Sunday, January 25, 2015

Conversation With Andre/Lunch With Vandana

Last Friday I talked by phone to Andre Leu, co-author of the No. 1 Smoking Gun (see Mission Statement for the reference), who’s in Australia.  Despite his French-sounding name, he’s a fair dinkum Ozzie with their typical relaxed, easy-going manner over a very down-to-earth, hard-to-fool mind, the exact opposite of the stereotypic anti-GMOer I mentioned in my last post.  I kicked off by asking him if there had been much reaction to his article.  There had been some, but he admitted it hadn’t yet been that much (it’s certainly not a fraction of what it merits).  But that, he said somewhat to my surprise, had been intentional.  They deliberately wanted to avoid a Pile-On (see The Credentials Game for what a Pile-On is).  They wanted to keep a low profile and let the word spread gradually through academia, convincing those who needed to be convinced.

I told him that I was planning a full-court press on the article (details forthcoming) and asked him if he wanted me to lay off.  If he had said yes, this blog would no longer exist (at least not in the form I had planned) because I immediately liked and respected him and the last thing I wanted was to upset his plans.  No, he said, as long as it was someone else bearing the brunt, that was fine, if I was ready for it.  Ready, I said, indeed eager.

Another thing I asked him was, why hadn’t they published in a higher-impact journal?  Answer, because you can’t get anti-GMO papers into higher-impact journals.  I believe him and I believe that in his case at least this is neither paranoia nor loser’s whine.  Science as a whole may not be for sale.  But wherever Science impacts on Big Money, it’s for sale.  At least there are buyers and takers.  Look, use your common sense.  Corporations exist to make profits for their shareholders.  It’s all they exist for.  What’s wrong with that?  So if millions of dollars are at stake, and if you run the risk of losing them if you get too much adverse criticism, are you just going to sit on your hands?  And there are more ways of buying people than just handing over wads of cash. 

But that's another post.

Next day came the Vandana Shiva lunch.  This was a fully interactive event sponsored by the North Shore branch of the Outdoor Circle (of which my wife Yvonne is a board member) in collaboration with the Center for Food Safety.  Our State senator Gil Riviere was there and just before the formal proceedings started I asked him where he stood on GMOs.  He said he was in favor of labeling but had an open mind on other issues.  I was disappointed, because he had been a leading opponent of the Dirty Dozen, a series of anti-environmental bills that came before the State legislature a couple of years ago, but he left with the usual polspeak about paying attention to the feelings of his constituents.

Thirty of these plus Vandana gave him a forceful account of those feelings in the next couple of hours.  Practically everyone said their piece but yours truly; as the new kid on the anti-GMO block I kept mouth shut and ears pinned back, except I did announce this blog and got a good laugh.  Among other highlights, Andy Kimbrell outlined CFS’s strategy for the coming year.  It was to start by preparing and pushing for a bill that would mandate full disclosure of when, where and how much pesticide was sprayed in the islands.  Despite a long history of pesticide problems, Hawaii is one of a minority of states with no regulation.  Big advantage of this approach is that it would be very hard to combat.  The usual argument here against any GMO or pesticide regulation, that it would “hurt farmers”, just would not fly.  Moreover, once parents got to know what quantities of toxic materials were regularly released in the vicinity of their kids’ schools, we would tap into another very powerful constituency, and bills involving the creation of “buffer zones” to limit spraying, already in the pipeline, would stand a better chance of passing.  Only after that would we get on to heavier issues like labeling or (shudder) the actual prohibition of particular crops and pesticides.

I dug this approach because it was just like a technique Yvonne would use, when she was still in practice, on clients with phobias.  It’s called “successive approximation”.  You start from making them imagine circumstances where the fear might arise, then introduce them to real physical circumstances that might trigger a relatively mild form of the fear, and after that gradually escalate things until you could take, say, an acrophobic to the roof of a high-rise and have them look over without panicking.  Yes, it does work.

All in all, the event was a success.  People who had seldom or never met before bonded with one another.  People who already knew each other well reinforced their commitment and went away full of hope and enthusiasm for what might be a decisive year.  I’m an optimist about my own life but a full-on pessimist on almost everything else, so when I say I shared these feelings it should surely count for something.

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