Organic food has managed to wrap itself in both a health and ethical halo and a lot of the credit for that has to go to outstanding marketing and the work of trade groups that represent organic farmers. They have turned what was once a niche market focused on a different process into a $100 billion juggernaut where mothers chide other mothers as bad parents if they don't buy organic.
That will be taught in business classes for decades.
But while organic shoppers and some farmers can just gaze at the end result and be happy, science and health media has to witness the dark money underbelly of how organic groups gained that market share: Misrepresentation, bullying, libel and a well-organized hate machine that leads to physical threats and wars on universities who don't cave in.
Scientists didn't sign up for that and they are not taught to be prepared for it. Schools actually do a good job defending against it but the personal toll is still tremendous.
Would organic farmers, much less customers, be happy knowing this is how their money is spent?
The most notable recent example of that well-funded dark underbelly at work is the plight of Professor Kevin Folta of the University of Florida, arguably one of the premiere communicators on the science of agriculture in America today. The anti-GMO group U.S. Right To Know, funded perhaps exclusively by Organic Consumers Association(1), did a Freedom of Information Act request and made a big deal out of the fact that the agriculture company Monsanto donated $25,000 to the university to cover outreach expenses - the implication was that it was somehow a sign that he was a shill rather than a scientist. I've been on panels with Folta, he is a passionate guy about food, and he never changed anything about the science or his beliefs, certainly not due to a relative pittance that covered travel expenses to do outreach.
Honestly, at the American Council on Science and Health, which I run, we were baffled at the fact that this was successfully transformed into an issue at all. Organic corporations have spent millions trying to get their competition banned and labeled and $25,000 was such a small amount of money we considered just doing a fundraiser and cutting Monsanto a check in the university's name, but we decided it might look a little too much like the kind of PR stunt environmental groups do, and Folta was faced with a serious issue so we didn't pursue it (Disclosure: Monsanto gave a small unrestricted grant to the Council in March of 2015).
Crackpot sites like Natural News and Joe Mercola, along with magazines like Mother Jones, have been gleeful in calling Folta unethical and working their audience into a dangerous rage about him, but the fact that people on the anti-science side, like the economist Chuck Benbrook, have gotten millions of dollars from corporations by laundering it through trade groups has gone relatively unnoticed. Instead, their war on science has geared up even more.
Why do organic shoppers support that kind of behavior?
Organic food - sold by bullying, libel and threats from lawyers
It isn't just people who might have a connection to Monsanto that are victims. When I even mentioned the role of the partisan attack group SourceWatch in this anti-science war, their Executive Director, Lisa Graves, who also happens to help run U.S. Right To Know, immediately pulled out her "I'm a lawyer" card and threatened to sue me - but not before libeling me on social media.
Yet what I wrote was absolutely true while hers was fabricated (Disclosure: Though that fraud business is as imaginary as her knowledge of science I did have my first speeding ticket five years ago.) Though she objects to being called a lobbyist, the lobbying expenses are right in their form 990 and she has never disclosed where over $500,000 in "dark money" (in just one year!) came from - she claims not to know and has no interest in knowing, but also claims it made no difference in what her group writes.
In other words, she got 20X as much money (in just one donation) as the University of Florida but says Folta was corrupted and she is not. And Gary Ruskin, who runs US Right To Know, is likely 100 percent funded by organic corporations and claims he is more ethical than every scientist he disagrees with.
To serious adults, that isn't more ethical, it is simple rationalization but it goes unchallenged because pro-science groups actually do not fund this sort of fifth columnist group, despite the paranoid conspiracies floated by activists. I didn't have a corporation or trade group asking me to engage in FOIA bullying, nor did Scientific American or anyone else in media. Had Monsanto or Dow or any of the other groups in the conspiracy manufactured by organic trade groups tried to bribe us, we would have laughed at them and put their emails in an article ridiculing them.
US Right To Know and much of its board, on the other hand, are junkyard dogs for their funders. The existence of that group is part of the Master Plan and if organic shoppers are as ethical as they self-actualize, they should be horrified this is happening.
They should also be demanding that the farmers and companies in that field, and the trade groups doing this, put a stop to it.
Why don't national scientists speak out?
But the reality is that the problem is not just the anti-science community, it is also us; they are very well-organized from the top down and the pro-science community is not, we are instead a bunch of anarchists. When Bill Nye said GMOs were bad and was criticized for it, Dr. Neil Tyson rushed to save his friend on too many occasions to count, but isn't defending an actual scientist like Folta against a very real threat to his career and family.
And no nationally prominent biologists are defending Folta either, there are more bloggers at Examiner.com defending him than television hosts for biology. Union of Concerned Scientists, which is ordinarily as anti-science as Natural Resources Defense Council, did more to defend Folta from harassment than most nationally prominent scientists have.
Organic food is more than a food process today, it is also a world view and a belief in a code of conduct.
Is this how organic food proponents are choosing to self-identify?
(1) A real conspiracy is that Organic Consumers Association was founded by anti-everything zealot Jeremy Rifkin (he popularized the completely fake 'it takes a gallon of gas to make a pound of beef' metric also), receives all kinds of dark money of its own and was one of the founding groups in the Fenton Communications (famous for helping Natural Resources Defense Council manufacture the alar on apples hysteria)-created anti-science group GE Food Alert. No surprise they are also anti-vaccine and certainly no surprise they create other deniers for hire to manufacture a green movement. It is brazen astroturfing. However, if I ever decide to sell out I will hire Fenton. They can mobilize gullible activists better than anyone.
Would Shoppers Be Happy If They Know Organic Trade Groups Use Member Fees For Hate Speech?
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