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Date:

August 6, 2000

Subject:

Stossel

 

Much as I respect Chuck Benbrook (having served with him on an NAS panel
doing a report on Sustainable Agriculture for USAID), I must admit that I
am puzzled by his contribution.

My first point was that there has been rush to judgement by the critics and
by the New York Times without waiting for a reply and possibly an
explanation. Chuck implicitly furthers the pre-judgement by his rush to
pronounce John Stossel finished as a reporter and to accuse him of lying
before the camera. The fact is since the original program was broadcast,
the organic devotees have been throwing as much manure as they could hoping
that some would stick.

One accusation was that Avery was basing his arguments on organic
agriculture on a non-existent report by the CDC. They cleverly got the CDC
to deny they ever had such a report and that they did not have any
intention of doing one when in fact Avery made no such claim. Very clearly
in his articles and in the broadcast, Avery bases his analysis on data that
was posted on the CDC website and then quickly removed.

Since I know Chuck to be a man of personal probity, is he willing to ask
why the CDC removed the data and whether they are willing to post it again
so that we can judge for ourselves who is correct? Is Chuck willing to
check the CDC's Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal to see whether their
posted peer-reviewed articles do in fact link organic agriculture and the
lifestyle associated with it, to the rise in foodborne pathogens? Chuck,
please do come back and tell us if you can not find them or if you can not
reach that conclusion. Given the accumulating evidence and claims in peer
reviewed publications and from reputable sources such as the Scottish Crop
Research Institute, the question should be raised as to why the CDC refuses
to do such a study and why Chuck and is fellow organic enthusiasts are not
calling for one to clear their reputation. Are they afraid of the results?
Is Chuck?

The volume of misinformation (lies, to use Chuck's terminology) on the
virtues of organic agriculture and the horrors of conventional agriculture
that I have seen on television or in print or heard on the radio, is
sufficient for a book or even several volumes. I presume those are
excusable since they are in a good cause? Professional integrity involves
either not having a conflict of interests or in being fully transparent on
them. Chuck Benbrook is noticeably silent on the rather substantial
documentation on journalistic violations of this basic precept for the New
York Times and Marian Burros. By his standards, we should be writing the
Times and demanding that she be fired. If Dr. Benbrook has already sent his
letter so requesting it, would he mind sharing a copy of it with us? Note
neither I nor anyone else on these postings have called for her dismissal
(nor am I doing so now) though there is a far stronger case than would be
the case for Stossel even if the charges are proved to be correct which is
far from certain. And what about those decision makers at Consumers Union
who have decided that those of us who are member/subscribers do not need to
know whether organic food is contaminated by sulfur or copper salts. Fire
them or is Chuck ready to claim that there is no harm from them and that
the only harm is from minute traces of pesticides? Again Chuck was silent
on this point. Why?

On the opening point of Benbrook's posting: "Stossel and Avery have a right
to demonize organics; they do and try their best." This is ludicrous almost
beyond belief. As I noted for most of the 20th century, "conventional" (to
use Dr. Benbrook's term) agriculture has been demonized (trashed to use
Avery's term) by its critics yet they cry and play the role of victims when
they are criticized. They will demonize/trash anyone who even claims to
defend "conventional" agriculture or dares to suggest that organic
agriculture is not better or that the conventional food is not harmful. I
know because it has happened to me, (though I claim no status as victim) in
a forthcoming exchange in which I am accused of being a "bald-faced liar."
Again Chuck, you are silent on the introductory comments on my posting
where I noted this history of "demonizing" conventional agriculture and
further noted that there would be no reason for people to pay the much
higher prices for organic food if there were not something wrong with
conventional food. This past century, the world's population (and the US
population) has more than tripled, yet the world (and the U.S.) is better
fed than it has ever been withsafer, cleaner food than the world has ever
known. There is massive data on this by every indicator (food consumption
per capita, nutritio etc.) imaginable much of which I have in a book that
is going to press. Yet there has been a systematic demonizing of the farmer
by those who claim to be demonized. That claim is obscene.

Finally Chuck, you have frequently entered the dialog on AgBioView with a
clear dissenting view, treating us with respect and have been so treated in
return. You may have noticed from the postings that some of the anti-GM
foods groups are what we might call "selective" in whom they allow to post.
You have honestly tried to sensitize us to some of the concerns of the
organic people, so let me try to sensitize you to some of our concerns.
Many of us believe that the media or so-called media elite have an
anti-technology bias and have given the organic advocates a free ride to
criticize modern agriculture. We further feel that even the slightest
criticism of organic agriculture will bring a torrent of abuse. Anyone go
to the 20/20 website the day after the Avery/Stossel broadcast and see the
torrent of abuse including one posting that read in its entirety - "John
Stossel is a big fat whore?" When the USDA, Congress and other institutions
take actions or try to set rules not to this groups liking, they will be
inundated with form critical letters. In other words, they act as a bunch
of bullies trying to force their point of view which they cannot win with
reason and threaten any who would disagree with them by trying to deprive
them of any livelihood. The real target of the demand for Stossel to be
fired is not Stossel but more to any journalist in the future who might
wish to disagree them in any way. This is a democracy, Chuck. Let us keep
it that way and not try to stifle discourse and intellectual exchange. You
do your fine deserved reputation a gross disservice by joining the mob if
not directly calling for Stossel's dismissal then at least implying that it
of necessity should happen.

Incidently, thanks Chuck for sending me and others to the website of EWS
where they posted the email address for their followers to write to try and
get Stossel fired. The address is David.L.Westin@abc.com. I trust that
readers of this posting will be interested in their own communication with
ABC on this matter.

best wishes

Tom DeGregori

P.S. Until Chuck's posting, I was intending as an economist to make a
posting on the issue of the scale neutrality of GM foods and the green
revolution technologies. We are too modest in our claim. There is a sense
in which the improved seed is scale neutral in that farms of all size can
have the same percentage increase in output as a result. But as a practical
result, the outcome of the green revolution had a scale bias in FAVOR OF
SMALL HOLDERS AND LOW INCOME URBAN CONSUMERS. This has been demonstrated by
numerable studies. The outcome is as one would expect it to be.

In Asia, at a time when population was doubling, the real price of rice
fell in half (and remains half of what it was in the 1950s). The higher
percentage of ones income that goes to food (in other words, the lower the
income), the greater the direct benefit. Taking the very reasonable
counter-factual proposition that in the absence of the 30% increase in PER
CAPITA FOOD PRODUCTION, many would have starved and the price of food for
others would have skyrocketed, the real gain to the very poorest is even
greater. Similarly, for the subsistence farmer whose family consumes the
entire output and who because of population growth has diminished land on
which to do it, the increase in output is pure benefit. Where, the green
revolution has been vital and necessary part of a more general advance in
the economy, the subsistence farmer (on Java for example), will work a few
days a week on the plot and a few days in town for added income for other
necessities. Contrary to some critics, there is a strong positive
correlation between growth in green revolution grains, in export
agriculture and in the growth in more diverse foodstuffs including fruits,
vegetables and animal products. For the large landowner who sells most or
all of the output, the increase in output was partially offset by the
decrease in the unit price so the gain in real terms is farm less having
been passed onto the consumer. Add in the counterfactual of no green
revolution, a huge increase in the price of food and rent, the gain to the
large landowner over what they might have had is problematical though
assuming patriotism and a concern for humanity, they are better off and
safer living in a community with people who are better fed.

So, when some one makes claims about scale benefits and GM foods using the
green revolution as an example, simply point out, that if their analogy is
correct, than GM foods will help the poor more than any other group. May I
add as an economist who has worked on agriculture and economic development
around the world, that this did not happen automatically in the past-
various types of credit programs and extension and land reform made it
happen - and therefore, we can make it happen in the future but only if the
luddites will allow the technology to proceed.

Tom DeGregori 

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


=====================================================

Date: Aug 04 2000 20:25:04 EDT
From: Charles Benbrook
Subject: Why Stossel Has Been Targeted

AgBioView -- I respect the views of Tom DeGregori and his right to express
them, but he, and perhaps others on this list obviously miss completely
why Stossel's credibility and career with ABC News is no doubt in grave
jeopardy, if not history, and why ABC News will almost certainty return to
this issue with a very forthright correction and apology. Stossel and
Avery have a right to demonize organics; they do and try their best. The
issue is lying on camera before a national audience on a respected news
program, even after some of the most serious errors in the broadcast were
fully documented to ABC News management. The issue for ABC is that it's
reputation has been sullied by the lousy job they did checking on
Stossel's work on their behalf. The two consultants who did the testing
for ABC have
totally confirmed the truth of the basic charges against Stossel: there
were no produce tests comparing pesticide residues in con. versus
organics; and, the only data comparing residues by production system
showed residues in the conventional and natural samples (all of 4 tested,
I think 3 were positive), and none in the 2 organic samples.

Don't believe me? Read the whole tale, including full, original text of
the key letters exchanged with ABC News at --

Http://ewg.org/pub/home/reports/givemeafake/home.html

Members of this list are quick to criticize others who, in their view,
distort scientific information. What about making it up and lying about
the little data you have?

Chuck Benbrook


Charles Benbrook CU FQPA site www.ecologic-ipm.com
Benbrook Consulting Services Ag BioTech InfoNet www.biotech-info.net
5085 Upper Pack River Road IPM site www.pmac.net
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864
208-263-5236 (Voice) 208-263-7342 (Fax)
=================================================================

Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
Department of Economics
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204-5882
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Email trdegreg@uh.edu
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg