That Old-Time (Anti-Modern Agriculture) Religion

That Old-Time (Anti-Modern Agriculture) Religion

When I was growing up, my parents always warned me against discussing religion when meeting new people. “Religious views are based on long-held beliefs, and you won’t be able to change them,” they advised. The trouble is, in today’s world, many different beliefs have morphed into their own kinds of religion, including in modern agriculture.

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To see this phenomenon at work, consider the recent “beliefs” on display during this fall’s election. Many voters strongly identified themselves with either the Republican or Democratic parties to the point of viewing each as their “religious” duty to support, no matter what. In fact, in many cases party affiliation outranked personal character in the same fashion that a religious affiliation might outweigh other considerations.

The reason I bring up this example, citing politics and its religious overtones, is that both of these trends seem to be working full force in the world of modern agriculture. Historically, both of these areas have been used by opponents of modern agricultural practices/products to stifle market growth and question the long-term safety of new innovations, such as biotech crops and gene editing. It’s no accident that anti-ag forces have long referred to one of the industry’s largest crop protection/seed producers as “Monsatan.”

For a clearer example of this religious furor on display, consider the recent court case in California involving glyphosate and cancer. In July a jury ruled in favor of a groundskeeper who had claimed that using glyphosate gave him non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, awarding him $289 million in damages. Although Bayer/Monsanto presented evidence using science to refute this claim, the jury sided with the prosecution, perhaps swayed by the preacher-like argument that “it is your duty to award a big damage figure in this case because champagne is on ice in Monsanto’s offices and ready to pop if you don’t.” Ultimately, the judge in the case ruled that this award seemed “excessive” and reduced it to $78 million but still let it stand.

And make no mistake — now that the anti-modern agriculture forces have this “win” under their belts, their religion is likely to find new converts. Religion has long been effective in spreading its message in the face of scientific facts that the average person might not fully understand. The majority of proponents of modern agriculture have thus far seemed unconvinced to take this route when “preaching” the benefits of their practices to the general public. Many still simply say that “the science is on our side” and leave it at that.

But this needs to change. Instead of continually pointing to the science and facts to support its views, modern agriculture should work on reminding consumers that without allowing the industry to expand its ability to produce more crops through new technologies and farming techniques, their families might end up without enough food to eat in the future.

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John says:

Monsanto lost because they failed to make a compelling argument to the jury, regardless of whether the facts ultimately support their position. Like it or not, facts and logic (including “scientific evidence”) are only a part of the overall case (in any legal case, not just this one). And that is especially true when there is legitimate debate over the validity of the scientific evidence, as there was here…

Terry Sellers says:

John, you may be correct that Monsanto failed to convince the jury. But that doesn’t necessarily settle the debate or prove anything. Just because the jury was not convinced, does not mean there was a cause and effect. So, to imply Monsanto lost because they were guilty, is giving the jury way too much credit for being totally unbiased and educated with real facts. I will agree that I don’t know the absolute truth either. But, I do know that we do not live in a world where we can avoid all risks or should if we enjoy and expect the rewards for taking risks.

John says:

Hi Terry – you’re absolutely right. Failing to convince the jury doesn’t correlate directly to guilt or innocence, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. My point was simply that the article seems to propose that Monsanto lost solely because of some religio-emotive fervor exhibited by the plaintiffs. That argument would seem to lead to the conclusion that Monsanto (and by extension anyone who agrees with their position) is a victim of the gullible unwashed masses who have bought into the FUD arguments of the anti-GMO / anti-chem crowd. Playing the victim is a pretty disingenuous position for Monsanto to take, considering that they have access to virtually unlimited resources to both improve the safety of their products (should always be a goal and a priority) and to actually engage the global public in a constructive and transparent dialog on the future of the world’s food supply, rather than just assuming that everyone will accept GMO and other new technologies because someone says it’s the only way.

I think it’s very interesting that farmers, individually, (in my experience) are pretty universally skeptical of Monsanto’s motivations, goals, business practices, etc. But collectively, modern agriculture puts forward a supportive public face. There must be some interesting dynamics at play…

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