pesticides and Plastic, is the farmer's defense manual against
I don't need to parse the assumptions there.
Here are two good examples of sustainable ag proponents taking on
John Ikerd talks about Avery's assumptions (apart from the
data upon which he bases them) in this SANET posting (from the
archive site in Sweden):
The Wallace Institute's report "Intensive Ag and Environmental
Quality: Examining the Newest Agricultural Myth"
This one does an exceptional job of standing his assumptions up
against research in sustainable ag.
Thanks for listening, all. Sorry this is so rough...I don't have a
lot of time right now, but wanted to follow up on this asap.
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
If you knew what life was worth, you
would look for yours on earth. --Bob Marley
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command
All messages to sanet-mg are archived at: