Treating unsustainability: learning from addiction

Interesting thoughts as always from Joern Fischer and Ideas4Sustainability.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Unsustainability is bad. Humanity is screwing up big time – what was it thinking? Humanity must change its ways. So we set targets … and fail. Have you ever noticed how similar this is to people suffering from addiction? Can we learn by drawing a parallel between the successful treatment of addiction and the successful treatment of unsustainability?

Addictions, at their root, are habituated responses to emotional pain. Individuals learn that something about them is wrong or inadequate, and to feel better reach for some kind of “drug” or pattern. This makes them feel better temporarily – but typically results in spirals of pain and shame. Feeling pain and shame makes them feel worse, of course, and so reaching for more drugs becomes highly appealing… and so on. There are of course chemical dependencies with some drugs, too, but let’s just stick to the psychological spiral for…

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Guest Post by Doug Gurian-Sherman: “‘Food Evolution’ Documentary Supports GMOs, but Not Science, Part 2”

Guest Post by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman

Note: This article is the second part of a critical review of the widely-circulating documentary about GMOs titled “Food Evolution”. [See AgroEcoDoc’s take on the film, posted earlier on this blog, here.] The documentary is premised on the challenge of feeding an increasing population, and suggests that science shows that GMOs are clearly safe, have a lot to contribute to food security, and therefore should be developed. It is also premised on the claim that the film’s points are anchored in science, and therefore its conclusions should be accepted over those of activists and scientists who argue against GMOs. The two parts of this article attempt to show why many of the arguments advanced by the film are not just wrong, but the result of a biased examination of the evidence. Therefore, the film can be properly described, as it was by Marion Nestle of New York University, as pro-GMO propaganda.

In the first part of this article, I ended with a discussion about the unjustifiable and factually incorrect dismissal by Scott Kennedy, the film’s director, of the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) conclusion that glyphosate was a “probable” carcinogen. Presentation of this important cancer assessment should have been included in “Food Evolution”.

A comment by prominently featured pro-GMO scientist Allison van Eenennaam of University of California Davis, formerly with Monsanto, further reveals the bias of the film toward herbicide resistant crops. She dismisses, in part, the increasingly serious problem of glyphosate resistant weeds that developed due to use of the herbicide on engineered crops. She remarks that if glyphosate was not used, it would simply be replaced by older and more harmful herbicides.

This statement is sadly ironic, because the increasing use of older, harmful, herbicides is happening now on a continental scale on crops engineered to be immune to those herbicides, thanks to glyphosate resistant weeds and corporate approaches to weed control. However, these old herbicides are being used in addition to the massive use of glyphosate, not replacing it.

Monsanto and friends have introduced this next batch of GMO herbicide-resistant crops that are immune to some of the oldest herbicides like 2,4-D (developed in the `40s) and dicamba (developed in the `60s). These are particularly bad actors because of their unsurpassed propensity to move beyond the field they are applied to through volatilization as well as spray drift, and have already caused millions of acres of damage to soybeans and fruit and vegetable crops, leading some hard-hit states to restrict their use and weed scientists to vehemently complain. And these crops, if they are not banned or substantially restricted, are likely to lead to the use of unprecedented amounts of these older herbicides, as has occurred with glyphosate.

As with the IARC findings, the known and potential problems with these older herbicides mated to GMOs has been discussed for years by weed scientists. Most of the damage from these recently-introduced GMO crops occurred as the film was being released (this year), and thus the observations of damage from them were too late to be included. But it has been clear that the use of these older herbicides were already on their way several years ago, and had already started to be deployed and cause harm in 2016. Had Kennedy included weed scientists in his film in addition to pro-GMO crop scientists, this would likely have become apparent.

The industry bias of the film is further revealed when Monsanto’s Robert Fraley tries to minimize the importance of glyphosate-resistant weeds, remarking that only 12 weeds have developed resistance in the U.S. While technically true, this statement neglects to mention the outsized impact of these particular weeds. It is like saying that only two strains of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria behind Staph infections are responsible for most of such infections in the U.S.: it is not merely the number of resistant species that are a problem, but their extent, aggressiveness, and difficulty to control. In the case of glyphosate-resistant weeds, this extent had reached close to 50 percent of U.S. agriculture as of five years ago. The tremendous overreliance on glyphosate due to GMO crops has meant that these weeds have spread dramatically. And some of these resistant weeds, Palmer pigweed in particular, have been especially difficult to control, leading to a crisis in weed management. This in turn led to several national “weed summits” sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences. It has also contributed to the aforementioned dramatic increases in glyphosate use and the next generation of GMO crops resistant to 2,4-D and dicamba.

Harm to the Environment

Perhaps the most dramatic and visible impact on the environment associated with GMOs in the U.S. is the startling 90 percent reduction of monarch butterflies in the 20 years since the introduction of herbicide resistant corn and soybeans.

Monarch larvae (caterpillars) must have milkweed to feed on. But milkweed is more susceptible to glyphosate used with GMO crops than to previous herbicides. While milkweed usually was not prevalent enough to cause meaningful crop yield loss, the vast amount of land those crops occupied provided enough milkweed to support monarchs in the past.

Many of the most respected Monarch scientists have published numerous papers pointing to herbicide resistant crops and glyphosate as the main cause of monarch losses. Several other scientists have proposed another hypothesis based on supposed losses during migration. But given the substantial data in favor of glyphosate’s role, this issue should have been included in the film, even if qualified as being unsettled. In addition, several leading monarch research scientists found serious flaws in the data supporting the migration hypothesis  over the year prior to “Food Evolution”. These problems have become more clear in recent months, with additional data supporting reduction of milkweed due to glyphosate as the main cause of monarch loss.

More broadly, GMO crops have marked a continuation and intensification of industrial monoculture, which has major negative impacts on the climate, water pollution such as dead zones and toxic algae, reduction of biodiversity such as pollinators needed to produce our food, loss of soil fertility, and more. For example, the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”, caused primarily by nitrogen fertilizer use on corn, was the largest since measurements began in 1985, roughly the size of New Jersey. Companies and academic scientists have been saying for years that engineered crops that use less nitrogen fertilizer were just around the corner, but none have been commercialized.

In the U.S., genetically engineered seeds are part of the nexus of seed and chemical “packages” that have resulted in an increase in the amount of corn, our biggest crop, that is treated with dangerous insecticides. This increase has gone from about 30 percent of corn before engineered crops to about 90 percent of corn acres now. These neonicotinoid insecticides are linked to harm to bees and other pollinators, aquatic organisms, birds, and possibly people, and could be beneficially replaced with more ecological farming systems.

Although GE did not cause the use of neonic seed coatings, they did not prevent them, which challenges the film’s claim that Bt has reduced insecticide use in the U.S. by 10-fold. The volume of insecticide use has been reduced, a trend well under way nearly 10 years before Bt crops were introduced (see USDA, appendix figure 4.1). But as noted above, the acres of corn treated with neonic insecticide, which is associated with exposure risk, has increased dramatically. So has the toxicity to beneficial organisms like many pollinators, while they may be less harmful to people than previous insecticides. Especially given the films’ focus on the toxicity of glyphosate, rather than amount, the environmental toxicity of neonics should also have been given prominence. However, as with other substantial problems associated with or caused by GE crops, the use of neonics is not mentioned.

It is not enough for a new technology that has been touted as improving the environment to maintain, let alone intensify, unsustainable and globally destructive harm caused by industrial agriculture. Genetic engineering is only one contributor to the continuing intensification of industrial agriculture, but as the subject of the film, the failure of GMOs to improve the global environmental impact of agriculture in any meaningful way should have been addressed.

Although these are complicated issues, they are crucially important. That none were tackled is yet another example of how “Food Evolution” told an excessively one-sided and highly inaccurate story about GMOs.

Unsupportable Attack on Organic Farming

Food Evolution includes an inaccurately disparaging analysis of organic farming. This discussion culminates in Mark Lynas (who is not a scientist) claiming that if we relied on organic farming for global food security, we would have to use two or three times as much land to grow our food as we do now.

First, this claim is wildly inaccurate. The best recent research has shown that when organic is coupled with several ecologically sound farming practices, it is only about 8 or 9 percent less productive than industrial agriculture, not 50 or 60 percent less productive as Lynas claims. Even those critical of organic have typically claimed that it is 20 or 30 percent less productive.  Importantly, lower organic productivity occurs with organic agriculture receiving only a few percent of the research resources of industrial agriculture. A film that touts science and the ability of science research to improve agriculture should recognize that if this gross disparity is remedied, organic productivity might well be on par with, or more productive, than industrial agriculture.

And Lynas’s argument neglects using ecological science to improve agricultural resilience to climate change, reduce environmental impact, and increase productivity. Agroecological methods have been shown to greatly improve these measures compared to industrial agriculture, and have been profitable even for large farms. For a film ostensibly concerned about science, this is another grave oversight.

Lynas’ point is also uninformed regarding the ecological science and economics of preserving biodiversity. His remarks about area needed for crop production imply simplistic relationships between crop yield and biodiversity preservation. But ecological science has shown that when the impact of farm fields is accounted for, regions using organic or similar farming methods are often better for biodiversity than wild areas embedded in industrial agriculture. This due to the need for organisms to migrate across landscapes that include agricultural areas. The older idea of intensifying agriculture to “spare land” as the predominant means of preserving biodiversity that is behind Lynas’ claims have been challenged by newer science. Lynas also neglects the economic realities of Jevon’s paradox: as agriculture becomes more efficient and profitable, it often encourages more destruction rather than conserving wild lands, unless there are adequate policies in place—which is often not the case.

Finally, the idea that production is tightly tied to food security has long been challenged, for example by the work of Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen, and many others since. Poverty and political disempowerment are and have been the cause of food insecurity rather than insufficient food abundance, and there is nothing to suggest that a technology focused on livestock feed and biofuels such as patented GMO corn and soybeans will work to the benefit of the poor. That is one reason why large farmer organizations such as La Vía Campesina fight for food sovereignty and are highly skeptical of GMOs.

The film also spends an inordinate amount of time trying to discredit Charles Benbrook, an agricultural economist who has published important and respected peer-reviewed research on GMO crops as well as organic farming. Benbrook is used as a surrogate to raise questions about the integrity of organic research. Although he is only one of many organic researchers, he alone is included in “Food Evolution”. He is criticized for receiving funding for his research from the organic industry, although he has usually disclosed funding sources on his web sites, a practice of openness that is not necessarily the norm for pro-GMO scientists.

In fact, the much more extensive and questionable industry funding of pro-GMO research and scientists went completely unmentioned in the film. For example, a New York Times article named several pro-GMO scientists who received industry money and worked closely with GMO companies behind the scenes, compared to only Benbrook on the organic side of the ledger. And the GMO scientists actively tried to hide, and thereby green-wash their industry connections and influence. It is not inappropriate to mention Benbrook’s organic industry funding. But it is highly hypocritical to exclude the influence of the GMO industry on agriculture research.

Unrelenting Bias

Had Food Evolution biased its coverage on one or two of the issues I raised in these articles, it might be chalked up to mistakes or preference. Much of the science raised here is complex and not completely settled. But lack of complete resolution is the rule rather than the exception for complex research and social issues. If these topics are going to be covered at all, this complexity cannot be avoided. Rather, the film is unremitting in presenting perspectives favorable to GMOs at every turn, through error or omission, even where the majority of the science contradicts the film’s perspectives.

It emphasizes “minor” GMOs at the near exclusion of those planted on 99 percent of acreage, and it is unjustifiably one-sided on the risks of the most widely used, and GMO-driven, pesticide in the world. It excludes mention of an important carcinogenicity assessment of glyphosate based on incorrect evaluation of the responsible agency by the film’s director. It misrepresents the use of insecticides on major GMO crops and ignores harm to monarch butterflies. It misrepresents organic farming and GMO industry influence on research and media by never mentioning the much larger influence of the GMO industry over scientists. It favors the anecdotal opinion of a few pro-GMO farmers over the concerns of large farmers organizations in the developing world that are troubled by GMOs. It ignores the most prestigious U.S. science body’s assessment that GMOs are just one of several possible means of assuring food security. And it ignores the role of GMOs in globally harmful industrial agriculture. The film excludes the substantial peer-reviewed science on these topics that are not favorable to GMOs, and includes almost exclusively perspectives or research that supports the safety and value of GMOs, including by major representatives of the GMO industry.

In the end, the film is a mockery of science. Acceptance of such propaganda as science will only serve to raise questions about the credibility of the endeavor of science itself unless recognized and identified for what it really is.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, is an Independent Consultant with Strategic Trainings and Expansion. Previously, he was Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist for the Center for Food Safety. Prior to that, he was Senior Scientist in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He also worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where he was responsible for assessing human health and environmental risks from transgenic plants and microorganisms and developing biotechnology policy. He is a widely cited expert on biotechnology and genetically engineered food, and is working to build transitions from industrial agriculture to food systems based on agroecology, food sovereignty and food justice.

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The World Economic Forum and the return of growth fairy tale

More fascinating (if several years old!) thoughts from Graziano Ceddia, this time on GDP, energy use, and the (lack of) energetic decoupling in the world!

ecology, politics & economics


Recently the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, came to a conclusion. My attention was caught by the mildly positive statements of some of his most notorious participants. So, for example, while Christine Lagarde (head of the International Monetary Fund) declared that economic growth and job creation will remain fragile, Angela Merkel (together with other EU leaders) expressed more confidence in economic recovery. Cautious optimism on the return of economic growth is also expressed in the event formal report. Since, in my modest opinion, seldom has the public at large had the opportunity to understand what the real reasons of the current economic crisis are (except for the reference to the infamous American sub-prime bubble), I will do my best to point them out. The thesis I plan to expose and defend is the following: the current crisis is not primarily a financial one, but…

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Energy, complexity and…direct democracy?

Wow! Interesting to see some thoughts along the lines of some of my unfinished papers expressed here. This post below speaks of direct democracy, civilizational collapse (referencing Joseph Tainter, whose work has significantly influenced my thoughts on world ecology), and energy use/intensity. This is exactly along lines I’ve been thinking for a while, but have not gotten around to writing. Good to see the idea is shared by others; it would be good to reach out to Ceddia to discuss this, but I’m not sure when I’ll find the time. In the meantime, read below!

ecology, politics & economics

Direct Democracy

One Italian politician, Nichi Vendola, allegedly claimed that “politics is the art of managing complexity“. Today this statement raises at least two questions: what is politics and what is complexity. Without going back to Aristotle, I think that the standard idea of politics to most people is that of representative democracy. Yet over the last few years there seems to be an increasing dissatisfaction with this form of democracy. The dissatisfaction with representative democracy (as the statistics on participation to voting in most countries show), has perhaps accelerated because of the economic crisis, but stems from the fact that ordinary citizens seem to have lost their faith in the ability of the elected representatives (the politicians) to act principally (if not exclusively) in the common interest. The problem of “regulatory capture”, whereby powerful lobbies attempt to influence legislation in their favor, is one example of such a failure. It…

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NEW PAPER: From synergies to trade-offs in food security and biodiversity conservation

Some fascinating and important work from my colleagues at Leuphana University, led by Jan Hanspach. An immensely important read!

Ideas for Sustainability


Some time ago, we had invited to participate in a survey on food security and biodiversity conservation on this blog. After some months of data analysis, write-up, rejections and revisions, we now we can announce that the main findings from this survey have been finally published. The paper went online just a few days ago on the journal website and will be published the November issue of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 

And here are the key findings shortly summarized:

(1) When comparing between landscapes we did not find a clear trade-off between food security and biodiversity.

(2) Synergies in food security and biodiversity were related to situations with equitable land access and high social and human capital. Food security was also high when market access was good and financial capital high, but that was linked to poor biodiversity outcomes.

(3) For the future, most experts expected…

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Empathy: The cutting edge of sustainability science?

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

By Rebecca Freeth

I’ve been interested in the Resilience Alliance for many years. I’ve been impressed by the coherence of their conceptual work. This has been a luminous example of natural and social scientists meaningfully bringing their work together. When I travelled from South Africa to Germany in late 2015 to take up my PhD post at Leuphana, my suitcase proved to be many kilograms overweight. I reluctantly extracted one book after the next. But Panarchy stayed in my suitcase.

Since arriving here, and taking up my role as a formative accompanying (FAR) researcher in the team , I’ve stumbled across the work of John Parker and Ed Hackett. They have done a fascinating job of tracking the Resilience Alliance, particularly during the ‘island time’ years. In fact Parker and Hackett’s work is not dissimilar to mine here with Leverage Points, although they are outsiders whereas I am in the…

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Paper recommendation: Local food sovereignty for global food security

An important and useful analysis from (not yet once but hopefully future co-author) Julia Leventon, and Josefine Laudan, that could help food sovereignty continue to move forward and evolve!

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

I’d like to recommend a new paper by my colleagues Julia Leventon and Josefine Laudan.

Leventon, J. and Laudan, J. (2017). Local food sovereignty for global food security? Highlighting interplay challenges. Geoforum 85, 23-26. (LINK)

In a nutshell, the paper addresses some largely under-recognised challenges related to food sovereignty. For example, if every location or community is sovereign, then might it not be possible that one locality negatively influences another? And how does the focus on “local” sovereignty relate to national initiatives? Can a series of local initiatives be meaningfully scaled up to nations? And then, might it not be possible that different nations affect one another negatively through their strategies of national sovereignty?

These kinds of questions are tricky, and to some (me included) it feels that the food sovereignty narrative has avoided them a bit to date.

Julia and Josefine, in their new…

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More on the importance of empathy & reciprocity for scientists who want to have real impact

A momentary break from all things #BTEHbook (Buy My Book!) to quote this excerpt from Rantala et al., “How to Earn the Status of Honest Broker? Scientists’ Roles Facilitating the Political Water Supply Decision-Making Process” (2017):

We found trust building as a key to achieve the credible position in the eyes of the stakeholders, but achieving the trust was not self-evident and in the beginning our credibility was constantly contested. One of the key observations was that achieving trust partly resulted from careful listening, empathy, and reciprocal relationships. For example, by letting the involved actors speak freely without interruption, showing understanding for their concerns and values, and creating an atmosphere with a low threshold to communication, we contributed to people’s need to be heard and to interpersonal trust by deeply understanding their views. “First time someone is actually listening to us,” said one politician living close to one aquifer. Yet most of the interviewed politicians found it easier to describe when they did not experience trust, for example, when someone was too self-opinionated or not listening—including situations with us. Reciprocity resulted from planning before meetings on how to motivate politicians to participate and share information, and what we could offer to them in return, for example, “tailored” information or showing appreciation for their knowledge and experience.

Another lesson learned was that the trust-based relationships were keys to expand two-way knowledge flows. Thus, when politicians and stakeholders felt more comfortable to contact us—and not just “bothering” us, as one politician said—they were asking a wide range of questions about water supply planning, instead of relying only on information provided by city authorities or other politicians. Conversely, contacting key actors regularly via e-mails or phone calls was a useful way of keeping the interaction channels open and hearing the latest political discussions. Furthermore, we were even invited to participate in city board and city council meetings to answer questions.

You may or may not be reminded of my 2016 blog post, “Deep Thought (on the moral/utilitarian relevance of strong reciprocity)“. But basically, this. Further, what Rantala et al. experienced (of course) need not be limited to interactions with politicians. I’d rather wager it applies a bit more broadly, as well.

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Is the movie Food Evolution propaganda? Yes. But wait, there’s more.


Used under Creative Commons License from Michelle Foocault (

Last month, I was one of the signers of an open letter about the movie Food Evolution, and how it was not an adequate representation of the debates around GM (Genetically-Modified) crops. And boy has that letter provoked a reaction! A number of the signers have received emails and been the objects of critique on social media and blogs, among other things, challenging our use of the word “propaganda” to describe the film. UC Berkeley economist David Zilberman’s take was representative of the responses:

I looked up the definition [of propaganda] in the Oxford dictionary, and it is “[i]nformation, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

Based on my knowledge, the movie doesn’t present false or biased information.

I don’t want to get into a battle of pedantry, too late though it may be, but “bias” is defined as “Unfairly prejudiced for or against someone or something.” Another way of considering bias is whether or not selective use of evidence is made–that is, whether the strongest counter-arguments of alternative viewpoints are addressed, and whether appropriate context is given for evidence and quotations. Yet, as our letter stated,

Some folks, like Wise [an economist] and Naylor [an Iowa farmer and former president of the National Family Farm Coalition] — known for incisive critiques of GM crops, price-fixing, and corporate consolidation of agriculture — were not included in the film after they learned that the filmmaker had misrepresented its editorial focus and funding, and Wise withdrew his consent to be in the film.

Marion Nestle, noted NYU professor of nutrition, author, and blogger, had this to say of her interview for the film:

I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film.  The director refuses.  He believes his film is fair and balanced.  I do not.

I am often interviewed (see Media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context.  This film is one of those rare exceptions. [emphasis added–Agroecoprof]

In my 10-second clip, I say that I am unaware of convincing evidence that eating GM foods is unsafe—this is what I said, but it is hugely out of context.

Safety is the industry’s talking point.  In the view of the GMO industry and this film, if GMOs are safe, they ought to be fully acceptable and nothing else is relevant.

I disagree.  I think there are plenty of issues about GMOs in addition to safety that deserve thoughtful consideration:  monoculture; the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and climate change; the possible carcinogenicity of glyphosate (Roundup); this herbicide’s well documented induction of weed resistance; and the how aggressively this industry protects its self-interest and attacks critics, as this film demonstrates.

Food Evolution focuses exclusively on the safety of GMOs; it dismisses environmental issues out of hand.

No documentary is perfect, and all are selective. Interviews with GMO boosters were certainly edited as well (you can’t include everything you tape), and some were also left wholly on the editing-room floor. But it is notable that, as far as I can tell, only those critical of GMOs who were interviewed had their quotes taken out of context, or felt that their actual views were not appropriately represented.

To some extent, bias and propaganda are inevitably in the eye of the beholder. But insofar as the movie purports to be a scientifically accurate look at the questions at hand, it is problematic that noted and reputable commentators such as Nestle, Wise, and Naylor (as well as Michael Pollan) felt that the movie was not an adequate representation of their views. And the signers of the letter have appropriate backgrounds to comment, from Nestle herself (who has degrees in bacteriology, molecular biology, and public health nutrition), to farmer George Naylor and agricultural economist Tim Wise, to a number of ecologists and agroecologists, and other researchers with backgrounds in molecular biology, plant pathology, agronomy, and biological control (including World Food Prize Winner Hans Herren).

Critiques of the letter have unfairly singled out my friend and colleague, UC Berkeley PhD candidate Maywa Montenegro, who herself has degrees in molecular biology and science writing from Williams College and MIT. Her nuanced views on biotechnology are readily available across several publications, and hardly come down to blanket opposition, but rather, concerned critique and a scientifically-grounded skepticism (which I share) about the need for and contributions of GMOs.

But as anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone has noted, it is overwhelmingly difficult to occupy a space of nuance in the conversations around GMOs. Stone is no blanket opponent for GMOs, either, with critiques of both GM promoters and opponents, and he believes that there are potentially beneficial uses for the relevant technologies. Yet in a recently published piece, his general argument aligns with the critique of Food Evolution as propagandistic boosterism of GMOs; unbalanced pro-GMO rhetoric from scientists in this area is not at all uncommon, he points out:

The GMO controversy is quite different from—indeed, in many ways the opposite of—the climate debate, and the nature of scientists’ Mertonian transgressions is distinctive. Far from lacking media savvy, several of the basic scientists most active as GMO interlocutors regularly huddle with Monsanto executives and public relations operatives to craft messages, formulate strategy, and receive funding for “outreach” (Lipton 2015). And where climate scientists were guilty of inattentive self-policing, interlocuting GMO scientists engage in selective hyperpolicing: they not only avoid criticism of pro-GMO findings, but reflexively attack unfavorable published findings, often through vicious extracurricular charges of misconduct and incompetence (Waltz 2009). Merton’s “organized skepticism” is not simply transgressed, but caricatured: the “organized” part is elevated to a frenetic din of blogs, retweets, editorials, and petitions, while the “skepticism” part is replaced by brazen boosterism and motivated thinking (Stone 2013).

We need basic bioscientists as honest brokers, but we have lost them.

A number of us are working on a paper putting forth a positive vision of how crop breeding (including biotechnology) might be evaluated and developed in ways that align with our values of inclusivity, biocultural diversity, free, prior, and informed consent, sustainability, food sovereignty, and agroecology.

In the meantime, I also refer you to Alastair Iles’s excellent recent blog post on Food Evolution, available at the UC Berkeley blog, and Alex Swerdloff’s Vice article, some of the most conscientious media coverage thus far, where he interviews some of my co-authors of the critical 45 letter as well as the director of Food Evolution. Swerdloff’s attempt to really hear all sides is a move of honest broker-ship in the direction that Stone advocates, and is the kind of approach that might truly allow us to move the conversation forward beyond simplistic arguments “pro” or “con.”

And above all, we should remember that not all approaches to a problem are equally valuable; that science, and technology, are not just “biotechnology”–agroecology, for example, is a growing and modern scientific field, body of practices, and movement; and that ending hunger will require much more from us than producing more or boosterism for specific technologies.

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Red Earth, brought to you by #BTEHbook Friday

Busy times here at #BTEHbook central, mostly catching up from my first vacation in a quite a while, which consisted of an enjoyable time hosting my parents around my new(ish) digs in Britain.

So this week I bring you a re-post of an excellent bit of writing from political phylogeographer Rob Wallace, from his blog Farming Pathogens. Rob’s incisive critical and literary sensibilities, and friendship, were of immense help while I wrote Beginning to End Hunger. Check out his post below on the problem of capitalism, industrial food, and the environment.

Similarly, as you will see in BTEH, there is no ending hunger without fundamentally challenging, resisting, and changing the capitalist institutions dominating so much of our lives. But I also propose that, as we can see from the many examples like Belo Horizonte, there’s every reason to think we can move further down this emancipatory road. But it will require, as Frances Moore Lappé points out in the preface to my book, “a willingness to try on new glasses and to embrace the joy of gaining clarity on one’s next step, letting go of any certainties beyond.”

So I hope you enjoy today’s uncertain but insightful peak farther down the path, care of a brief perch on Rob’s Brobdingnagian shoulders.

Farming Pathogens

Red Earth 4They lived like monkeys still, while their new god powers lay around them in the weeds. ― Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars

For a column to be published on Earth Day, the day of the March for Science, a reporter asked me three questions: Why are capitalism and environmentalism inherently incompatible? Why is industrial farming harmful to the environment? And why are corporate sustainability and carbon footprint reduction programs so often a farce?

Drawing from previous essays, the newly emergent ecological Marx, both sides of the John Bellamy Foster and Jason Moore debate, and the clash over environmental destruction under pre-capitalist formations, I answered all three together in what follows, parts of which the columnist may excerpt.

Capitalism is fundamentally different from any other social organization in human history. There is the matter of scale, of course. The environmental destruction arising from the system’s mode of production is now global…

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