For more on the Cornell Alliance for Science and the Gates Foundation:
Why is Cornell University hosting a GMO propaganda campaign?
What Bill Gates isn’t saying about GMOs
More on MAMyths: Why Forbes deleted some Kavin Senapathy articles
Protesting seems like an odd way to depolarize a debate. Yet the Cornell Alliance for Science, a group funded by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize the charged debate” about GMOs, participated in and promoted a recent protest at Willamette University to confront Indian scholar, author and environmentalist Vandana Shiva.
The self-described “science nerd” protesters from MAMyths (a program of the GMO spin group Biofortified), Vegan GMO and PDX Skeptics in the Pub — some of whom had practiced GMO communication strategies at a recent Alliance for Science course on Strategic Planning and Effective Grassroots Organizing in Mexico — were there to counter what they claimed was “misinformation” and “doublespeak” by Dr. Shiva and other critics of genetically engineered foods, according to a Jayson Merkley, a recent Cornell Alliance for Science fellow who co-founded Vegan GMO. [Update: Merkley is now an employee of Cornell Alliance for Science on the “training team.”]
“We aimed to keep our message friendly, approachable, and positive,” Merkley wrote, “our slogans reflected a theme quite different from the fear-mongering we often see: ‘Don’t start a fight. Start a conversation.’”
The group misfired, however, by engaging in the same type of misinformation and doublespeak of which they accused Dr. Shiva. For example, when a woman voiced concerns to Merkley about water quality and chemical exposures related to genetically engineered foods, he “smiled and nodded” and took the opportunity to explain that “GE innovations aren’t the problem” but rather part of the solution.
When Dr. Shiva walked past the protesters, her eyes remained “steadfast on the ground,” Merkley wrote, “that way, she could avoid locking eyes with anyone who might ask about the hundreds of thousands of children dying from preventable micronutrient deficiencies in India.”
What Merkley and the protesters left out: the relevant facts relating to these topics.
Despite a decade of trials, there is no GMO solution for nutrient deficiencies available to help dying children. Instead, most GMOs in the fields and on the way to market are herbicide resistant crops that are raising serious concerns about water quality and pesticide exposures in Hawaii, Argentina and Iowa.
These problems on the ground in three areas leading the world in GMO crop production are obviously relevant to science-based discussions about GMOs.
Unfortunately, the Cornell Alliance for Science relies on propaganda, not science, as a guide for its pro-GMO communication efforts. As I documented in The Ecologist, the Cornell group makes inaccurate statements about science and hypes up future possible benefits of genetic engineering, while ignoring documented problems and marginalizing critics – an approach sure to polarize no matter how friendly the protest slogans.
This blog was updated to clarify that Cornell Alliance for Science didn’t organize the Vandana Shiva protest, though they promoted the protest and people trained by the Alliance participated in it.
Stacy Malkan is co-founder and co-director of the consumer group US Right to Know. She is author of the book, ‘Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,’ (New Society Publishing, 2007) and also co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.