It’s the festive time of year!
While you’re busy trimming your home, sipping hot cocoa, and playing holiday music, Santa is busy checking his list to see who has been naughty and nice in 2016. Luckily for him, each year I compile a list of some of the naughtiest people influencing agriculture. It certainly makes his job a little easier, and provides a handy guide for the rest of us.
If you think I’ve missed anyone this year, feel free to leave a comment (be sure to let me know why!), and I’ll consider passing your suggestions on to Santa!
10. Vandana Shiva
Though I haven’t written about her previously, Shiva is prominent figure in the anti-GMO movement. Shiva hails from India and makes a lot of money running around spreading her anti-modern agriculture message. While she’s been influential in the movement overall, she hit on my radar when she came to my backyard. Drake University in Iowa hosted Shiva (who apparently charges a pretty penny for public appearances) for a tirade on conventional agriculture. I’m thankful that Michelle Miller, also known as Farm Babe, was able to attend and stand up to Shiva and her radical agenda. What’s sad is that farmers in India could very much benefit from the technology that Shiva works so hard to demonize – and that is just naughty.
9. Environmental Working Group
If we’re talking about people or groups that thrive on scaring others, then EWG is the perfect example. The group is best known for its annual Dirty Dozen list, in which it purports to warn folks about the produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue, and then recommends people buy only organic versions of that produce (ignoring the fact that organic agriculture also uses pesticides). But over the year I also became more acquainted with EWG’s marketing and fundraising tactics. After being added to its mailing list, I started getting fear-mongering emails every single day. Headlines warned the recipient about all sorts of chemicals, cancer-causing substances, and government conspiracy theories. Every. Single. Day. Oh, and most of those emails contained a link to donate to EWG….you know, so you can help them with all that important work they do. With all that money, EWG doesn’t need Santa to bring it any presents anyway.
8. Organic Consumers Association
The Organic Consumers Association is usually pretty naughty by attacking conventional farmers, and sometimes even organic farmers. But this year the group gave us a unique opportunity to see just how far-reaching its naughtiness goes. Members rained money down on the floor of the US Senate after a procedural vote on GMO labeling (something about Monsanto and lobbyists), despite the fact that the OCA itself is loaded. Prior to passage of the mandatory labeling bill (something the OCA has been calling for a long time) the group then complained that USDA Secretary Vilsack was fear-mongering when he made public statements about the hot mess that was the Vermont GMO labeling law. Uh, since when is the OCA afraid of money or fear-mongering? Sorry guys, but Santa doesn’t like hypocrites.
7. Senator Debbie Stabenow
The GMO labeling debate was coming to a head – Vermont’s state law mandating labeling on products produced with genetic engineering had just gone into effect and it was shaping up to have national consequences. Senator Debbie Stabenow was in the perfect position to bring both sides together and help pass a federal, voluntary labeling measure. But after being wined and dined by organic interests, she flipped her position on the issue. All of a sudden, she wouldn’t settle for anything less than mandatory labeling. And here we are – in July, President Obama signed into law a mandatory GMO labeling law instead of a voluntary labeling scheme. Thanks, Debbie.
6. GMO Free USA
This organization does a lot of dirty things throughout the year solely for the fact that they completely oppose the use of biotechnology. But GMO Free USA got even less classy this year when it attacked U.S. Olympian Kristin Armstrong for being sponsored by Simplot and the Innate potato. Look, if you want to deny the safety and benefits of the first GMO potato then that’s you’re own problem. But attacking an Olympian for accepting the sponsorship feels like hitting under the belt. Kristin went on to win gold in Rio, and GMO Free USA ended up on Santa’s Naughty List.
Santa’s Naughty List has featured quite a few companies that have used fear-based marketing to promote their products. This year, Dannon is entering the fold. The company came out with an entire pledge to go along with its yogurt marketing, hashtag included! Sadly, the company decided that it would include a promise to only source milk from cows fed non-GMO feed. Dannon was called out on the pledge by agriculture industry leaders. It responded by essentially admitting that yeah, GMOs are totally fine, but we’re just doing it for the marketing angle. Sorry, but honesty doesn’t negate bad behavior curled up into a marketing plan.
4. GM Watch
Few things are quite as disgusting, at least to me, as celebrating the end of family farms. But that’s precisely how GM Watch started out the year. GM Watch was cheered by the news that the anti-GMO agenda might “cripple” Midwest farms if large companies continued to switch over to non-GMO ingredients and tweeted about their excitement. But the USDA reports that 97% of farms in this country are owned and operated by families. So, GM Watch was really celebrating their efforts to “cripple” family farms. Disgusting….without even mentioning the organization’s other activities for the year.
3. Clif Bar
Clif Bar is a complete newcomer to the Naughty List and the anti-agriculture scene. Seed Matters, an initiative of the Clif Bar Family Foundation, released the vulgar and crass Mr. Seed video. It treated viewers to a whole animated video of bad information about genetically modified crops, all while singing the praises of organic agriculture. The video, which has outraged farmers, is one of the boldest attacks on family farmers yet. Ironically, attacking agriculture practices that are supposedly bad does not correspond with the good food safety practices. Earlier this year, the company was forced to recall its trail mix and energy bars due to concerns of contamination with listeria. The bars may have contained sunflower seeds with the bacteria. Come on guys, Santa doesn’t like crude humor attacking family farmers, especially if you can’t get your own house in order.
2. All Those Using Fear-Based Marketing
Whether it is Food Babe, Chipotle, the Organic Consumers Association, or your local grocery store, when people, organizations, and companies engage in marketing tactics that employ fear it hurts people. While prior research came to the same conclusion, recent research revealed that consumers are negatively impacted by these negative food messages. The result is that people, especially low-income shoppers, tend to limit their purchases of fruits and vegetables due to a fear of pesticide residue. To all the people and entities that have made bank on these deceitful tactics, you’ve earned a prominent spot on Santa’s Naughty List.
1. United States Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA has been on quite a power grab lately, and they just don’t want to stop. In 2015, they passed the power-expanding WOTUS rule, which was later halted by a federal court until further judicial review could be completed. This year, EPA implemented its Chesapeake Bay project, which was authorized under executive order. The plan would essentially allow the EPA to control private land use on a local level. But as if that wasn’t enough, the Agency also gave taxpayer money to organizations that used the money to put up anti-agriculture billboards in the State of Washington. The EPA admitted the funds were improperly used, but the damage had already been done.
Congrats to everyone making this list this year – you’re officially getting coal in your stocking!