David Zaruk: Farming practices are under attack by activists
David Zaruk, Brussels-based professor writing on agricultural issues under the name ’The Risk-Monger’, explores how a small number of activists are hijacking the debate about modern farming practices.
Campaigns against conventional farming and agri-technologies are no longer run by a few vocal environmentalists, but are emanating from the mainstream media, from our leaders and from the food industry.
How did this happen?
As a former lobbyist, I have been trained to ‘follow the money’. Who is feeding the fear campaigns, producing the anti-pesticide studies, making the frightening documentaries and putting ‘a better way of farming’ into the headlines?
There are at least five sources of funding providing an activist lobby with enough money, networks, passion and ideology to wage a long-term war against conventional farming.
- Global Environmental NGOs – Are NGOs like Greenpeace or Pesticide Action Network leading on ag-issues? Hardly! Smaller social media upstarts like SumOfUs or Avaaz are now engaging with a frightened public and pulling their weight in the policy arena. Social media has changed how anti-ag-tech campaigns are run. Tiny groups like GMWatch or Testbiotech in Germany can present a loud voice with only a couple of activists.
- The Organic Food Industry Lobby – Groups like Organic Consumers Association or Stoneyfield Organic have been able to fund the activist group US Right to Know and the Monsanto Tribunal. These groups, nominally representing organic consumers, have no qualms about attacking western farming practices and bombarding the media with fear and fiction.
- Foundations and Trusts – There are a number of deep-pocketed foundations like Isvara, Adessium, Triodos, Clif Bar and Rodale family foundations funding NGOs and researchers to promote organic over conventional farming. A moderate grant to a small activist organisation can change the nature of farming debates.
- Litigation Law Firms – When I published The Portier Papers, I discovered how deep class action law firms were involved in shaping the science and public perception of agri-tech. US firms suing Monsanto for cancer from glyphosate have paid scientists like IARC’s Christopher Portier $160,000 to lobby and ‘prepare’ the science against glyphosate in their lawsuits.
- Your Taxes – The most outrageous source of anti-farming activist funding comes from governments. For example, Friends of the Earth Europe, with six FTE employees, received €4.8 million in 2014, including €3m from governments. The same year, Friends of the Earth Europe under-declared their revenue by 350 per cent and gave €1.7m to other undisclosed NGOs (including GMWatch). They resisted my call for transparency and scrutiny.
There are also social media gurus like Dr Mercola and well-meaning philanthropists who have innocently polluted the debate by giving oxygen to these activists.
One thing is certain: there is money, passion and professional lobbying behind these anti-farming campaigns and until this is addressed, we can expect more serious attacks on our farming practices.