Monthly Archives: February 2014

GMOs, Vaccines and Social Media; What Is Our Responsibility?

corn squirrels

For about a year now I have been torn between wanting to start my own blog and not wanting to tackle the political hot topics that interest me. I have read many blogs and stories about issues that deal with our food production and people can get mean. I have hesitated in the past because I didn’t know if I could handle the heat directly on me.

Lately I have been listening to the pleas of farm advocates across the country to join the cause. So many people are vocal on social media about our food and where it comes from. Many of these people have not had the opportunity to ever talk to a farmer about farming practices or have ever set foot on a farm. As a farming industry we need to be sharing our stories with the world. So this train of thought has brought me to my very first (farm related) blog post. I am not attempting to tackle the science behind these issues right now but instead I am focusing on what the end result may be when YOU share a story written about them.

Now I know you may be wondering how vaccinations tie into a farming topic. It doesn’t, not exactly anyway. But between stories about GMOs and posts telling me to (or not to) vaccinate my kids, I hardly see any other status updates anymore. I get the feeling that with the pressure to be the perfect parents in today’s culture, women rally at their keyboards to prove to the world that they are the quintessential ‘Supermom’. Feeding their families organic, sharing stories about the horrors of GMOs, saving their children from autism by avoiding vaccinations, and using only ‘green products’ and ‘all natural’ cleaners. Many moms feel that these things make them socially responsible parents and they are eager to show the world just how responsible they are. Many of us haven’t stopped and thought about what the effect of all this ‘liking, sharing and linking’ on social media really is.

Last year I attended a conference and heard Cami Ryan, Ph.D. speak. A Professional Affiliate with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan, she has a very educated opinion on how sites like twitter and facebook can be used as a tool to launch anti-science campaigns and how quickly they can gain steam. Check out some of her posts https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cami-Ryan-on-agriculture-science-technology-and-society/164540416910426?ref=ts&fref=ts. She gave a compelling speech about how GMOs are becoming the myth of our time and the long lasting dangers of people having an uneducated opinion on this topic. Yet ask almost any mom that has a facebook account and an opinion they will have.

So how do topics like our food supply and vaccinations become so political in this country? Anti-vaccers and anti-GMO activists run highly motivated and targeted campaigns to get people on board with their cause. Admit it, you have clicked on more than one article boasting the horrors of GMOs or listing the top 10 reasons you should eat only organic. It’s so easy to skim over these stories and hit the ‘like’ button without a thought. Or maybe even with the thought that we should tell others how terrible it would be for them to feed their children GMO corn that even the squirrels wouldn’t eat (it must be true, there was a picture of corn NOT EATEN!). These campaigns are not reserved for social media but also target poorer countries where the population does not have access to scientific information to refute any claims. What we are doing by engaging in these sites and stories is giving momentum to a movement that really has no legs other than using the fear of others.

When it comes to GMOs it’s not really about the genetic engineering. “if genetic engineering were really the issue, citizens in rich countries would be just as skeptical today about the use of GMOs in medicine as in agriculture, yet citizens in both the United States and Europe welcome the recombinant drugs made from GMOs that now constitute approximately 25 percent of all new drugs approved for the market in rich countries.” (Robert L. Paarlberg, Starved for Science, Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.) So what is it about? I encourage you to search the internet, read some books, follow the science and decide for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti – organic. I support and respect those farmers who have chosen to venture into the organic market. I do question though how the word ‘organic’ has become synonymous with being a good parent. Last night on TV I watched a show where a couple was planning on moving to Panama with their young daughter because they wanted to live a more ‘organic’ lifestyle for her. What does that even mean? I think as a society we are confusing a set of ideologies with science.

I personally have spoken with people who have read a story about GMO’s written by someone who runs an organic grocery store or watched an interview with Jenny McCarthy about vaccines. Some of these people speak like scholars on the dangers of conventional farming and the horrors of vaccines. One heartfelt story can be enough to convince a person of a viewpoint, and the next thing you know they have taken up the cause. They will share their version of the ‘truth’ with everyone they know. The results are simple to figure out; sharing stories leads to empathy and compassion by a large part of the population, which leads to pressure on political members, which leads to changes in policy. So although it seems extreme and a tad dramatic, it is true; sharing a story about eating only organic produce can cause children to suffer and starve in places like Africa.

What do we need in North America to put things into perspective? In the low income countries around the world mothers are begging and desperate for the very thing the mothers in our country are fighting against; crops that produce more food and higher yields and vaccines for our children. According to many of my peers these things are evils that need to be destroyed.

Although I could write a 10 page report concerning the suffering that we have caused in Africa through policy changes in North America and around the world in the last 30 years, I will generalize by referring to one main incident in 2002 when drought hit Africa for the second time in a decade. The United States responded by sending aid in the form of shipments of Maize. Many of us know what happened after that;

“Not to be outdone in the chase for money from fear-mongering, Greenpeace and other special interest groups, such as Friends of the Earth and the U.K.’s Soil Association, deployed their considerable media-manipulating machinery to spread more scare stories.
Activists claimed they were performing a public service by alerting locals in Africa that GM foods from the United States would render the men impotent. In the Philippines, people were told, and some convinced, by activist scaremongers that merely walking through a field of genetically modified corn could turn heterosexual, virile men gay. European activists went to Zambia during the height of the 2002 famine and convinced then president Levy Mwanawasa that the GM corn in food aid contributed by the United States was “poison.” As reported by the BBC, Mwanawasa duly locked up the food in the warehouses – the same GM corn eaten without incident by millions of Americans – and then watched his subjects die, insisting such a fate was preferable to eating “poison.” That is, until the starving Zambians broke into the warehouses and gorged themselves healthy on the allegedly poisonous corn.”

“-To be a well fed westerner, to tell lies and deliberate misinformation to starving people only to further a political viewpoint about food types one disagrees with being eaten, without any scientific proof of the claims made, is really beyond the pale. People begged for food, begged for food for their children, for their families, babies cried with empty bellies- and there were warehouses of food available, donated, left to rot- yes, literally rot – because of some well-fed westerners who grandstanded on a scientifically unproven point that was political from start to finish.
(http://idigmygarden.com/forums/showthread.php?t=58984)”

Close to 25 Massachusetts middle school students were forced to skip lunch a few months ago because they came up short on their pre-paid lunch cards. The school threw away the food and made the kids go hungry. This story was all over the internet within a few days. I read it on CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/05/us/massachusetts-lunch-denied/index.html)
“[My son] said ‘because I was a dollar short they made me throw my lunch away and I couldn’t eat,'” Jo-An Blanchard, a parent of one of the students, told NBC10. “I told him this is bullying, neglect, child abuse. You can’t do that to children.” http://idigmygarden.com/forums/showthread.php?t=58984 Six million children around the world died last year, 20,864 people will die of hunger today. I guess ‘we can’t do that to children in the United States’ is a more accurate statement.

Similar incidents have occurred regarding vaccines with NGO groups preaching scientifically unproven facts in poorer countries. This is a calculated and strictly political effort to scare the government into passing legislation that is in line with their cause;

Anti-vaccine sentiment plagues Nigeria:
“In the early first decade of the 21st century, conservative religious leaders in northern Nigeria, suspicious of Western medicine, advised their followers not to have their children vaccinated with oral polio vaccine. The boycott was endorsed by the governor of Kano State, and immunization was suspended for several months. Subsequently, polio reappeared in a dozen formerly polio-free neighbors of Nigeria, and genetic tests showed the virus was the same one that originated in northern Nigeria: Nigeria had become a net exporter of polio virus to its African neighbors. People in the northern states were also reported to be wary of other vaccinations, and Nigeria reported over 20,000 measles cases and nearly 600 deaths from measles from January through March 2005.[35] In 2006 Nigeria accounted for over half of all new polio cases worldwide.[36] Outbreaks continued thereafter; for example, at least 200 children died in a late-2007 measles outbreak in Borno State.[37]”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccine_controversies)

Can you imagine all of the neighbor’s children dying of disease and not having the option to vaccinate yours? Or having your own children cry in your arms from starvation even though there is food available just down the road? All the while groups from rich countries are telling you that starvation is preferable to feeding your family food that millions of people have eaten with no scientifically proven ill effects, and a slow painful death by illness is preferable to receiving a vaccination that has saved millions of others around the world. The mother in the poorer nation has as much love for her children as you do yours; she just isn’t always offered the choice to save them. Your children were just lucky to be born to you instead of to her.

“- I have believed for a long time that disparities in health are some of the worst inequities in the world—that it is unjust and unacceptable that millions of children die every year from causes that we can prevent or treat. I don’t think a child’s fate should be left to what Warren Buffett calls the “ovarian lottery.” If we hit this goal of convergence, the ovarian lottery for health outcomes will be closed for good.”
(annualletter.gatesfoundation.org)

In conclusion I am calling together the troops of Mothers who care about their children, and the children of the world. While you are sitting at your computer drinking your pumpkin spice latte and catching up on your social media of choice please practice due diligence when reading anything related to vaccinations or GMOs. Click the link and find out whose opinion you are listening to and figure out if it is scientifically founded information before you share it because your choices have effects that echo around the world. What you share with the world is a reflection of you and the truth is what is most important. Yes squirrels will eat GMO corn and you don’t have to prove a thing to me, I already think you are Supermom.

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