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Organic farmer says “no” to organic-led ‘New MacDonald’ GMO demonization campaign

Late last week, a marketing group called “Only Organic” launched a YouTube video called “New MacDonald.” It depicts a group of children singing and acting out two versions of the classic song, intended to represent the differences between conventional and organic farming.

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Over the weekend, my Twitter feed was filled with polarized reactions. Many of the organic organizations and activists I follow shared it enthusiastically while those on the “other side” were offended at the exaggerations. This dismay was accurately summarized by Dr. Steve Savage in a post on his Applied Mythology blog and reproduced on the Genetic Literacy Project, provocatively titled: Hate Speech For Profit: Organic Marketing Gone Bad. Here is the harsh dichotomy between “good” organics and “bad” conventional agriculture encapsulated in a graphic reproduced from the video:

Among the points Savage makes:

…this depiction of mainstream farming is not “playful.” … It is certainly not something that “furthers the conversation.” It is a malicious distortion that demonizes the work of the small minority of citizens who still farm.

Savage then goes on to ask what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot:

To put this in perspective, imagine if there was a comparable group to “Only Organic” from the “Conventional” side. They could hire an ad agency to produce a video and stills depicting fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods sitting in pools of fresh, steaming animal excrement or having the same coming out of a manure spreader onto a ripe crop of lettuce or strawberries. They could call Organic, “Poop-based agriculture” and label their own products as “grown without the use of animal fecal matter.” That would, of course, be an unfair,  nasty depiction of the organic requirement to use only non-synthetic fertilizers.

(Though never done as brazenly as Savage suggests, this is, of course, also becoming a common tactic of the anti-organic movement. I’ve addressed it before.) Near the end of his post, Dr. Savage makes this observation:

I don’t believe that these marketing strategies reflect the ethics of real organic farmers, certainly none that I’ve met. Someone made the excellent suggestion that organic farmers could start a “not in my name” campaign to say that they don’t want to see the whole organic movement dragged down to this low level, and they don’t want to see their neighbors and fellow farmers maligned.

Within a week, this video had attracted more than 400,000 hits. The tactics and perceptions of marketing efforts have always been of interest to me. I’ve addressed the topic before in posts about the criticism of organic marketing techniques and most recently in a call to end this kind of “food fight.”

To a certain extent, any kind of advertising or marketing will always rely on simplified concepts and bold messages – it’s the nature of the medium. And I fully support efforts to create value-added, differentiated markets. But I believe it’s still fair to question the necessity of polarizing issues and the unintended consequences that can result.

In my opinion, organic marketers have no need to engage in questionable tactics. Firstly, they could instead choose to focus on the positive aspects of organic production, on the principles that serve as the foundation of the organic standards. Secondly, the organic market is booming – the U.S. market grew by 11.5 percent in 2014 to $35.1 billion!

Simply put, demand is not the issue – supply is. Although the scope and impact of organic imports is often exaggerated by critics of organic food, the inescapable reality is that North American production is failing to keep up with the growth in the market. If the organic sector is going to continue to meet consumer expectations at the highest level of integrity with respect to its own principles, it must find a way to encourage more American and Canadian farmers to make the transition to organic production.

And here’s the real irony: campaigns like “New MacDonald” threaten to alienate the very people the organic sector needs most right now: farmers. In my opinion, it’s time to start building bridges, not digging trenches.

Please let me know what you think – I’m especially interested in hearing from my friends in the organic community!

Rob Wallbridge is an organic farmer and consultant based in Western Quebec. He advocates for high-quality organic food and informed communities in agriculture. Follow him on Twitter as @songberryfarm and on his blog, The Fanning Mill.


36 thoughts on “Organic farmer says “no” to organic-led ‘New MacDonald’ GMO demonization campaign”

  1. Rob, Time for wild speculation. I can’t help but wonder if the anti-G.E. faction among organic supporters are behind this as a method to keep reasonable organic. growers. that would consider using g.e. seeds in conjunction with organic methods. from considering doing so. Your guess please.

    • This video really demeans organic growers. I don’t think it was intended to come out that way but seriously do GE growers really think people are this stupid? Obviously the Pro-organic movement knows that you can eat the GE food and walk around in the fields and not start convulsing instantly. The issues with these crops are Glyphosate and the cumulative effects of eating traces of Roundup. The video would have been more convincing if he stood in the field while it was being sprayed. Not that I would wish that on anyone.

      • Can you show evidence of cumulative effects of eating traces of round up? I guess if they didn’t want to demean someone. They should refrain from making 4th rate videos.

        • I’m not saying its a poor quality video, it just seems to suggest that the so called Anti-GMO groups think that you’d get sick immediately after ingesting GMO’s or get sick in the fields. I really don’t think this type of fear is that prevalent. I’ve never heard anyone express this in conversation.
          It’s logical to assume that the body is weakened by pesticide residues if they are a part of a regular diet. The liver as resilient as it is can only take so much abuse. Eventually it will slow down and any number of diseases could manifest. Its not that the GMO’s caused that disease directly but as a constant additional toxin added to the mix they weaken the organs that detoxify thus allowing disease to manifest. If you want definitive evidence then you will likely have to wait a few years longer, or just try to limit your intake of pesticides and err on the side of caution.
          Consider the fact that Wheat is not Genetically modified and yet there is a growing number of gluten intolerances being diagnosed each year. Whats happening is that Roundup is being used to dry the wheat post harvest. The intolerances are an immune response which is the bodies way of saying “don’t eat this”. If its not from the Roundup then what else could it be?

          • “It’s logical to assume that the body is weakened by pesticide residues if they are a part of a regular diet.”

            Could we agree that it’s not a ‘logic’ question but a ‘scientific’ question? Does glyphosate bioaccumulate (like, for instance, mercury)? We won’t determine if it does by thinking about it, but by looking at the body of research that has been done. Wouldn’t you like to find out what happens to those molecules once you ingest them? It’s not unknown – we don’t have to resort to assumptions and guesswork.

            “If its not from the Roundup then what else could it be?”

            Isn’t that a scientific question too? It appears you are suggesting that because you see a correlation between more gluten being diagnosed vs. glyphosate being used on wheat that that is enough to determine what is actually occurring, yes? Wouldn’t you like to see some research to check that correlation? Are you really sure you’ve got enough information to make your claim?

          • What do you mean do I have enough information to make a claim. I can make a claim no matter how farfetched, and you if you choose to can prove to me in your own words how this cannot possibly be true. Or you could cite something you read that you feel proves the point. I would be more likely to accept the safety of GMO’s if there were some other good reason for the evident intolerances epidemic. Here’s where you may or may not choose to offer a hypothesis.
            Right Science minded people can never speculate on the basis of logical inference and risk being wrong, only definitively prove through data and control variables reaching acceptable levels of variance will suffice. Therefore discussions concerning the welfare of humankind end up mostly going nowhere

          • Science doesn’t work like that. If you make the claim, it is up to you to provide the proof.

            See, if I claim that Big Foot exists, its my job to provide evidence, not for everyone else to have to run to the North Woods to try to disprove it.

          • Lets just say that the Science on this matter doesn’t follow what I would consider evidence without a reasonable doubt. Whether Big Foot exists or not will not affect my health but Genetic Engineering affects almost everyones health: good or bad. An alien invasion would be a more apt analogy, a perceived threat to humanity but with the alternate potential to stave off self destruction. If the question of GMO safety were put to a jury of a random sample of the population you would not get a conviction at this time. It would be a hung jury every time. The problem proponents of GE tech are having is the mistrust because Science minded individuals have a hard time speaking layman’s jargon. There isn’t much effort being put into the marketing of GE. Its all sort of just slipped into the food supply with no transparency, like when that nasty ass Corn Syrup just ubiquitously replaced cane sugar. Whoa did I miss something. Is it any wonder people are suspicious. I buy Blue Sky Cola, Tastes more like Coke than Coke, whatever that means.

          • It boils down to a basic question of who you are willing to believe. Would you prefer to believe the TV entertainers (Dr. Oz and the like) and the hyped-up slick advertisers who want to sell you zippidy-doo-dah new age foo food? Or would you prefer to believe the well educated scientific community that has thoroughly studied genetics, biochemistry, toxicology, and the other sciences that pertain to safe food production? You may be easily led by the former just because you can understand the jargon, and put off by the latter because it’s too boring for you to stay on topic. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart thing to do with regard to your health or for protection of the environment.

          • You should consider the perspectives of veteran Geneticists and eminent scientists who question the safety of Biotech food. I would certainly pay more mind to them as opposed to entertainers. I have listen to lectures from Dr. Thierry Vrain, and Dr. David Suzuki. Their scientific analysis of GMO’s is quite compelling.

          • Right, and when either of them do a STUDY that confirms what you are claiming, then we will review it. Notice neither of them have done so.

          • If an eminent Geneticist cited a conclusion drawn by a team of toxicologists with no ties to the Biotech industry and found information that ran contrary to what the EPA and FDA are claiming, would you not consider it? The data that shows harm at a certain residue limit of 1 PPM for example makes more sense then concluding that there is no harm from a product that is a broad spectrum herbicide. I want to know at what concentration is this product harmful and if it is not harmful then why is there a residue limit at all and why has it been increased recently as much as 10 fold?

          • Sure I would consider it. Simply post it.

            As to “harm at a certain residue limit of 1 PPM” and “I want to know at what concentration is this product harmful and if it is not harmful then why is there a residue limit at all and why has it been increased recently as much as 10 fold?”

            There are residue limits because the dose makes the poison.

            You can safely take acetaminophen (Tylenol ) every day for headaches, but if you ever take over 7,000 mg of it you risk severe hepatotoxicity, up to and including death.

            During the last decade, more than 1,500 Americans died after accidentally overdosing on the pain reliever and in addition, inadvertently taking too much acetaminophen sends ~78,000 Americans to the emergency room and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year.


            The Maximum Residue Levels on our food are set to insure that you never ingest enough glyphosate to be harmful.

            They do this by running tests on many species to find the one most sensitive to the chemical.

            Then in tests where each group of this most sensitive species gets twice what the previous group got, they figure out when they can first see ANY observable effects from ingesting the chemical.

            In the case of glyphosate, it was rabbits, which at 360 mg/kg/day showed slightly softer stools and occasional diarrhea.

            So they used the next lower level, that had no observable effects (including blood tests and tissue analysis) of 175 mg/kg/day to set the guidelines for human consumption, known as the Reference Dose or Rfd.

            The EPA divides that Rfd value by 10 to account for the fact that humans may be more sensitive than rabbits. Thus 17.5 mg/kg/day

            Then they divide that by 10 again, to account for the fact that some humans might be more sensitive than others and this value is considered the Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI or 1.75 mg/kg/day

            And thus the ADI is set at 1/100th the level of that showed no effects on the most sensitive species tested in long term feeding trials.

            Thus to find your ADI, multiply your weight in kg by 1.75.
            For example an 80 kg person (176 lbs) would have an ADI of 140 mg of glyphosate.

            Then the ADI is used to set the Maximum Residue Levels for our crops (MRLs).

            Here are examples of the residues of Glyphosate allowed on our food:

            Vegetable, bulb, group 3-07 – 0.2 ppm
            Vegetable, cucurbit, group 9 – 0.5 ppm
            Vegetable, foliage of legume, subgroup 7A, except soybean 0.2 ppm
            Vegetable, fruiting, group 8-10 (except okra) 0.1 ppm
            Vegetable, leafy, brassica, group 5 – 0.2 ppm
            Vegetable, leafy, except brassica, group 4 – 0.2 ppm
            Vegetable, leaves of root and tuber, group 2, except sugar beet tops – 0.2 ppm
            Vegetable, legume, group 6 except soybean and dry pea – 5.0ppm
            Vegetables, root and tuber, group 1, except carrot, sweet potato, and sugar beet – 0.2 ppm
            fruit, citrus, group 10–10 at 0.50 ppm;
            fruit, pome, group 11–10 at 0.20 ppm;
            and berry and small fruit, group 13–07 at 0.20 ppm.

            Note that most are well less than one part per million.

            To ensure you never consume more than the ADI, the MRLs are set for each crop such that if all you ate was food that was contaminated at the Maximum Residue Levels you STILL wouldn’t exceed the ADI.

            So no, they are not saying that some tiny 1 ppm of glyphosate on produce is harmful, what they are saying is if all of your food is produce and all of it has glyphosate at the MRL, you STILL won’t be able to consume more than 1/100th of the level that showed no harm to the most sensitive species tested.

            This very conservative approach is why they can also increase what is allowed on a specific crop, and still not exceed the ADI.

            For example, let’s assume you are a vegetarian and eat a mix that is on the extreme high end of the allowed residue levels and you consume food which is at an average of 5 ppm per day. (note most foods are 0.1 or 0.2 ppm)

            So 200 grams of food would yield 1 mg of glyphosate.

            You weigh 80 kg or 176 lbs and so to get 1.75 mg per kg you would need to get 140 mg of glyphosate residue.

            So you would need to eat 200 * 140, or 28 kilograms of this 5 ppm produce in one day to get to the 1.75 mg per kg per day level.

            (28 kg = 62 lbs of produce)

            And if you managed that, that would only get you to a level that is 100 times less then the NOEL level in the most sensitive species tested.

            On a more typical diet, you would find it very hard to get even 1/10th of the ADI.

            And more to the point, if you did, you wouldn’t be getting it from GMO based crops, because almost all of the GMO that we eat is highly refined, and has no glyphosate residue at all (Corn oil, Corn Starch, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Canola Oil, HFCS, cottonseed oil)

          • So?
            Science doesn’t work like that. If you make the claim, it is up to you to provide the proof.

            You have not done so.

            As to your claim: Thats an almost perfect correlation co-efficient. In a statistical analysis of data that would definitely warrant a scientific experiment to prove or disprove.

            No it wouldn’t.


            Well if Autism is going up, then EVERYTHING else which is going up at the same time would also show a close correlation.

            None of that matters unless there is some other valid reason to think the two are related by causation. There is nothing to suggest that the increase in organic food sales is driving Autism, hence no reason for a study. Similarly, there is no reason to suspect that Autism is being driven by the incredibly tiny amount of glyphosate residue in our food, nor that glyphosate is at all related to Autism, hence no study.

            You can find an almost infinite number of correlations between various data sets. Correlation alone means nothing.

          • glyphosate binds to metals, that is its job. That is what it was first patented for, to bind to the mineral deposits in boilers. If it makes metals unbioavailable in the weeds so they die then its residues would do the same to the crops and we are going to have depletion of ions in enzymes like iron, potassium, phosphorus etc.. Depletion of minerals would explain a great deal of chronic disease.
            And the correlation coefficients for many other chronic diseases are almost as high as Autism Spectrum disorder. Glyphosate is the most probable cause. Science should be looking closer at what Glyphosates inherent properties are.

          • Glyphosate doesn’t work as a herbicide if applied to the soil, because it does bind to metals. But our soil has an incredible quantity of Al, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn, so the tiny amount of glphosate that makes it to the soil, along with its short half life in the soil, means this attraction has no long term effect.

            Indeed, because it only works as a herbicide when absorbed by the leaves of plants, you don’t spray glyphosate until the weeds are well established, and the majority of the spray ends up on leaves, not the soil. And when you do spray it, you spray but 1 qt per acre, which of course is DWARFED by the metallic ions in the soil.

            The way it actually works is to disrupt an enzyme that plants need for energy synthesis, this is the EPSPS enzyme. It has nothing to do with any “depletion of ions”. The glyphosate resistant plants have a slightly different version of EPSPS (referred to as mEPSPS), which is not affected by glyphosate.

            Glyphosate is NOT the “most probable cause” of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Indeed if you go to reputable sites about ASD, you won’t find any mention of glyphosate at all.

            NIMH: Your search – glyphosate – did not match any documents. No pages were found containing “glyphosate”.

          • Ok, So Glyphosate works by binding to metals that plants need to get from the soil, thereby killing them. I’m pretty sure that quite a lot of the spray ends up on the soil. I don’t see how it couldn’t.
            Any plant that is not Genetically engineered to resist Glyphosate will be killed, this is the definition of Broad Based herbicide.
            You are saying that it only works when absorbed by the leaves of plants. So i’m assuming that if its getting into the cells of plants it can go into the bean and seeds, beets, etc as this is where the nutrients are concentrated.
            If it gets into these parts of the GE plant then it will still do its job binding to metals would it not. How would it suddenly stop doing what it was designed to do.
            I will have to look into this different enzyme you talk about. It seems that if this is the case then we have quite a substantial difference between the GE and non- Ge plants. Certainly puts the notion of substantial equivalence into question.

          • No again.

            I explained how it worked.

            It has nothing to do with “binding to metals that plants need to get from the soil, thereby killing them”

            Plants absorb glyphosate through their leaves and other green parts. From here, the glyphosate moves to the growing points of shoots and roots, where it interferes with the enzymatic production of certain amino acids that are essential for plant growth.

            This pathway exists only in plants, fungi and bacteria, so the toxicity to animals is low.

            It doesn’t bind to metals, in the plant, because metals in the plant aren’t ions, they are part of complex chemicals like enzymes and chlorophyll.

            It is normally applied very early in the growing season on GE crops like corn and soy, well before any corn cob of seed pod has even formed.

            Normal plants have EPSPS and GE plants have mEPSPS, but both of these are just proteins (food) to us, as we don’t use that enzyme.

            And the amount of them is tiny in comparison to the seed. CP4 EPSPS represents 21.68 and 9.41 µg/g of leaf and grain, respectively.

            So if you ate a half kilo of corn (which is a lot of corn) you would consume less than 5 milligrams of this enzyme.

            Still, that’s why we do extensive feeding trials to show that it has no ill effect.

            And it doesn’t.

            Notice that animals, like cows that eat silage for food, eat the whole plant, and of course silage is a major part of their diet, and so they consume far more of this mEPSPS than we do, and they show no ill effects either.

          • GEFL: “glyphosate binds to metals, that is its job…If it makes metals unbioavailable in the weeds so they die then its residues would do the same to the crops”

            AD: “The way it actually works is to disrupt an enzyme that plants need for energy synthesis, this is the EPSPS enzyme.”

            GEFL: “Ok, So Glyphosate works by binding to metals that plants need to get from the soil, thereby killing them.”

            *Pulls hair out*

          • Yep. I’m not sure if GEFL is just exceptionally dense or a troll, but I’ve given up on trying to explain things to him. He is totally fact-resistant.

          • I will have to look into this different enzyme you talk about. It seems that if this is the case then we have quite a substantial difference between the GE and non- Ge plants. Certainly puts the notion of substantial equivalence into question.

            After all of your work to discredit Monsanto and GE technology, you are only now looking into this? I think a single gene was added to roundup ready plants (correct me if I’m wrong on that). One thing was changed, and you never bothered to learn what it was.

          • Correct, the added gene creates a slightly different version of the enzyme EPSPS which is normally referred to as mEPSPS. It is critical to the plant’s use of energy. Glyphosate blocks EPSPS from working but mEPSPS is not affected by it. When we eat mEPSPS, it is simply a protein to us, which our digestive system breaks down into simple amino acids, which our body then uses to put together the uniquely human proteins we need.

          • Thats an almost perfect correlation co-efficient. In a statistical analysis of data that would definitely warrant a scientific experiment to prove or disprove. Except wouldn’t it only be significant if Organic food made up a large portion of the conventional diet, i.e the people with autism actually consumed organic food. It reminds me of the Autism vs Glyphosate use graph. I definitely think that both are worth studying further.

          • Glyphosate is used to pre-harvest on only about 5% of our wheat, but its sprayed at least a week before harvest and its sprayed AFTER the wheat kernel is fully set and the kernals are already down to 30% or less moisture, so there is no uptake by the plant that ends in the kernel, which is all we eat.

            Your claim “If its not from the Roundup then what else could it be?” is pretty silly. Gluten intolerance is from gluten, which in the absence of Celiac disease, may still be inflammatory to some people,

          • You said 30 percent or less moisture. If the moisture content was lower then that at the time of spraying then the wheat would absorb it. I’m pretty sure that the maximum moisture content would be even higher than 30 percent for wheat so there is a good chance that any solution in water would be absorbed into the grain.
            You can say its a silly claim but you have no alternate explanation. The rise in so called “gluten intolerance” is likely the body having an immune response to an agrochemical in the wheat. People assume its an intolerance to Gluten because that is what is associated with wheat, but I agree that this wouldn’t make sense. What does make sense is the bodies immediate immune response to ingestion of wheat because of a previously consumed product containing traces of roundup. If like you say it is only in 5% of the wheat, it could still be causing a lot of problems considering that wheat is in so many staple goods.

          • Nope. Wheat has a coating on it (what is in whole wheat that is not in flour) that prevents the seed from absorbing moisture. The kernel is in the process of drying out as it has to make it till the next year without sprouting. The only way for glyphosate to get into the seed is for it to come from the plant, but the moisture movement is out of the seed, not into it.

            Celiac disease is well known.
            The fact that gluten is an inflammatory to some people is also known.
            It has nothing to do with glyphosate, and nobody has shown by any study that gluten intolerance and glyphosate are related.

            You can suggest anything, but without any evidence of causation you are simply making baseless claims. Its not for me to disprove your claims. We’ve been over this before. Your claim, your burden of proof.

          • Hmmm, organic grain consumption has gone up too recently, ergo, organic grain causes gluten intolerances. What is wrong with this logic?

          • I have been talking about immune responses from Roundup being misdiagnosed as Gluten intolerance, not celiac disease.

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