In reply to Bart Hall-Beyer's thoughts...I did not react negatively
*or* positively to Ciba-Geigy's campaign. I simply pointed out that
I was interested in how the company was using activist tactics to
enlist farmers in protecting its market share of a chemical under
review as a possible carcinogen, and that I was interested in
knowing about any responses to Ciba's actions.
I am an agricultural and educational communicator; this is a very
interesting PR case study that I'd like to be kept abreast of. I
also think it's one that sustainable agriculture folks should be
aware of, yet no one I'd talked to in my circles had heard of it;
that's why I posted it here on the SANET--to share and to learn. I
learned of Ciba's action from a Wisconsin farmer and former
agribusiness professional who is active in his local Farm Bureau as
well as interested in sustainable agriculture. He found it
interesting for the same reasons.
Bart, I think for the purposes of my posting it's beside the point
*how* some unnamed "activist groups" have operated in the past. I
wasn't talking about "truth" versus "lies." What I was reacting to
is using organizing tactics to protect market share for a product
whose niche is threatened. I'm not sure what activists you had in
mind, but I can't think of an example where activists rallied people
to protect their own large portion of a $200 million market share of
a specific product under review because scientists not allied with
those producing it suspected it of being a human carcinogen
threatening the health of the people being asked to protect the
product from regulation. Can you?
In my experience, activism is about serving people as they learn to
witness to their own needs...and perhaps I'm a throwback, but that
doesn't include using them to protect someone's profits. Farmers and
rural citizens *are* concerned about atrazine--they're concerned
because it's in *their* well water. And while I agree that
polarizing opinion to drive policy action is not always productive,
what concerns me is that *farmers* have been prominent in the
movement to have atrazine reviewed. Atrazine has been identified in
Wisconsin as the biggest groundwater problem related to ag chemicals,
and the #1 g/w problem in many rural communities. Insisting as Bart
does that activists are not good at listening to farmers is certainly
not true among the activist circles I work in. Listening to farmers
and rural citizens is a large part of what we do at CIAS, as well as
ATFFI. But maybe I don't understand what Bart meant by "activists."
I believe Bart and I--and Wisconsin farmers and weed scientists--
would all agree it's important to seek dialogue on these issues. This
is why, in January, CIAS sponsored an Integrated Weed Management
workshop in cooperation with UW-Madison's agronomy dept. We invited
farmers, policy makers, researchers, and others to a day and a half
of dialogue on what *they* consider the important issues in weed
management, and how the UW-Madison College of Ag. and Life Sciences
can construct the most effective research agenda around these issues.
I don't know if you'd call the weed scientists who turned out for
that workshop "activists" but they were certainly interested both in
listening to farmers and taking action on their behalf. The
consultation with these publics will be ongoing; contact me if you're
interested in what we're doing.
What farmers told us is that they don't necessarily trust chemical-
manufacturer-driven practices, but that a whole range of things make
it hard to reduce chemical use. They well know that there are
alternatives to atrazine, and while they may not know which are the
most effective or economically safe in their particular case or over
the long haul, nobody asked us for "respect" or "sensitivity." What
they asked us for was research that leads to long-term, proactive
approaches to weed management based on an understanding of weed
ecology, evolutionary biology, field natural history, and so forth,
as well as applying existing knowledge and refining current
systems/practices. Several farmers said exactly what E. Ann Clark
said today--Nature abhors a vacuum, and that holds for pests, too.
Doug Buhler of the ARS, our keynoter, pointed out that *any* tools
we have to control weeds offer serious challenges and potential
problems in the long haul, and alternatives are desperately
needed...that can only arise out of a broader view of weed
I didn't see Ciba proposing in its campaign to listen to farmers'
needs beyond those that mesh with the company's goal of protecting
its existing market share for atrazine and atrazine-containing
products. Nor proposing research on these longer-term issues. Nor
taking a broader view of weed management problems. What I see is
Ciba declaring that there aren't any adverse human health effects in
using atrazine (while simultaneously pointing out in this campaign
that one of atrazine's benefits is "reducing trips across the field"
therefore "reducing worker exposure"--I mean, if it isn't a hazard,
why is this a benefit?). The Wisconsin farmers who suspect otherwise
may not be considered the "data experts" Ciba considers itself--but
in my view, the cynicism Ciba betrays in this campaign is huge, and
that's what I was reacting to.
Finally, in reaction to Rob Kluson's observations, Rob, I agree--this
is a great educational opportunity. Heck, what isn't, when you put
your mind to it? ;^) That's part of why I posted here. But as we
are learning--witness the dissolution of /The New Farm/--often
dollars talk louder than sense in a society where information is a
commodity and market shares dictate its flow. No matter how clever
and resourceful we are at promoting the messages of sustainability,
these large-ticket information campaigns quickly impart irony to the
"free" in "free speech." In other words, sure---it'd be great if we
could get Ciba-Geigy's mailing list; but I don't expect that any of
us could afford the *postage* on that'un.
My question remains: how are different groups and individuals
reacting to Ciba's campaign? What kind of interest is it stirring
up locally in your area? What are your Farm Bureau farmers saying
about it? How do they feel about this campaign? How about the weed
scientists you know? How will each of you use Ciba's information
campaign in *your* communities to leverage more communication on
sustainable agriculture and an increasing awareness of how that
communication takes place?
I hope that dialogue on this issue will continue.
Thanks, all, for your thoughts.
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
Agricultural Technology and Family Farm Institute
UW-Madison--Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Bob Marley's 50th birthday--2/6/95. Babe Ruth's 100th.