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An Open Letter to Andrew Revkin:

You and Nina Federoff and all of the rest of the uncritical cheerleaders of the biotech industry have a real credibility problem.  It's root is arrogance.

In your New York Times piece, "From Lynas to Pollan, Agreement that Golden Rice Trials Should Proceed," you decried the group of people who destroyed a GMO test plot in the Phillipines.  You stated that if anyone wanted to have a "shred of reality" in this conversation, they needed to read, "The True Story About Who Destroyed a Genetically Modified Rice Crop," by Mark Lynas.  I did, and I am unmoved.  The crown jewel of this article appears to be the argument that the Filopino people who destoyed the test plot were not farmers, and that some of them had "dyed hair."  

To that I offer this outraged response:  It does not matter whether the destroyers were farmers or not!  The premise of this article seems to be that only "farmers" have the right to participate in this conversation.  No--the premise of your article and so many others is that YOU (and Federer, and maybe a few others) get to decide who has the right to participate in this conversation about the world's food supply.  How dare you.

Everyone--yes, yes, even the young people with "dyed hair" have the right to decide (in their own country, no less) what food is grown, how it is grown, how it is marketed and distributed and whether they and their children will eat it.  Your arrogance is astonishing.

What you neglected to investigate was why the "activists" destroyed the crop.  You reported a number of assumptions based on their supposed affiliations, but you did not investigate.  I suspect that they destoyed the test plot because they had no other meaningful way to participate in the debate about this GMO rice strain in the Phillipines.  I suspect that there--as here--American dollars buy the participation right out from under them.  Even if these people are completely in the wrong about this particular project, they have the right to participate, and the project proponents must engage and explain themselves before beginning a project involving free floating GMO rice pollen in a rice growing region.    

If you want to have any shred of credibility at all, you need to acknowledge the overwhelming harm the biotechnology industry (yes, with a good hearted scientist at every test tube) has unleashed upon this world in the form of untold tons of soil killing toxic chemicals spread over vast portions of our (OUR!) arable land, the destruction of pollinator populations, the very real and demonstrated health consequences of GMO corn and soy about which the biotech industry repeatedly lies, the loss of biodiversity, the monopolization of seed stock, the political oppression of anyone who wants to participate in this conversation who is not industry approved, the estimated 270,000 suicides of farmers in India, and so on--and then, only then may you explain to us how this project is different.  Unless and until you can do that, you will have a credibility problem.  

Unless and until you can acknowledge that everyone on this planet has the right to participate in a conversation about something so fundamental as our food supply and our environment and our own human health, you will have a credibility problem.  So long as biotech boosters and their rich funders strut around the globe, thinking that they alone have the answers and that they alone are qualified to make these decisions for millions of people, you will have a credibility problem.  

Yes, Michael Pollan agrees that the GMO Golden Rice trials should proceed.  I assume he means that they should proceed providing that the researchers are carefully preventing their GMO rice from interbreeding with local strains during the trial process.  I assume that means he is awaiting the results from those trials before forming any opinions.  And I assume he means that this is just his opinion, his advice;  that the Phillipine people should decide--preferably free from biotech financial influence--what is grown in their country.

The deaths of children from malnutrition lie at the very ornate doors of the one percent who are currently hoarding over a trillion life saving dollars.  We could improve soil and local seed stock, improve local livestock breeds and distribute them, educate farmers about sustainable (are you aware of the looming phosphate crisis?) farming practices using green and brown manures, swales, and interplanting etc., educate every child, improve child and maternal health and more all over the third world with that money. These are the kinds of things people in poor countries ask for.  Instead the CEOs at the biotech corporations prefer to turn a profit on the backs of poor farmers and buy our politicians.  

This is not an easy fix and what we don't need is a small bunch of arrogant first world cowboys running roughshod over the rest of us.  What we do need is everyone to contribute and to be a part of the solution.  Together.

Originally posted to A.Z. Zehava on Tue Sep 03, 2013 at 04:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Science Matters.

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