Update 2/26/18: In a spinoff following the merger with Dow, DuPont Pioneer will change its name to Corteva Agriscience; based on a combination of words meaning “heart” and “nature.” Here’s our take.
By Stacy Malkan
The world’s largest pesticide and seed companies want you to believe they are on the side of science. High-tech foods are the future, they say, and people who raise concerns about their pesticides and genetically engineered seeds are “anti-science.”
The Atlantic magazine will provide a platform to those industry talking points in exchange for corporate cash at a Feb. 15 event titled, “Harvest: Transforming the Food We Eat” sponsored by DowDuPont.
The fluff agenda has “farmers, foodies, techies and tinkerers” discussing how the latest food technologies are transforming the way we cultivate crops and animals, and the implications for the future of food.
Will any of the participants ask why DowDuPont continues to push a dangerous pesticide despite strong scientific evidence that it harms children’s brains?
Will any of them ask why DuPont covered up the health risks of the Teflon chemical linked to birth defects, as it allowed the chemical to contaminate waterways across the globe?
Will they ask why – despite record profits – DowDupont has refused to help disaster victims or even clean up the chemical contamination caused by a 1984 pesticide plant accident in Bhopal?
Would The Atlantic host a “transforming climate” event with ExxonMobil?
What’s next? Will The Atlantic agree to host a “transforming health” event sponsored by Phillip Morris or a “transforming climate” event sponsored by ExxonMobil?
Maybe. In 2015, The Atlantic Food Summit was underwritten by Elanco, a division of Eli Lilly that makes ractopamine, a growth-promoting chemical used in meat production that is banned in 100 countries due to health concerns, but still used here.
As Tom Philpott reported in Mother Jones, Elanco’s President Jeff Simmons delivered a sponsored speech at the event, in which “he complained that a group he labeled the ‘fringe 1 percent,’ agitating for increased regulation on meat producers, is driving the national debate around food.”
Simmons’ 15-minute speech featured an emotional video of a mother who attended an Elanco/American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics program and learned about “the importance of protein” and eating more meat as a way to improve her family’s health.
Purchasing the Food Narrative
The Atlantic covered Dow/Union Carbide’s dirty past but is now providing cover for DowDuPont’s PR spin on the future.
With its rent-a-food-summit model, The Atlantic is helping corporations shape how we think about our food system. That is fundamentally incompatible with The Atlantic’s guiding commitment to “look for the truth.”
All the brands participating in this week’s “Transforming Food” event – Food Tank, Land O’Lakes and New Harvest, too – are giving DowDuPont cover to present themselves as champions of science while framing the food debate around the technologies they sell.
But the facts of history are important to any honest discussion about the future, and DowDuPont is no champion of science.
Both Dow and Dupont have long histories of covering up science, suppressing science, knowingly selling dangerous products, covering up health concerns, failing to clean up their messes, and engaging in other scandals, crimes and wrongdoings – whatever it took to protect the bottom line.
Protecting reliable profit streams, rather than innovating what’s best for people and the environment, will motivate these companies into the future, too.
GMO Pesticide Profit Treadmill
To understand how DowDuPont and the other pesticide/seed mega-mergers are likely to impact the future of our food system, look to how these companies are deploying patented food technologies right now.
Most GMO foods on the market today are engineered for use with specific pesticides, which has led to increased use of those pesticides, the proliferation of weeds resistant to those pesticides, and an aggressive effort to sell more and worse pesticides that are damaging farmland across the Midwest.
To understand what needs to change to have a healthier food system, ask farmers, not DowDuPont. Ask the communities that are fighting for their health and their right to know about the pesticides they are drinking and breathing.
In Hawaii and Argentina, where genetically engineered crops are grown intensively, doctors are raising concerns about increases in birth defects and other illnesses they suspect may be related to pesticides. In Iowa, another leading GMO producer, water supplies have been polluted by chemical runoff from corn and animal farms.
The future of high-tech food, under the stewardship of companies like DowDuPont and Elanco, is easy to guess: more of what those companies are already selling – more seeds genetically engineered to survive pesticides, more pesticides, and food animals engineered to grow faster and fit better in crowded conditions, with pharmaceuticals to help.
Purchased media forums such as The Atlantic’s “transforming food,” and the articles and debates about the “future of food” that Syngenta was just caught buying in London, and other covert industry PR projects to reframe the GMO debate, are efforts to distract from the facts of history and the truth on the ground.
Consumers aren’t buying the spin. Demand for organic food continues to rise across all demographics of American society.
Changing consumer tastes are shrinking the big food companies like icebergs and splitting up the food industry lobby as “millennials and moms seek healthier and more transparent products.”
Let’s give them what they want: a food system that is healthy for people, farmers, the soil and the bees – a food system that prioritizes protecting our children’s brains over the profits of the pesticide industry.
That’s the discussion we need to have about transforming the food we eat.
Letter to The Atlantic from Anne Frederick director of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action: “Our community has repeatedly attempted to enact common sense regulations at the county and state level, only to be thwarted by DowDuPont and the agrochemical industry … As a reader of your publication, it is unsettling to learn that The Atlantic would align its brand with an industry that has so recklessly endangered the health and safety of our communities. I hope you will reconsider DowDuPont’s sponsorship, and stand in solidarity with our communities who are living on the frontline of these environmental injustices.”
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