AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
As you probably all know, the rhetoric of the
anti-biotechnology movement was never much different than
that of other movements which arose at roughly the same
time, anti-government, anti-globalization, anti-corporation,
anti-capitalism, etc. The Seattle riots during the WTO
conference brought these groups together, and their shared
aims and rhetoric make it reasonable to dub them
collectively as 'eco-reactionary.'
After these groups came together, and found common cause,
the volume of rhetoric has grown substantially, to the point
where it becomes possible to evaluate the movement and to
determine its coherency and some of its direction.
Anti-globalism is a form of anti-authoritarianism, also
known as anarchy (see below). However, it deserves separate
treatment, since it is a species of xenophobia. This type of
xenophobia does not rely on fear of the stranger, however;
it relies instead on the notion that those in other lands
have a lifestyle or culture with which others should not
interfere. This is a notion analogous to 'biodiversity,' and
the analogy has at times been made obvious with the use of
the term 'bioregionalism.'
One would think that regional self-determination would then
by necessity be part of the eco-reactionary agenda, i.e., if
people in some countries would like to improve their
standard of living, they ought to be able to, even if that
means receiving economic or technological support from
This is not an option in the anti-globalism agenda. These
countries, regions or cultures must rely on themselves. In
this manner, anti-globalism becomes globalism; it amounts to
eco-reactionaries telling people in other countries, regions
or cultures what they may or may not do. In countries
desperately short of food or other basic necessities, it
also amounts to disdain for the poor.
Some eco-reactionary groups in developed countries are not
in the least abashed in their efforts to tell developing
countries how to conduct their affairs, and could therefore
be considered to be pro-globalist in their intentions.
Anti-corporate sentiment is a popular theme, and involves
anti-authoritarian notions (see below) combined with
anti-capitalism notions (see below). The rhetoric relies on
combining a sense of rebellion with a demonization of
authority. The eco-reactionary view of the corporation is
that of an authority motivated solely by money, rather than
by concern for the general welfare.
The eco-reactionary groups, many of which are multinational
corporations themselves, avoid tarring themselves with the
same brush by pointing out that they are "non-profit"
enterprises motivated by the general welfare.
The notion that the larger of these groups are not motivated
by profit is open to question. A more reasonable view is
that these groups intend to profit by touting their notion
of what serves the general welfare. It is undeniable that
these groups are heavily funded by for-profit corporations
in the organic food sector, corporations which are
distinguishable from the rest by having adopted, and by
profiting from, the eco-reactionary movement.
The eco-reactionaries are not abashed by subsisting on the
fruits of economic enterprise delivered to them by
non-organic corporations, however. Furthermore, few of them
want corporations to dissolve and disappear. The majority of
them merely want corporations to do what the
eco-reactionaries tell them, in an hegemony similar to that
formed with the organic food sector. This, of course,
implies a form of control on corporations, which contradicts
the stand of many of them regarding authority.
The stance of these groups against the profit motive is best
characterized as a component of their stance against the
corporations which are said to focus exclusively on money to
the exclusion of all else. While there are some fringe
elements who openly adopt Marxist principles regarding the
evils of private ownership of capital, the mainstream
eco-reactionary groups tend to view capitalism as a
catch-all category for malicious motives, i.e., profit "at
the expense of" people. Viewing profit as evidence of
exploitation is not far removed from Marxist principles, but
the mainstream anti-capitalists are not likely to adopt
Marxism openly because of the recent alignment of the
eco-reactionaries with organized labor, at least in the US.
The US labor movement is virulently anti-Marxist; at the
same time, it has for decades sought to exercise control
over corporations, much in the manner by which
eco-reactionaries wish to exercise such control.
The eco-reactionary groups are not against technology per
se, though there are exceptions. In much of their rhetoric,
they portray technology as something which is under the
control of corporations (see above) and used for generating
profits (see above).
Their apparent stance against technology is most notable in
their advocacy of 'organic' agriculture, even though
'organic' agriculture amounts to corporate technology (but
The best view of their stance against technology is gained
by scrutinizing their distrust. In a single generation, we
have moved from a situation where the average intelligent
person could understand, modify or fix the vast majority of
the critical technology in use at the time, to a situation
where the ability to do so is a feat only performed by those
with arcane knowledge and expensive equipment. Gone are the
days when one could fix one's own automobile; and scams
which profit by consumer ignorance of technology
Given this, it would be easy to dismiss the anti-technology
stance as mere nostalgia. It would be more reasonable to
view this as a by-product of a score of different cultural
trends. If one couples widespread scientific illiteracy with
the tendency of high technology to specialize into strange
disciplines with their own unique vocabularies, and adds
distrust of 'experts' with corporate ties and a profit
motive, one encounters a situation where the average citizen
is alienated from technologies they cannot live without, but
which are beyond their ken.
Anarchy is another term for this syndrome, and theorists
advocating anarchy abound to the point where classifying its
modern varieties would boggle even the most dogged botanist.
Still, anarchy has become the catch-all for being
anti-technology, anti-government, anti-globalism, and in
light of the anti-technology position, individualistic.
At this point, the movements are caught in a dilemma. They
decry authority, yet demand control.
By claiming to be motivated by concerns for the general
welfare, anarchists take upon themselves the mantle of
government. However, governments are also required to
achieve consensus and shoulder the responsibility of
implementing measures to improve the general welfare. To
avoid the responsibilities which a real concern for the
general welfare might impose, they call themselves
'non-governmental organizations' (NGOs).
This puts eco-reactionaries in a unique position: they do
not assume quasi-governmental authority and the social
responsibility that would imply. Rather, they assume the
position of telling governmental authority what to do.
Authority without responsibility, and advocacy without
franchise, some would argue, are dangerous combinations.
The eco-reactionaries are forced to subsist in a region
where uneasy tension prevails. They are against governments,
international groups and corporations, yet could not exist
without them. They want power over these entities, yet
eschew the exercise of authority. They make use of
technologies they do not understand, while railing against
them. They oppose globalization, even as they attempt to
spread their influence everywhere.
The eco-reactionaries are currently working on consolidating
a movement which has numerous agendas, and a dangerously
confused ideology. Whether the points I have raised indicate
fault-lines where the initiative will fracture and falter,
or points which eventual consensus will resolve, will be
chronicled by some uncertain date. Victors write the
Subject:Re: On Organic Food Being Sold As Result of Food Scares
Dear Mr. Kottmeyer:
It's an open secret that the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US
Department of Agriculture will never undertake any comprehensive comparisons of
organic and conventional agriculture and the risks posed to consumers by these
methods, because of the natural [sic] backlash by activists when the
Government agencies suffer badly enough from the antics of these groups, why
invite worse? Besides, governments, like corporations, prefer to work
reactively, not proactively. They want to see an unanticipated problem mature,
ripen and explode before they take action.
When the Organic Hoax is finally unveiled after thousands die from E. coli,
Listeria, etc. from 'organic' foods with the USDA label and the rest of
consumers shun them, embarassed that they have been paying twice as much money
for twice as much risk, then, finally, the studies will be undertaken. For the
time being, politics rules science.
>Perhaps one should look at recent food scares and studies involving organic
Subject: Organic Flavor
Several members of this group questioned whether objective
studies had been carried out which vindicate the claim that
organic produce tastes better than conventional. This is all
I have been able to discover:
"Taste is determined primarily by freshness. In the early
1990s, Israeli researchers made 460 assessments of 9
different fruits and vegetables and no significant
difference in quality between "organic" and conventionally
grown samples. The Consumer Reports' study found no
consistent differences in appearance, flavor, or texture."
Healthy ideas: Wash your produce. Consumer Reports on
Health, 10(3):5, 1998.
Basker, D. Comparison of taste quality between organically
grown fruits and vegetables. American Journal of Alternative
Agriculture 7:129-136, 1992.
I've often wondered what would tempt a scientist to abandon
the scientific method in favor of activism. I found a most
interesting page on that topic:
Subject: Organic Economics/Was Re: Iceland Foods
Ever since Britain's Iceland supermarket chain announced
that it had locked up 40 percent of the world output of
organic produce to feed its one-percent share of the British
market, folks have wondered about the economics of organics.
The question: is organic production as efficient as
conventional, and therefore able to compete with
conventional, or must organic always sell at a premium to be
economically sustainable? I found this:
"Organic potatoes yielded an average of 21,200 pounds per
acre over all three varieties, while conventional methods averaged 32,800
pounds per acre. Overall organic production costs averaged $1,074 per
acre compared to overall conventional production costs that averaged $928
Net returns were calculated for conventional potatoes using
harvest time prices actually received. A break-even price was then
determined for organic potatoes that would make their net returns equal to
conventionally produced potatoes.
To achieve break-even returns for organic potatoes, growers
needed price increases of 24, 90, and 228 percent over conventional
potato prices for Russet Norkotah, Superior and Norland, respectively.
Achieving these premiums requires access to organic markets,
supplies that do not saturate the markets, and a quality,
unblemished product. Fortunately, many potato growers are
experienced wholesale and retail marketers."
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