Biotech Crops: Fighting Fear Fanatics

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And the battle rages on. Not too many months ago (in February, to be exact), I wrote a column where I described how I believed the anti-biotech crop fight was beginning to turn in the pro camp’s favor. For evidence of this turn, I cited the defeat of California’s biotech crop labeling proposal (Proposition 37) by popular vote, the acceptance of biotech cotton among Chinese growers and long-time critic Mark Lyons’ about face on the issue of biotech crop use.

“Maybe now, agriculture can go back to doing what it does best — feeding a growing world population instead of consistently fighting irrational fears,” I said back then.

But I apparently spoke too soon. Since that time, there has a been a host of negative biotech crop news, much of it gleefully touted by the anti-biotech camp. This included the discovery of biotech wheat in a single Oregon wheat field (which is still an unsolved mystery, according to USDA researchers), the burning of biotech crop test fields in the U.S. and overseas and the announcement that Monsanto intended to drop its requests to grow new biotech crops in the European Union “due to the lack of commercial prospects there.”

Accompanying each of these stories online have been comments from readers. On most, anti-biotech have outnumbered those by industry defenders by a wide margin. Worse still, many of these have reiterated the often repeated claim that “large agricultural profiteers are trying to poison unsuspecting regular folks with unproven (or unholy) products.”

How did this latest negative wave of biotech crop stories come about? In a word, the pro-biotech crop camp relaxed. With the battle wins in California and China under its belt, the biotech crop industry went back to putting out reports on the scientific safety of their products.

This misses the point, however, of today’s biotech crop debate. Because biotech crop supporters can cite volumes of information on the scientific safety of biotech crops, the anti camp has largely bypassed this argument. Instead, they have engaged in a focused campaign aimed at raising fear and misinformation among the masses. Of course, this ties into a person’s basic survival instinct to avoid anything that seems like it might be a threat to their or their family’s well-being.

[Poll: Do you think the amount of fear and misinformation raised by anti-biotech activists is at an all-time high?]

As one reader pointed out, there are four groups in the biotech crop debate — the informed, the uninformed, the casually informed and the highly organized/committed anti-activists.

Trying to reach this last group is virtually impossible. To them, fighting against the spread of biotech crops is akin to a religious view. And the informed know. Instead, getting the true facts on biotech crops out to the uninformed and casually informed while addressing their fears will be the key to ultimately winning this fight.

To paraphrase Franklin D. Roose­velt: “The only thing we have to fear is highly organized/committed anti-biotech crop activists themselves.”

Sfiligoj is the Editor for both CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines. He travels regularly to cover industry events and has been dedicated to the ag retail industry since he joined the staff in 2000.
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3 comments on “Biotech Crops: Fighting Fear Fanatics

  1. Rick Mason

    When the facts don't support your cause then make a fear based argument. Works with some people every single time that it is tried.

  2. Theresa Lam

    Fears can be well justified. It's not like fighting someone with a religious view. It fighting against scientists who care about our future generations, farmers and the environment. Safety of consuming genetically engineered organisms is just a small part of the many issues of ge organisms. Just take a look in the Aug 29th issue. What's the purpose of Bt corn? http://tinyurl.com/k7ftrwm Also you did not paraphrase FDR, you completely changed his quote.

  3. Brent Hill

    This article was done in a vacuum. You speak of the "Fear Fanatics" not leaving agriculture. Has much of the complaints not come from farmers in the US, Canada, India and the rest of the world? When one of these parasitic mercantile corporations actually managed to patent natural broccoli through the EU parliament, how is it okay to defend a group which not only wants to control the world's food supply through patents, but also what you grow in your garden, and what an organic farmer (who has nothing to do with the biotech industry) grows and sells? Do you have any proof that the poisons which the chemical companies pump out is safe? What relevance do chemical companies have to agriculture, other than the sale of pesticides and genetically modifying food to contain pesticides? Where does safety come in when the only aim is profit of pesticides through the poisoning of food, or did the "Fear Fanatics" not specify the process of genetic modification enough yet?