Several years ago when the anti-GMO issue started to surface, I realized that this is a new day and age for our local folks. The papaya farmers and others in the agricultural communities were under full attack. The folks that kept the lands green and productive were having their livelihoods threatened. The once respected occupation of farming was being barraged by misinformation. I decided to speak up on the fledgling social media outlets. No one was speaking for our farmers and I could not stand to see these attacks continuing.
Joni and Eric Cho, another local boy, are representing Hawaii in the Fellowship program, which has participants from around the world. I suspect she'll be writing frequently about her experiences at Cornell over the next few months as the leaves turn, the temps drop and her mind expands with all the new knowledge and experiences.
World famous scientists will be working directly with the Fellows, and I'll be at Cornell next week to broaden my own knowledge about biotech and interview some of these scientists. They include Steve Strauss, Kevin Folta and Alison Van Eenennaam, who agreed to participate with three Cornell scientists in an "Ask Me Anything About GMOs" open discussion initially planned for the GreenStar Co-op.
But anti-GMO activists geared up to kill the public debate. As the Alliance newsletter reports:
Soon, accusations and indictments came from literally all across the country, shutting down what is at the heart of democratic cooperation: the right of diverse voices to be heard.
Really? Now we can't even talk publicly about GMOs without whipping the antis into a frenzy?
Rather than cause any more pilikia for the GreenStar Co-Op, the Alliance voluntarily moved the event to the Unitarian Church, and the directors of the Co-Op and the Alliance released a joint statement:
GreenStar has always taken a strong, anti-GMO position. It is a member of the Non-GMO project, GMO products are characterized as “discouraged” in our stores, and we do not carry them if at all possible. GreenStar is concerned that the GM industry restricts access to its products by researchers and has compromised the science by doing so. The co-op supports GM labeling.
The Cornell Alliance for Science encourages evidence-based decision-making around discussions ranging from biotechnology to climate change. It promotes access to innovation to ensure that scientists have access to the tools needed to find innovative solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. The Alliance emphasizes the importance of choice—so that farmers and consumers globally can make their own decisions about what they want to grow and eat.
As organizations and as moderators, we do not agree about GMO’s and probably many other things as well, but we do both believe there is a lot that could have been gained from such a discussion promised by this event — especially in our cherished community that prides itself on tolerance, life-long learning, and on embracing diversity.
To which I will add, if we can't even talk these key issues civilly and openly, where are we as a society? If a group of misinformed, strident activists feels the need to silence and stifle a simple discussion, how, really, are they any different than the other political extremists who have caused, and continue to inflict, so much harm to society?
And that's what keeps me involved in this issue. It's too important to turn it over to the hardened ideologues who clamor for transparency from government and corporations, yet refuse to allow an open and honest debate to proceed in a college town.