The anti-Rachel Parent: 10-year-old future scientist counters sea of GMO misinformation

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Jake

As clichéd as it sounds, and although we don’t reflect on it often, we can all agree that our future depends on children. Indeed, classic songs like “I Believe the Children are Our Future,” and “Teach Your Children Well” speak to the importance of giving youth the foundation to think independently, thrive and contribute. But avoiding indoctrination of children is a challenge.

Adults have indoctrinated children since pre-historic times into mini-ideologues, with dogmas ranging from politics, to religion, and now to anti-science zealotry. It’s truly saddening to see it firsthand. Excepting religion, some of the most in-your-face child indoctrination happens annually at March Against Monsanto events.

The MAM movement began in 2013 as a grassroots response to the failure of California proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would have required labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients. MAM started as an anti-GMO movement but has since evolved into a full-blown promoter of conspiracy theories ranging from chemtrails to anti-vax, to “mental illness is caused by inflammation” varieties. Backed by the organic and “natural” food activists, and with visions of syringe-laden frankenfoods and cackling corporate bigwigs dancing menacingly in their heads, hundreds of thousands of concerned protesters gather around the world annually to march.

And they bring their children. Kids as young as five and six pepper the MAM crowd holding signs bearing messages like “Stop poisoning me!” and “I am not a science experiment.”

Kids protest at MAM

Kids protest at March Against Monsanto Image credit

Sadly, some of these children and adults might be too far gone to reach with evidence and truth. Fortunately, there are plenty of middle ground, rational folks on the fence about biotechnology in agriculture. It’s these fence-sitters that the new “March Against Myths” organization aims to reach. Founded as a grassroots response to March Against Monsanto, MAMyths held its first international counter-protest on May 23, 2015. The group’s high level objective is to offer science-based facts to counter fear mongering and misinformation about biotechnology, GMOs, and other scientific issues.

As reports trickled in from chapter events worldwide, one common theme emerged: MAM protesters were vitriolic, rude, and irrational, while MAMyths members were approachable, friendly, and rational. MAMyths held signs like “Facts, not fear!”, “GMOs saved the Hawaiian Papaya,” and “Farmers never sued for cross-pollination.” In stark contrast, MAM’s signs were full of expletives and deluded messaging like, “F*** Monsanto,” “Stop poisoning Americans,” “OMG, GMO, WTF,” and even anti-vax signs, middle finger images, and chemtrail conspiracies.

The rage was palpable at the Chicago event, which I attended with other MAMyths co-founders, Dr. Karl Haro von Mogel and David Sutherland. While the anger was depressing though bearable from adults, it was truly heartbreaking coming from the mouths of babes. When Karl and I ventured into a throng of MAM protesters, our green MAMyths shirts prominent against their red, the anti-GMO crowd was riled up and eager to pounce. A large man got about a foot from my face and shouted that I was scheming to take over the food system. He was so agitated, I could see the saliva spray from his lips, feel it land on my face. The small mob kept shouting “who’s paying you? Why are you here?” Perhaps I should have remained quiet, but I couldn’t help it. I calmly stated, “Nobody is paying me. I’m a writer, a science activist, and a mom of two.”

A 13-year-old boy who had been listening and supporting the hecklers stepped forward. His face contorted in fury, he shouted at me, “You’re killing your children!” Saddened, I simply shook my head. The child thought I was arguing with him and he repeated, “Yes you are, you’re killing your children! You’re poisoning them!” I turned my back. I couldn’t argue with an indoctrinated child.

Frankly, it’s practically impossible to sway anti-GMO zealots like March Against Monsanto members. Our hope is that by counter-protesting zealots, the attention we garner on social media and in the news will help reach observers, not extremists. We hope to sway fence-sitters, not ideologues who can’t be reached.

Young anti-biotechnology activists-in-training have a role model, someone to sway them to the ideological side of the fence when they’re the most ripe for picking. Rachel Parent is a 16-year-old Canadian and well-known anti-GMO activist who founded “Kids Right to Know” at age 12. The energy and trustworthiness that often accompanies youth has taken Ms. Parent to dizzying heights. For the past few years, Parent has spent her time speaking publicly, making television appearances, spreading misinformation about biotechnology, and mingling with the who’s who of food woo. She’s posed for pictures with anti-GMO glitterati ranging from Food Babe to Jeffrey Smith to Vandana Shiva.

Rachel Parent, Jeffrey Smith, Vandana Shiva

Rachel Parent with Vandana Shiva and Jeffrey Smith

And her messaging is hugely inaccurate. Simply reach into the propaganda grab-bag that is the Kids Right to Know website; the patently false rhetoric is abundant. Just one of the many popular myths Parent promotes on her website? That GMO strawberries contain fish genes. This is demonstrably inaccurate on two counts: First, there are no transgenic “GMO” strawberries on the market. Second, while scientists have researched fish genes in tomatoes, there are no GMOs with animal genes available to consumers. Claim debunked in two sentences. Feel free to peruse the website for more fallacies.

Fortunately, now rational folks have their own poster child. For those who choose to judge biotechnology based on evidence and scientific consensus rather than fear and myths, look no further than the fresh-faced, intelligent, and poised Jake Lutick-Fuller.

Jake Lutick-Fuller

Jake Lutick-Fuller at Nanaimo MAMyths

Jake Lutick-Fuller isn’t your run-of-the-mill science enthusiast with a volcano at the science fair. Also Canadian like Rachel Parent, the 10-year-old mushroom aficionado likes to trek through the forest weekly, observing the biology and ecology of plants and fungi in the Nanaimo, British Columbia area. He has a passion for genetic engineering, and aspirations to become a scientist. Jake, who knows the Latin name for almost any fungus, used his sharp intellect to convince his parents Joshua and Heidi to allow him to accompany them to their local MAMyths event. Though his mom and dad were wary, the finally allowed him to attend. Jake’s father explained,

“We debated long and hard with him on the subject of children at protests. He would have none of it. He countered every single one of our arguments and I played the other side on him hard so that he could see how bad it could be, and he totally held his own. He insisted on a shirt and insisted that he go. He cares as much about this issue as we do and I think that he’s actually old enough at this point to make his own decision on the issue. I’ve played the other side with them several times and he’s always quick to catch on.”

Jake’s answers to the questions below show that the future scientist deserves our respect not only as a brilliant, level-headed, child but as an intelligent, rational, and kind individual.

[Editor’s note, Jake Lutick-Fuller wrote these answers himself. His father added the citations after fact-checking Jake’s responses.]

When did you decide you want to be a scientist?

I decided I wanted to be a scientist because everything I like is formed by science. I started out with wanting to be a mycologist. I still do, really. Then I learned about botany, which was also really cool: the study of plants and how amazing they can be, like the mimosa plant which seems to curl up in fright at the slightest touch. I started doing foraging with a biologist and learned all I could about mushrooms and plants like the cardamine bittercress genus and the prince agaricus mushroom. Last year I was learning about gathering pine pollen and mom told me about the pestiferous mountain pine beetle. I wanted to genetically modify a pine tree to be poisonous to the pine beetle so I sent a letter to Monsanto asking if they could genetically modify a pine tree and that was when I decided I wanted to get into biotechnology.

Your parents seem very supportive of your aspirations. How do they help you pursue your interests?

It was mom and dad who told me to write the letter to Monsanto. They also told me I should send a letter to Arctic Apples. Mom also found me the foraging class I go to now. They help me find information about my interests and think skeptically.

Jake's letter to Okanagan Specialty Fruits. See Okanagan's full post about the fan mail here

Jake’s letter to Okanagan Specialty Fruits. See Okanagan’s full post about the fan mail here

I understand you want to work with pine trees. What’s the problem with pine trees, and do you think it can be solved? 

The problem with pine trees is that recently they’ve fallen prey to a little beetle called the Mountain Pine Beetle. This little bug has been killing the forests of pine trees and turning the trees red. The problem is that this beetle has grown particularly common due to global warming which is heating up the planet and normally the beetles are killed by extreme cold but the winters are warmer and the beetle isn’t killed by them anymore. The other thing that kills them is heat but forest fires are equally devastating. I think we should kill them with their own food. I thought we could genetically modify a pine tree so that its wood could produce something that is toxic to the beetles. One helpful thing is that Oregon State University and the University of British Columbia have sequenced the genome of the fungus that causes the blue dye that helps the beetle kill the tree. The mountain pine beetle particularly likes this pinus contorta, or lodgepole pine. We could modify the pine tree’s genome so that it produces something that is unfavorable to beetles and kills them.

What are your favorite advances in genetic engineering so far?

My favorite advances in genetic engineering so far is the creation of Arctic apples. Seriously! Apples that don’t brown are good because I don’t have to have rotten looking brown apples in my lunchbox. I also think that the genetic engineering of the e. coli bacterium to produce insulin was special because e. coli is regularly horrible to you so now it’s being used for something helpful. My uncle has diabetes and this particular advancement helped him.

Why did you decide to attend MAMyths?

Because I think that biotechnology is really cool and so I really don’t understand why people would not like it. However, now I know that it’s because people are scared, but still: you can overcome your fears with a little help. I also think that the people from Monsanto seem really nice and that marching against it isn’t so nice. When I wrote my letter to Monsanto they said that they mainly didn’t do trees but they helped me find other places that did. They sent me a nice letter and were really nice and included an answer to a question I had included about sweet corn that grows in small spaces.

What was the most memorable experience at MAMyths/March Against Monsanto?

Well, I think the coolest part was probably around the beginning when that guy (a reporter) asked to take pictures of us with our signs. When we were marching on the sidewalk someone asked us if she could have a picture with me holding my sign. She wanted to have a picture because her roommate was studying biology and she thought he might appreciate a picture of me with my sign. It said “I want to be a scientist when I grow up”.

What did some MAM participants say to you?

Well, near the end there was some 63 year old woman who yelled at me for thinking that Monsanto was “just a company”. She said that Monsanto is trying to get hold of the government! How can it be just a company? When I asked her “where did you hear that? From the internet?” she said “young man, I am 63 years old and I have learned a lot in my lifetime.” Mainly the others were nice except for one of them who gave me a scowl as if I was a lemon genetically modified to be sour.

Are you familiar with teenage anti-GMO activist Rachel Parent? If so, what are your thoughts about her message and her approach?

Kind of. I’ve looked at her website a bit and I think that there’s a lot of misinformation on it. For example, she says that a GMO is taking genes from one species and inserting them into another to produce desired traits, but there are plenty of other ways. For example, the arctic apple uses apple genes and not fish genes. Also she says the traits achieved by genetic engineering would not be possible in nature, but that’s not exactly true. Nature can do its own genetic engineering through evolution. A fern acquired genes from a primitive plant called hornwort that allowed it to sense low levels of light which allowed it to grow on a shady forest floor.


I’ll be following Jake Lutick-Fuller in the years to come. As Joel of Okanagan Specialty fruits wrote after receiving his fan mail, the kid has big things in his future!

Note:  Rachel Parent could not be reached for comment

Kavin Senapathy is a contributor at Genetic Literacy Project, Skepchick, Grounded Parents, and other sites. She is a mother of two, science popularizer, and freelance writer in Madison, WI. Contact and follow Kavin on her science advocacy Facebook page and Twitter @ksenapathy

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  • Loren Eaton

    “Rachel Parent with Vandana Shiva and Jeffrey Smith”….Contributing to the indoctrination of a minor.

  • Warren Lauzon

    The biggest difference between Rachel and Jake is that Rachel long ago closed off her mind to any new information – the classic symptoms of brainwashing.

    • Michael McCarthy

      How sad that Jake is 6 years the junior and knows infinitely more than Rachel. And I find it disturbing that people would engage a 10 year old at a protest in an effort to subdue his stance. These are the same people that believe they are “on the right side”. SMH

    • Loren Eaton

      Right on! One kid wants to learn…one thinks they already know it all.
      This girl is the equivalent of a human shield. Its hard enough to criticize a woman with a dot on her head…but telling a sixteen year-old she wrong about most everything. Her handlers know that no one is going to go after her.

      • Warren Lauzon

        Very true. She has a few videos on YouTube, and a lot of the comments praise her not for knowing anything – but just for being 14, or 15 at the time she made the video. As if being 15 imparts you with some special knowledge all by itself.

        • Loren Eaton

          Well, Zen Honeycutt thinks that popping out kids means you know just about everything regarding biochemistry, nutrition, GMO’s and detecting shills….so why not??

    • Richids Coulter

      And yet despite mentioning a lemon, the young scientist doesn’t know how to prevent his apples from browning naturally?

      • Warren Lauzon

        Personally I don’t always carry lemons around with me.

        • Richids Coulter

          Personally I prepare my school lunches in the kitchen, where lemons are kept, not on the go; therefore no need to carry lemons around.

      • Warren Lauzon

        Personally I don’t always carry lemons around with me.

    • Richids Coulter

      And yet despite mentioning a lemon, the young scientist doesn’t know how to prevent his apples from browning naturally?

    • Publius

      Yea, but she’s an absolute spanking hot little bitch.

  • mem_somerville

    Let me guess: his parents don’t own a “natural” and “wellness” chain, right?

  • Jeff Cotter

    Rachel Parent’s father is CEO of Canada’s Nutrition House. At 4 billion dollars, it’s Canada’s largest “Natural Health” product corporation.

    • Kavin Senapathy

      I believe that figure came from Nutrition House’s website and then was cited incorrectly via a certain YouTube video. The $4 billion figure is the natural food/supplement industry national revenue in Canada. Nutrition House’s revenue is close to $14 million.

      • RJB

        Kavin, thank you for quickly pointing this out. Now imagine if everyone in the GMO debate was as quick to make sure that only accurate information was provided, and to quickly correct errors…

        • Kavin Senapathy

          Sometimes it’s human nature to double down on mistakes, or let errors side if the err in one’s favor, in the GMO debate or any other debate. I try my best to avoid that, especially when it’s an easy, black or white fact. It’s harder when the issue is more subjective.

  • Will someone please tell me why we’re giving the organic industry a pass?

    • Roy Marshall

      You will have to explain your statement. There is no “PASS” for the organic industry. Organic farmers must pay upwards of fifteen grand for certification, they must be diligent and attempt to protect their crops from neighboring farmers that allow pollen contamination, Organic farmers that once used Bt powders to protect against insects now find that the insects are resistant to such measures, all because of GM crops. And they must fight against the concept that science is always right. This one is the hardest as evidenced by this website and your comment. Read my bog for the perspective of a scientist that sees past the rhetoric and shows you the money. Literally. http://choose-eat-live-well.blogspot.com/

      • Anytime someone talks about the anti-GMO movement without mentioning the fact that it’s really just a front for the organic movement, they’re giving organic activists a pass.

        There is no organic movement without the anti-GMO movement… and vice versa. The two are symbiotic.

        Paying anything over $1,000 for organic certification is a rip-off. Also, there is no such thing as contamination of an organic crop by GMOs.

        • Roy Marshall

          I’m at a loss for words. Truly I have never had exposure to someone that is so blatantly unwilling to look, listen, learn and make decisions based on reality. Perhaps if you took a moment to view the process for getting organic certification you would see. Perhaps if you did a search for contamination by GMO crops, you would see. If unable to, or unwilling, go here, it is a viable highly regarded scientific site for news about science. http://www.scidev.net/global/gm/news/mexico-confirms-gm-maize-contamination.html

          • First: I grew up on an organic grain farm, and worked for 5 years as a USDA-contract organic inspector. I remain an ardent supporter of organic farming in America.

            Second: all that’s required to gain organic certification under the USDA is to pay fees and fill out paperwork. The once-annual inspection is pre-announced and no samples are collected for testing.

            Third: an internet search for contamination of organic crops by GMOs reveals only hype, with not a single organic farmer anywhere ever suing for alleged damages.

          • Gord Bestwick

            ” I grew up on an organic grain farm, and worked for 5 years as a USDA-contract organic inspector. ”

            I can’t wait for Roy’s response to that. :-D

          • Farmer Sue

            “Contamination” my butt. Have YOU lost your precious organic certification because of alleged “contamination,” or known anyone else who did? Bogus.

            And keep your own “contamination” out of my fields, please. It goes both ways.

            Farmers coexist cooperatively as good neighbors. Unless we have bad farmers next door.

        • Are you familiar with America’s standards for organic production? They were written by organic stakeholders during President Clinton’s second term, and passed by bi-partisan vote into law during President Bush’s first term. Give ’em a read and get back to me.

      • Farmer Sue

        Um, say what??? Improper pest control and weed contamination goes both ways, bub. You don’t take care of your farm, and my farm suffers. Organic farmers seem to conveniently forget that if they don’t control their insects and weedy seeds, those weeds and pests end up in MY farm. It’s a well-known fact that organic farmers next to GE farms benefit secondarily from a weed-free and insect-free neighbor. So quit whining.

        Oh, and “science” isn’t always “right” ? What do YOU use as a criteria? Hype? If so what the heck are you doing on this site?

        Read your “bog” ? I so don’t think so. You can wallow in your own “bog.” (I presume it’s a typo, but it is apt.)

        You whine about the paperwork and cost for organic certification? Then don’t grow it. Quit whining and do something constructive. Like learning about farming and science.

      • Farmer Sue

        Oh, and you better look up the requirements for GE farmers using Bt crops. They have to adhere to strict requirements for insect buffers specifically to avoid resistance. Good farmers and those adhering to their seed contracts do NOT permit insect resistance to occur. Your presumptions are bogus.

    • Kavin Senapathy

      Hi Mischa – you know my work well enough to know that I don’t give the organic industry “a pass.” However, I don’t believe it’s anyone’s duty to mention the industry every time the anti-GMO movement is discussed. This article is primarily about Jake Lutick-Fuller.

      • Perhaps when Jake becomes a target of organic-industry smears and atacks, you will see fit to include mention of this tax-subsidized movement.

        With that said Kavin, I do enjoy your writing. You’re not remiss so much as you’re just being polite.

        But I would suggest this is no time to be polite with organic activists. Look what they did with DDT back in 1972: http://www.greenerideal.com/lifestyle/0718-anti-science-wing-of-organic-movement/

        They have a lot to answer for.

  • Roy Marshall

    Interesting point of view, not necessarily one I would have thought existed in today’s world and with events such as they are. I find this to be quite informative regarding safety issues about GMO crops http://choose-eat-live-well.blogspot.com/2014/12/scientific-research-differences-in.html – Well, it’s only one viewpoint

    • Roy Marshall

      Sure, would love a mention, but if not, ok. I found your comment well thought out..

  • agscienceliterate

    Excellent article, Kavin. Thank you for bringing this young man to our attention! I hope he will read GLP. He’s got curiosity, intelligence, critical thinking skills, and a strong sense of himself that won’t be manipulated into thoughtlessly carrying activists’ signs.
    Thanks for taking the time to interview him!

  • agscienceliterate

    Your response is exactly the kind of diatribe that this young man knows is pure bunk. Your response is on-point in its demonstration of the length the activists will go to promote gibberish and nonsense, and infiltrate their children to peddle for them at anti-GE demonstrations. Which Jake is smart enough and mature enough to see right through.

  • The witch hunt mentality continues on in 2015. Disgusting and an indicator that our species may not make it.

  • I’m saddened to see such vitriol in some of the comments here, especially against those who support natural, real food. Note I’m not saying “certified organic.” I’m referring to whole food, not processed food. As a mother, I want access to natural, healthy food for my kids, and that’s not something to be negotiated. The more pesticides and chemicals we can avoid, the better. If biotechnology can do its job without relying on chemical agents, then we can have a discussion.

    Unfortunate to see all the politicizing of food that’s going on here.

    • gmoeater

      “Natural, real” food. Care to be a bit more specific? Oh, unprocessed food. The middle aisle stuff. You do know that organic food can be produced by chemicals and irradiation (mutagenesis), right? And look up USDA-approved organic pesticides. You ok feeding that to your kids? (You should be, just as you should be ok with feeding approved pesticide-treated GE or conventional food to your kids.). I would love to hear your ideas about how “biotechnology can do its job without relying on chemical agents” — you mean agriculture? You mean vaccines for your kids? Do you vaccinate your kids?
      Politicizing of food started with the anti-GE folks, Birgitte. Unnecessary and unscientific demonization of legal, approved, and sustainable technology. The politicizing started with the organic industry, worth at least $40 billion a year according to one of its key spokespersons, demonizing non-organic, non-GE foods, solely to improve their own market share. Sounds like you may have been sucked into their woo.
      If you don’t want processed food, fine – stay out of the middle aisles. Simple. It’s not an “organic or non-GE” issue.
      Oh, and who do you trust for advice on food and feeding your kids? Please don’t say it’s Mercola, or Oz, or Food Boob. All quacks.