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May 4, 2000


Twelve Points


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Dear Colleagues,

There are often posts in this newsgroup, some of them mine, with an angry tone,
suggesting that we ought to "fight back" against the eco-reactionaries, or the
commercial/international interests who fund them, using various methods.

In spite of the fact that it can be fun to confront their ill-informed
lunacies, I have some recommendations which are more sanguine.

1. Fighting against the eco-reactionaries "hardens" their position by
conferring upon them a false legitimacy, i.e., "the big biotech interests are
scared of us and fighting back with X, Y and Z."

2. Fighting against the eco-reactionaries "hardens" their position by
solidifying the control of the upper echelons of the movements, who are
basically serving the interests of commercial and international groups, over
the "infantry" of the movements, who are basically youth who feel
disenfranchised and are looking for a fight where they can find it. If you
fight with these infantry, or with their leaders, the infantry will become
enthralled with the notion of having a nice big opponent and will be that much
gladder to follow directions from the upper echelons. Complain all you want
about my harping on this topic, but the eco-reactionary movement has all the
earmarks of a neo-fascist movement, and they have already half-way bought into
the "Fuehrer-Prinzip," in which an enlightened elite have a "natural" [sic]
right to rule non-democratically over the rest.

3. The people on the rationality side of the biotech "debate" have always and
consistently failed to locate the true battlefield, and for that reason, unless
they learn better, they will lose the whole shebang. The battlefield is NOT the
eco-reactionaries. They cannot be convinced or won over, because they don't
WANT to be convinced or won over. They have their minions, their contributors
and their financial backers to control or appease. The battlefield is the
consumers. They are the territory. They vote with their wallets.
Eco-reactionaries have almost won the battle, because they have been able
successfully to portray themselves to the media as "representing concerned
citizens frightened of a bizarre technology." The fact of the matter is,
consumers are NOT frightened. However, consumers WILL BE frightened by
eco-reactionaries if the consumers are not educated to the point where they can
smell balderdash.

4. Consumers will not be educated to the point where they can smell
eco-reactionary balderdash until the press is educated to the point where IT
can smell balderdash. Eco-reactionaries have nearly won this point, as
mass-market journalists continue to believe that such groups are "experts" on
"consumer issues" and on "environmental issues." As long as this continues,
eco-reactionary rhetoric will continue to suffuse reporting.

5. As long as governmental agencies continue, as biotech companies do, to think
that fighting or appeasing eco-reactionaries is the main effort, and to think
that there is a "consumer backlash," which there is not, they will have bought
into the eco-reactionary rhetoric as whole-heartedly as the press, and
together, they will find themselves herded, like cattle, into positions where
they feel obliged to appease 1-3 percent of the population. Naturally, this
violates the most fundamental tenets of democracy and marketing.

6. Food companies will not educate the press or the public, and they don't need
to, and what is more, they have no reason to care. Food companies do not
produce modified seed, for farmers, they just sell food, to consumers. So, if
the use of modern genetics in food production shortly becomes a forgotten art
or a footnote to texts on the history of science, they won't care. Once they
figure out labeling issues, the rest is marketing. What is more, food
companies, no matter how well-intentioned, will not 'take a bullet' for biotech
companies who can't manage public relations like any responsible company

7. In light of the foregoing, if I was a food company, I would look at all of
this and nix GMOs myself, since the upper hand in this entire thing is being
voluntarily handed over to the eco-reactionaries, by the press, the government
and the biotech companies, all of whom are so befuddled and enmeshed in the
eco-reactionary rhetoric themselves that they seem unable to respond

8. Scientists do what they can, but until they start chaining themselves to
things or dressing up in tomato suits, they're not going to make headlines.
Anyone out there see the "Vitamin A Rice Developed" story as a front-page
headline in their newspaper?

10. It is not too late, since consumers are still amenable to being educated,
at least in North America. (They have not been traumatized, as they have been
in Europe.) To educate consumers, one must first educate the media. The best
way to educate the media is, in this instance, by unveiling the hoax. The hoax

a. There is no consumer backlash. It is a small group of activists, who have
managed to inspire between 1-3 percent of the population into being fearful of
a benign science, and to trade on a poorly-deserved reputation for being

b. The government in the US is colluding with activists indirectly, just as the
EC does, but for different reasons. In the EU, consumer fears sparked by
activists amount to handy trade barriers which help farm income and the balance
of trade, in a way the WTO is nearly helpless to deal with. In the US, the
government, abetted by the biotech corporations, is willing to increase the
burden of regulatory compliance for the products of modern genetics in order to
prevent competition in this market from smaller companies who, because of the
costs of compliance, are often forced by economic considerations to sell or
license their inventions to the bigger companies.

c. The notion that biotech is "untested" is false, and all who claim this
should be utterly condemned as lying.

d. The notion that there are "unknown dangers" should be completely debunked,
as it amounts to little more than what children think of at night when they
ponder what might be beneath the bed. The "precautionary principle" should be
debunked, as it merely codifying this irrational fear.

e. The eco-reactionaries must be debunked, not only by showing that their vocal
numbers are remarkably small, but also by showing that they are paid to be
vocal by people who do NOT advocate activist interests, but merely mean to
profit by their activities.

f. The notion that there is a biotech "debate" must be thoroughly debunked. It
is an artifact, mostly just biotech companies and eco-reactionaries shouting at
each other, often through the medium of the press. Meanwhile, the public just
wants safe, cheap food, which is what they are getting.

g. The press must be alerted, thoroughly, to the fact that any statement about
biotechnology, from whatever source and no matter how benign (or worse yet, how
interesting) is inherently suspect and must be investigated.

h. The press must be given means to investigate claims about biotech, and this
is the most urgent need; it is always easy to reach a Greenpeace
representative, but finding a scientist to comment can take days. By then,
press deadline has run for every newspaper in the country. By 24 hours, press
deadline has run for all daily and online publications around the globe.

i. Ideally, eco-reactionary groups should be dismissed with a sort of benign
indifference, the same indifference we reserve for fringe groups in general.

11. Here is the main point: the truth of the situation, if widely known, could
easily relegate this to a footnote in history, rather than a chapter on
upheaval. If biotech companies could stop focusing on enemies (the vocal
minority) and start looking to their friends (farmers and consumers, together
the majority), this could shortly be over. What is more, the truth will clear
out the rhetoric from the media, and with the disappearance of that rhetoric
and the demise of the misplaced trust in eco-reactionary groups, the lies and
distortions will fade away. Perhaps to form, in the future, a chapter in a book
on "urban legends."

This IS a defensive battle, believe it or not, and defensive strategy usually
prevails. To run a defensive strategy, one must first have territory to defend,
and then let the opponent run against assets and support systems already in
place. Biotech has that. It has farmer support, which is a position it should
reinforce; it has the backing of scientists, which is a position it should
reinforce; and it has the backing of consumers (though the industry doesn't
know it) which is a position it should reinforce. The press (at least in the
US) feels constrained to tell most of the truth as is told to it, which is a
position it should reinforce. Reinforce your strength, defend the truth against
lies and distortions in a dismissive way, and don't waste your disproportionate
effort on sending out sallies against tiny bands of oddly-dressed infidels.
Keep, hold, and reinforce the main ground.

At the very least, don't continue yielding territory afrighted of ragged motley
groups. That's not defense, that's retreat without excuse. If this were a real
war, the biotech generals would be cashiered for incompetence, if not executed
for treason.

Andrew Apel