As many of the Risk-Monger followers on social media will know, I got a little roughed up (both physically and personally) when I was in The Hague to attend the Monsanto Tribunal People’s Assembly on October 14. What I learned, quite amusingly, is not only how deeply the anti-science, anti-agri-tech crowd have come to despise me, but also, how facts can challenge one’s integrity and compel people to act inappropriately. I am worried about these activists’ obsessive compulsive need to control a message against engagement, debate, and dialogue.
When you passionately want to influence the decision process, when you are lobbying intensely to create a perception, it should come as no surprise that any threat, any opposing voice, should be controlled, managed, or better still, silenced. The organic food industry lobby has invested €500,000 (mostly from Ronnie Cummins’ Organic Consumers Association in the US) to hold a fake tribunal so they could justify calling Monsanto a convicted corporation guilty of crimes against humanity. Now half a million euros could be used for many other things, including seeding 65,000 acres of farmland in Africa, but that is not the point. These are zealots intent on attacking conventional farming, the competition to organic food, and the idea that anyone who gets in their way can not be tolerated.
So that was reason enough for me, who felt that in its haste to control the message, the organic food lobby must have just plain forgotten to invite farmers to speak on why they used agricultural technologies. Given that I want to encourage open debate and dialogue, I decided to hold my own event entitled Voice of Farmers, inviting four farmers to speak at a venue just nearby and just before the People’s Assembly started. See a series of videos from that event on The Risk-Monger TV.
A Tale of Two Emails
On the way up to The Hague, I received an email from the Monsanto Tribunal People’s Assembly organization team, informing me that my registration had been canceled Apparently, I was not part of the “people,” at least those they wanted to listen to. It is quite remarkable how direct they were, admitting that in the debate they wanted to have on agriculture alternatives, they did not want to hear my views. In other words, their “debate” would be controlled; their “assembly” would be managed; and their “conclusions” predetermined. That is my definition of obsessive (and the opposite of intellectual engagement).
They somehow needed to make it appear that I was a bad person coming to The Hague to do bad things. After reading my blog, they accused me of planning “to disturb the program.” The only thing I could think of was my post on Facebook where I put a link to a question I had asked André Leu earlier this year in the European Parliament. Could André Leu, the confident guru of the organic farming industry (IFOAM) be afraid of me asking him a question?
This whole story seemed totally absurd, and a week later, I am still stupefied. How was it that on the night before their global event, with an unprecedented €500,000 ($545,000) budget, with so many media, film-makers and gurus descending on The Hague and they were sweating about one of the participants–a blogger? Just before the event, they were wasting time reading my blog! I suppose I should be flattered!
Just the day before, I exchanged emails with a group of Monsanto Tribunal participants from an NGO that wanted to come to my Voice of Farmers event to hear the “arguments of the other farmers.” Rather than obsessing about their aim or objective, I offered them the microphone to explain to the attendees how they farmed. I was open to hearing their views. I also informed them there was still some space available (with a free organic breakfast) and that they could invite other Monsanto Tribunal participants they knew to join us. My objective was to provide a voice for farmers. I was clearly not trying to control the message but rather bring farmers into the debate (since the continued success of the organic lobby will have an effect on them).
It was frustrating for me that, of the 300 participants attending the People’s Assembly with the objective of changing agriculture, only a handful were interested in taking up my invitation to listen to conventional farmers explain what they do. Did they know everything about how Indian farmers farmed Bt cotton? Did they not want to hear about how no-till farming might be better for soil management? Or did they only want to hear from people who agreed with them?
These two emails tell a telling story. Very often I see activists who do not want to engage in open debate and dialogue – they want, rather, to manage a campaign. If they win the campaign, they get more funding; if they lose, they risk going out of existence or becoming irrelevant (whatever happened to the anti-farmed salmon NGOs or the mobile phone mast campaigners?). The Monsanto Tribunal organizers were not interested in dialogue; they were interested in winning (so having a lone blogger in the room was, for the obsessive compulsive, a “threat” to their managed event).
We see this so often in Brussels – environmental NGOs, such as the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), organize events in the European Parliament (with public money) and then “sell out” the events before even advertising them. They have killed dialogue and engagement in the EU and now have managed to exclude industry from participating.
What was odd was how the Monsanto Tribunal organizers were lamenting, on the final day, that no pro-GMO advocates had attended. Outside of one obvious pro-GMO supporter who had tried, one would have to wonder how many industry actors would want to participate or dare legitimize an event with session titles like André Leu’s: “Why are they poisoning our children?”, Vandana Shiva’s: speech: “The poison cartel, Bill Gates and new attempts to control our seed and food” or the poetically nuanced session on “Dismantling Corporate Power and building People’s Sovereignty.” Only the most obsessive compulsive hardcore could think that pro-agri-tech actors would participate in and legitimize such “dialogue forums”. … But yes, I had bought a ticket in hopes that I could learn something!
OK, I have to admit, after our Voice of Farmers at the Monsanto Tribunal event, I did manage to sneak into the People’s Assembly, with several farmers and with the good people from the March Against Myths on Modification NL. In my defense, I had promised all of the people who had kindly donated to the crowdfunding of my event that I would get a selfie with Dr. Vandana Shiva. I was hoping to honor my pledge!
Within two minutes in the hall, the Monsanto Tribunal security came down to “eradicate the threat.” I was physically dragged out of the People’s Assembly, which did achieve one curious thing – it alerted the media, bored with the same stage-crafted lines from the guru press conference, that there was something interesting going on outside. The commotion led to more than an hour of media interviews and some well-balanced coverage.
When one journalist asked the organizers why they were so rough with me, they replied that the Risk-Monger was acting in an irrational manner and was seen banging on the windows the night before. … OK, I have to admit, I did do that, but merely as a bit of theater. These people have no sense of humor!
Obsessive Compulsive Europe
During the Monsanto Tribunal, Tom van den Hove from the March Against Myths on Modification NL was invited to debate Nina Holland from CEO on a Dutch national radio talk show special on GMOs and Monsanto. Tom is a biologist with a passion for improving scientific understanding. Nina is a long-time Brussels-based lobbyist for an organization committed to ostracizing industry science and promoting NGO anti-trade ideals. Tom’s March Against Myths NL volunteer group compiled the research on the issues and problems of all of the Tribunal’s witnesses.
The conversation drifted to whether Tom was a Monsanto shill. Nina had no evidence to support that, but her training at CEO taught her that she must never say anything positive. So she accused Tom of something far worse: associating with bad people like the Risk-Monger. Ouch! She then went into an obsessive compulsive tirade on Dutch radio about all of the evil things I have (apparently) done, rifling them off as if reading from a script (for almost two minutes of vitriol!).
The next day, while I was comfortably back in Brussels giving lectures (and, apparently, corrupting the youth), CEO’s Nina Holland could not seem to get off of her anti-Risk-Monger rabid rant. On a forum to an article on the Monsanto Tribunal, Nina went into obsessive compulsive overdrive (12 lines on comment number 26 in Dutch) about what a horrible person I was.
On the radio interview, Nina claimed she knew me very well. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Holland, but now I am curious! Maybe I should buy her lunch with all my ‘shill-bucks’ so I can correct her on all of the errors she made about me!
In another Dutch news article, Tom’s position got some good exposure. But in the comment section, someone had finally found something to attack Tom for. He had spent some time working for the Smithsonian in the US. And we all know that the Smithsonian has a positive attitude towards GM technology and once had a donation from Monsanto! “Gotchya Tom! You’re a shill!”.
One has to wonder what all of these personal smear campaigns are about. The anti-agri-tech activists have resorted to one argument, and one only – that of argumentum ad hominem. When you have no facts, attack the person (the scientists, policymakers, media – it seems Monsanto was paying off everyone). It goes over well with those in the activist echo-chamber. But this was a case where the Monsanto Tribunal event was taking place, and there were no industry people involved to attack (except the organic food industry lobby). Since the obsessive compulsive reflex is to apply the personal smear approach, the Monsanto Tribunal organization and CEO Nina Holland had to attack someone … anyone! So my failed attempt to attend their event or Tom’s engagement with the media was fair game. I find this absurd!
CEO gets almost a million euros a year from anti-industry foundations to investigate industry lobbying (essentially they farm the funds out to capture “freelance” journalists). That they would spend so much of their time and their funders’ money obsessing about me (and by association, Tom) is quite funny and ridiculous. I wish my children would give me that much attention! I am happy to have distracted them, their time and their research funds from broadsiding other, much more important issues (like trade agreements).
The Hypocrite’s Oath: The Ten Contradictions of the Monsanto Tribunal
So we have a situation now which is counter-intuitive (dare I suggest “hypocritical”). Here are ten contradictions from the Monsanto Tribunal that only an obsessive-compulsive hypocrite could live with:
- The largest lobby organization in the agri-food debate is now the organic industry lobby;
- Most of the activists lobbying for the organic industry (like CEO) also condemn industry lobbying;
- People trained in peaceful resistance are now silencing dialogue and roughing up dissenters;
- NGOs are controlling messages at events that attack a company for controlling messages;
- Those leading a “revolution” in farming are not listening to farmers (even organic farmers);
- Eco-warriors like Ronnie Cummins find groups like Greenpeace far too mainstream to invite;
- Ecologists, far too sophisticated for traditional religions, are now fawning before spiritual eco-gurus like Vandana Shiva;
- Those complaining that Monsanto controls the media flew their own media to The Hague;
- Groups that preach love and harmony find themselves united in a common, rabid hatred;
- And, here’s the kicker, their obsessive aggression made the Risk-Monger into a victim!
Of course, this blatant hypocrisy is perfectly palatable to obsessive compulsive activists like the organizers in the Monsanto Tribunal. They can live perfectly fine with these contradictions.
After my visit to the Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, nothing surprises me anymore. This is, after all, the Age of Stupid!
This article appeared originally on his blog under the title “Monsanto Tribunal: How Obsessive Compulsive Activists Try to Control the Message” and is being reproduced here with permission of the author.
David Zaruk is a Belgian-based environmental-health risk policy analyst specializing in the role of science in policy and societal issues. He blogs under the pseudonym: The Risk-Monger. Follow him on Twitter at @zaruk