I was intrigued by the undocumented/sourceless report posted to our
SANET circle last week, that Sierra Club's executive director, Carl
Pope, had "endorsed high-yield agriculture, including bio-engineered
crops, because high farm yields will help save wildlife habitat and
wild species." My BS-meter pinned itself so far in the red zone it
looped around to the other side of the peg at the zero point.
As I reported to you on Friday afternoon, I did some legwork on U.S.
Newswire, the only listed source on the piece, and learned U.S.
Newswire appears to be a pass-along service--a Web-based
dissemination service for other people's press releases.
I wrote to you that the piece read to me like a Hudson Institute
press release, passed along via this third-party service with the
veneer of impartial credibility that such services can lend. And I
mentioned that this is one of the tactics of--did I say sleazy? I
meant some more tactful word--a certain kind of PR/media.
This morning I talked to Daniel Silverman, press secretary for the
Sierra Club's national office. He was aware of this issue, though it
sounded to me like it was one of those issues that snuck up on them
all at the end of a week, and he was trying to provide on a Monday
morning what information he could, while still in the stages of
understanding just what in hades was going on.
That's the thing about misinformation/disinformation--it's hard to
get hold of and drag into the light. Which is part of its power.
(Like those of urban legends, might I add. And any resemblance
between that phenomenon and the Averian High-Yield High-Chemical
High-Tech Agriculture, I will not even hint at here. :^)
Daniel Silverman referred to this paragraph in the U.S. Newswire
> Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues has researched and
> advocated this agricultural production technique to help preserve
> the world's environment. In a Dec. 21, 1998, letter to the editor
> of Philanthropy magazine, Pope wrote: I strongly endorse (Dennis
> Avery's) call for a renewed commitment to governmental and
> philanthropic funding of agricultural research, including research
> into conventionally bred or bio-engineered new varieties of
> crops. A massive increase in such research is, as Avery argues,
> absolutely critical. Only then can the promise of high-tech
> breeding be combined with the social and environmental needs of
> the world."
Please look at this paragraph again as you read points 1 and 2.
Silverman said that
1) that letter from Pope has not been published in /Philanthropy/.
2) Pope's comments were taken out of context; he was referring to the
trend where governmental and philanthropic support for research is
decreasing, and private/corporate support is increasing. And wanted
to indicate an agreement with Avery's point that public sector and
philanthropic sector research must be shored up.
As for item 2), Pope's unpublished letter said: "While the data I
have seen on the relative productivity per acre of low input
agriculture does not support Dennis Avery's argument that it will
require more acreage to feed the world than using chemically
intensive agriculture, I strongly endorse his call for a renewed
commitment to governmental and philanthropic funding of agricultural
research including research into conventionally bred or
bio-engineered new varieties of crops. In addition to the arguments
that Avery offers for why we should not fall back into reliance on
private agribusiness to do all of our research, there is another and
fundamental reason. Approximately one billion poor farmers produce
25% of the world's food, and also produce livelihoods for themselves
and their families. These farmers do not represent an attractive
commercial market for agricultural researchers in private industry.
New varieties suitable for their needs, even if productive, would not
be as profitable as equally useful new varieties meeting the needs of
large or commercial growers or those with higher incomes. Worse, the
exigencies of the marketplace are leading many bioengineering
companies down a road that will make life dramatically worse for
these poor farmers and for the global environment. The inflammatory
conflict over Monsanto's "terminator" technology is only the latest
example. The "terminator" gene, jointly developed by USDA and a
research firm subsequently acquired by Monsanto, enables seed
companies to produce high-yielding varieties of crops such as rice
and wheat which will be sterile. This will solve the "problem" for
seed companies that farmers currently save their seeds for such
crops, because they cannot afford to buy fresh seed every year. What
is a "problem" for seed companies is, of course, an important element
of economic security for poor farmers around the world. But from the
viewpoint of commercial bioengineers, there is relatively little
incentive to develop a fantastic new variety of wheat or rice since,
unlike hybridized food crops like corn, the market is relatively
small. This is particularly true of a variety that may require low
levels of chemical inputs and produce particular benefits when used
in labor intensive agriculture with poor soils or weather-precisely
where poor farmers are most in need. And from an environmental
perspective, the terminator gene is a serious threat, since it will,
inevitably, migrate at least to close relatives of the engineered
crop, eliminating the natural fertility of wild strains and related
endemic species and accelerating the alarming trend of global loss of
germ plasm. (This same propensity of this gene to cross-breed, of
course, means that even farmers who never buy the terminator seed may
lose the fertility of some or all of their saved seed, because it
will have been cross pollinated with the gene.) Only philanthropic or
public sector research institutions can be expected to pursue
promising breeding strategies without regard to such commercial
exigencies, and a massive increase in such research is, as Avery
argues, absolutely critical--only then can the promise of high-tech
breeding be combined with the social and environmental needs of the
Compare it to the quote from the Hudson [?] press release. This
strikes me as a particularly cheesy taking-out-of-context.
I plan to do a small spot of further legwork on this. Just wanted to
share this with you before today turns into tomorrow. SANETters, I'd
appreciate hearing from any of you who have more information than I
do on this.
Gotta scoot now; be righteous, all, and take no wooden nickels.
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
Dennis: Anarcho-syndicalism is a way of *preserving* freedom!
His Wife: Oh, Dennis, *forget* about freedom! We 'aven't got enough mud!
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