1.The Challenge of the 21st Century
2.The campaign against Rachel Carson
3.And the beat goes on...
EXTRACTS: 'Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long term effect will be.' [item 1]
'When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?' [item 2]
'Monsanto tried to destroy her. They mounted a tremendous advertising campaign to discredit her and invalidate her work. They wanted to ruin her in every possible way they could.' [item 3]
1.The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Real Bottom Line
by David Suzuki The 2008 Commonwealth Lecture in London, England [extract only]
”¦What is the environmental crisis that we are talking about? What does it mean? In 1962, I was galvanised to join what became the environmental movement when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring , a book about the unexpected effects of pesticides. It is hard to imagine what the world was like in 1962, but when her book came out there was not a single Department or Ministry of Environment in any government on the planet. Rachel Carson put the environment on the agenda around the world.
As I was swept up in the movement, along with millions of others around the world, I felt that human beings were removing too much from the environment, and returning too much waste and toxic material back into it. At that time the solution was to create an infrastructure of government departments of the environment, to enforce laws to protect endangered species and regulate the quality of air and water. But by the early 1970s I realised it would not work this way because we do not know enough to be able to regulate new technologies as they develop.
Let me give you a couple of examples. DDT had been synthesised in the 1800s but it wasn’t until the 1930s that Paul Müller showed that DDT kills insects and could solve a lot of problems. This seemed a way to control pests that had plagued humankind while offering corporations an opportunity to make money. Müller won a Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1948. Then in the 1950s birdwatchers observed that predatory birds in particular were in decline and biologists discovered a phenomenon which we did not even know existed bio-magnification. They found that DDT sprayed in concentrations of parts per millions is absorbed by micro-organisms that are not killed by it. Instead, it is concentrated so that at each trophic level up the food chain, DDT concentration is amplified. Eventually, in the fatty tissue in shell glands of birds and the mammary glands of mammals the DDT can become concentrated tens of thousands of times.
Looking back, could we have avoided DDT damage with regulations? When DDT began to be used, the phenomenon of bio-magnification was not even known to exist. We only discovered it when eagles began to disappear and scientists tracked it down. The same happened with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs seemed to be a wonderful invention large ring molecules with chlorine atoms attached. Chlorine is a highly reactive element but it becomes inert when part of these ring molecules. Why does that matter? Well, CFCs seem to be a perfect additive to spray cans. If you are going to put, say, deodorant in spray cans you do not fill the whole can with deodorant, you do not need that much. You just put a little bit at the bottom and add a propellant. But if you put air in, the oxygen is highly reactive and breaks down the deodorant. CFCs, however, are big molecules and they are chemically inert. So we began to use CFCs by the millions and millions of pounds. Only years later did scientists discover that CFCs persist in the environment and in the upper atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation from the sun breaks chlorine atoms off the CFCs and the chlorine free radicals react with ozone and break it down. When scientists announced this, I had not even realised that there was an ozone layer up there to break down. How could we have managed CFCs when we did not have any idea what their effect would be in the environment?
Something similar happened with nuclear power. When the atom bombs were dropped over Japan in 1945, scientists did not even know the existence of radioactive fallout. They did not know about electromagnetic pulses of gamma rays that knock out electrical circuits; neither did we know of the risk of nuclear winter. How could we manage these technologies when we are so ignorant of the way the world works?
I am a geneticist by training, and history indicates we are in for similar surprises with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We are now manipulating the very blueprint of life, creating organisms that have never existed before. Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long term effect will be. Europeans have been much more conservative about allowing GMOs into their countries. When I come to Europe, environmentalists tell me they are watching Canadians, who have been doing a huge experiment by eating it for over 5 years!
So for me as a scientist it was a real dilemma. We often see unpredictable environmental impacts arising from our use of science and technology. How can we manage the impact of these new powers when we are so ignorant about the world around us?
2.The campaign against Rachel Carson
How they tried to silence Silent Spring
Silent Spring [was] serialized in the New Yorker in June 1962... Even before publication, Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a 'hysterical woman' unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid - indeed, the whole chemical industry - duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media... In their ugly campaign to reduce a brave scientist's protest to a matter of public relations, the chemical interests had only increased public awareness. - Time Magazine names Rachel Carson among top 100 scientists and thinkers. http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/carson03.html
Silent Spring was written before big business politics and sophistry were so well versed at setting the terms of discourse about environmental issues. Still, during the four years that Carson spent writing the book, she was well aware that it would unleash the wrath of the chemical industry.
Carson's concerns were well founded. After The New Yorker serialized parts of the book, the New York Times ran an article with the headline, Silent Spring Is Now Noisy Summer: Pesticide Industry Up In Arms Over a New Book. The story began, 'The $300,000,000 pesticides industry has been highly irritated by a quiet woman author whose previous works on science have been praised for the beauty and precision of the writing.' - Industry Attacks on Dissent: From Rachel Carson to Oprah http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2002/0302orlando.html
...she was almost silenced when one company sought an injunction to prevent the sale of her book. Thankfully it failed, but the attacks continued. Many agrochemical companies launched a serious offensive trying to rubbish her. One of the most vocal critics was a name now familiar to most of us - Monsanto. And among the attacks were the predictable personal ones. Rachel Carson was denigrated as an 'emotional female alarmist'. A slap in the face, when in fact her sex was irrelevant to her scientific research and the facts she discovered. - Sophie Poklewski Koziell, Two Women of the Soil, Resurgence Issue 195 http://www.resurgence.org/resurgence/issues/koziell195.htm
...industry's attack on Rachel Carson was swift and vicious. The chemical companies banded together and hired a public relations firm to malign the book and attack Carson's credibility. The pesticide industry trade group, the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, spent over $250,000 (equivalent to $1.4 million today) to denigrate the book and its author.
Milton Greenstein, legal counsel and vice president of The New Yorker, was called by at least one chemical company and told that the magazine would be sued if it didn't pull the last installment it planned to run of Carson's book.
Carson effectively got her message across in part because what she had to say was radically new to the public, because her facts were unassailable, and because industry, though quite capable of attacking her and the publications that featured her work, had not yet learned how to overload the media - and by extension the people - with its own point of view.
One chemical industry leader, the Monsanto Company, has a long record of going after its critics... A billion-dollar company when Silent Spring first appeared, it published a parody of Carson's work, called 'The Desolate Year,' in the October 1962 issue of Monsanto Magazine. Since then, Monsanto has become a corporate role model in sugar-coating unpalatable facts and silencing dissent. - Industry Attacks on Dissent: From Rachel Carson to Oprah http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2002/0302orlando.html
One scientist speaking for the chemical industry warned, 'if man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.'... Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson wondered publicly why a 'childless spinster' should be worried about how pesticides might affect future generations. He concluded that she was 'probably a Communist.' - Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement http://blog.oup.com/2007/03/rachel_carson_s/
The New Yorker serialisation had taken everyone by surprise; now, every effort was made to suppress or vilify the book, not only by chemical companies such as Velsicol and Monsanto, and the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, but also by government departments, the Nutrition Foundation, and even baby food producers.
When she did feel the need to strike back, however, she was characteristically effective: one reviewer, she said, 'was offended because I made the statement that it is customary for pesticide manufacturers to support research on chemicals in the universities... I can scarcely believe the reviewer is unaware of it, because his own university is among those receiving such grants.'
She went on: 'Such a liaison between science and industry is a growing phenomenon, seen in other areas as well. The American Medical Association, through its newspaper, has just referred physicians to a pesticide trade association for information to help them answer patients' questions about the effects of pesticides on man.
'I am sure physicians have a need for information on this subject. But I would like to see them referred to authoritative scientific or medical literature - not to a trade organisation whose business it is to promote the sale of pesticides.' She concluded: 'When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?' - John Burnside, Reluctant Crusader, The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4415443,00.html
3.And the beat goes on... [extract]
While Rachel Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is to be found listed amongst Time magazine's 100 greatest scientists and thinkers who've changed our world, when Carson's book was first published, she was the subject of ferocious attack.
To the fore was a corporation whose tactics against its critics continue to attract controversy:
'Monsanto tried to destroy her. They mounted a tremendous advertising campaign to discredit her and invalidate her work. They wanted to ruin her in every possible way they could.' (Common Ground Interview with John Robbins) http://www.foodrevolution.org/commonground.htm
As well as coming under personal attack, efforts were made to silence her publishers (see The campaign against Rachel Carson). Rachel Carson was, of course, far from the last to be lined up to be silenced in this way.
In 1997, for example, Monsanto succeeded in pressurising Fox TV into not showing a report that two award-winning investigative journalists had made about Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH. The report was pulled virtually on the eve of broadcast, after Monsanto hired a renowned New York attorney to complain to Fox TV. Under pressure from Monsanto, the journalists were ordered to rewrite their report and when they then refused to - in their own words, 'broadcast false information and slant the truth to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of special interests', they were sacked.
Then there was, Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food by Dr Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey. Just three days before the book was due to be published by a major publisher, Monsanto sent a threatening letter and the publisher pulled out.
Happily, Against the Grain went on to be published by Common Courage Press in 1998. That same year, though, the printers for The Ecologist - a firm that had worked successfully with the magazine for over twenty-five years - unilaterally pulped the 14,000 copy print run of its special edition, The Monsanto Files.
And even when the special issue went on to be printed by a different firm, two leading UK newsagent chains refused to stock it for fear of the consequences. The Ecologist's editor, Zac Goldsmith, spoke of 'de facto censorship' and said of Monsanto, 'It goes to show what a powerful force a reputation can be.'
The vilification of Rachel Carson herself also bears witness to the fact that it is not just printers, publishers and retailers who have to mind their backs. In 2002 research by GM Watch helped to expose a Monsanto-initiated smear campaign against Dr Ignacio Chapela, following the publication by the journal Nature of research by Quist and Chapela showing GM contamination of native Mexican maize.
Our research also showed that the campaign of character assassination Chapela faced was part of a wider campaign to get fellow scientists to put pressure on Nature to retract his article. We tracked how the whole campaign was initiated and fuelled by Monsanto and its PR agency, the Bivings Group, using third party fronts and proxies to make the campaign appear unconnected to the corporation.
Even though the PR tactics deployed may have been less sophisticated at the time of the publication of Silent Spring, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations involved could still rely on support for their campaign of attack from willing third parties. And this involved not just their friends and supporters in government and the media, but also those in academia.
It's no wonder then that Rachel Carson felt it worth drawing attention to the financial ties between the corporations and the universities, as well as to ask, 'When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?'