Many years ago, I wanted out of a lease and felt my landlord shouldn't be unhappy because I'd lined up a new tenant so he wouldn't lose any rent. But as he told me, “It isn't always and only about the money.”
Truer words were never spoken, and they've certainly guided my life and career decisions.
Yet to hear the anti-GMO activists talk, it's always and only about the money. As in, anyone who speaks in favor of GMOs, and/or questions the antics of the anti-GMO crowd, is in the pay of the agrochemical industry.
Just yesterday, Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff used the comment section of Civil Beat to maliciously lodge that baseless claim against Dr. Harold Keyser, whowrites so eloquently and informatively about pesticides and GMOs. Harold is retired from the UH, and gets no money from industry. But he often corrects misinformation when he sees it, which makes him a threat — and thus a shill — to die-hard ideologues like Paul.
Councilman Gary Hooser often uses that accusation to try and discredit me, since he'd love to have me stop calling him on his bullshit. Just the other day, he left a comment on his Facebook campaign page — which falsely lists me as one of his supporters — referencing me as “a notorious local blogger who is paid by the industry and whose blog is rife with lies, rumor and innuendo.”
This was followed by the semi-literate Celeste Harvel bleeting: “well she is paid handsomely by filthy corporations! old saying she has sold her soul” — a comment that Gary liked.
In truth, I'm still in full possession of my soul. I don't get any money from the agrochemical industry, and no one pays me to write this blog. As I have publicly stated previously, I do write for the Cornell Alliance for Science, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and focuses on public sector biotech work. We get no money from industry, but sometimes our paths do cross, as in the case of the transgenic papaya. Though it was developed by public sector scientists from Cornell University and UH, it used some technology owned by Monsanto, which released the patent to keep seeds low-cost for farmers.
I began speaking up on behalf of the seed companies primarily because I was appalled at the way their employees were being treated by members of this community. It sickened me to hear ignorant people accusing the workers of poisoning their neighbors and the land. I recall letters to the editor from people saying they didn't even want to stand next to field workers in Waimea Big-Save for fear of being contaminated with poisons and GMOs.
The witch hunt mentality totally turned me off, and as I began looking into how the seed companies operated, and how GMOs actually function, I came to understand the depth and breadth of misinformation that has been willfully spread about both the technology and the industry's activities in Hawaii.
Though it's easy to rally folks against the chemical corporate bogeyman, these companies are staffed by real people with real feelings — many of them locals — who send their kids to the same schools and enjoy the same natural resources as anyone else. They have no interest in fouling their nest, even for a paycheck.
But invariably, they've been demonized and dismissed as lackeys, stooges, pawns of their employers or, worse, patronized as those poor ignorant brown folk:
Most recently, Gary and others have directed this enmity toward Sarah Styan and Gerardo Rojas, the two seed company employees who volunteered their time to serve on the Joint Fact Finding Group, but resigned due to concerns about the process:
Meanwhile an anonymous commenter enjoined: "They'll be rewarded handsomely for their loyalty."
It's apparently inconceivable to the antis that Sarah, Gerardo or any of us could be motivated by principles, values, a sense of justice, a love for the truth, a hatred for propaganda and fear-mongering. It's not always and only about money — even for the antis. Though I have documented that groups like HAPA, Center for Food Safety, Hawaii SEED and Earthjustice profit from fanning the flames around GMOs — most recently under the guise of pesticide protection — I'm sure that many in the rank and file are motivated by their own ideals, and not cash.
The ever-addled Felicia Cowden, who disseminates so much misinformation on KKCR, which has never reported accurately about GMOs, recently weighed in on the resignations and JFFG recommendations:
The implementation of these recommendations is likely to destroy the remaining profitability of these companies, thus the jobs of their employees. Their markets are drying up, as well. I get that the whole experience is difficult and demoralizing for the staff of these companies. My suggestion is to shift their business strategy to a more life-affirming method of growing plants. It can be done and would be welcomed by the world. They could be heroes. I encourage that transition. All of us would thrive as a team.
No, what's difficult and demoralizing is having people like Gary, Marghee, Fern and Felicia, none of whom know anything about agriculture, weigh in so heavily about what farmers should and shouldn't do.
Though their regulatory efforts are currently directed at the seed companies, we're already hearing calls for pesticide disclosure from the taro farmers, and soon other small farmers who cannot afford more regulations will be called to task for their operations — even when they are operating legally in agriculturally-zoned lands, as the seed companies are. These recommendations may seem benign on surface, or just desserts for those dirty, genocidal chem companies. But they have far-reaching implications for all farmers at a time when Hawaii ag is already on the ropes.
And while I like and respect Peter Adler, who facilitated the JFFG, I was concerned when I read this comment from him in today's paper:
Adler pointed out “much has already been accomplished,” by the preliminary draft. Monday, a house bill relating to the state agricultural budget included a $500,000 readjustment in the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s 2016-2017 budget.
The recommendation suggests the money, in general funds, be used to “address concerns related to pesticide use,” according to the bill. The funds would be used to increase pesticide regulations and to strengthen data collection, as well as establish new standards for chronic, low-level exposure to pesticides.
In my opinion, the facilitator shouldn't be invested in the outcome, or deliver judgments on the effect of the recommendations, particularly at the draft stage. It's his job to shepherd the group to create a factual, impartial report that the community can use to inform its next steps.
I'm quite certain Peter came into this project wanting to do the right thing for the community, and I know he's not motivated by the money. But I think he did underestimate the very low road that some people are willing to take to advance the anti-GMO platform, and thus themselves. Those of us on the front lines have been experiencing the ugliness of that dynamic for a few years now. As one commenter so astutely observed on yesterday's post:
Trying to work with social justice warriors on the new left is like trying to wash your hands with crap.
I'm still hoping Peter can pull a rabbit out of a hat and turn this process around so that it isn't totally co-opted by the likes of Hooser and Achitoff. Because many of us deeply care about our communities, and we don't want these folks to set the moral tone.
And no, we're not getting paid to say that. It isn't always, and only, about the money.