Friday morning, I was browsing my news feeds over breakfast, and I took a look at an article titled GMO Proliferation Bills by Stephen Lendman. It read like a bizarre conspiracy theory, weaving together half-truths about genetic engineering with unsourced beliefs about how some food safety-related bills must be secret ways of proliferating GE crops. I was about to click off, but then I decided to check out page two.
While skimming a section on “GMOs in the G20 Agenda”, I found a proliferation of ellipses (…) in quotes. One in particular stuck out to me:
The Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization said: “We don’t need regulation of a technology that can feed, fuel and heal the world. The G20 leaders need to recognize that GM….is the solution” to a pressing world need.
Applying our lesson from before, I did a search for that quote to find out what was removed. It seemed dubious because I have never heard of anyone claiming that we do not need any regulation of GE crops. All searches traced to an article reproduced in multiple locations, such as on GMWatch.eu. Titled GM may be on the agenda at the G20 summit, The Times, by Mark Handerson/Henderson (depending on which reproduced article you look at). But there is no such article at The Times Online by their science editor, Mark Henderson. So I immediately emailed Stephen Lendman to find out what was going on. While I was waiting for my response, I actually read through the article and it hit me. This was an April Fools joke!
Here is the article reprinted in full:
GM may be on the agenda at the G20 summit
The Times (UK), 1 April 2009. By Mark Henderson:
As the G20 meet and the world groans under the triple whammy of the food, fuel and financial crises, scientists have announced a remarkable breakthrough that they hope will make the agenda of the G20 leaders at their summit in London today.
A new genetically modified super maize is said to have the potential to not only ensure an unending era of cheap food but to make the world’s food supply far more nutritious, while providing low cost energy, reducing environmental degradation, and promoting sustainable agriculture.
The GM maize is the remarkable outcome of a project that has been kept under wraps for nearly a decade. The new super maize, which should begin field trials within the next two years, is also the result of an unusual alliance of all the major biotechnology companies. It is said to involve the most ambitious use of multi-stacked genes to date, and has already been dubbed “a multi F-ing super food”, because of its ability to feed, fuel and fortify the world, while helping to undercut the financial crisis.
In a press release Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s CEO, commented, “Not only do one in three people go to bed every night malnourished and not knowing where their next meal will come from, but many of us can barely afford to run our hummers. While not in anyway a silver bullet, this is a remarkable breakthrough in terms of putting plentiful ultra-nutritious food on the world’s table while eliminating environmental overload and petroleum dependence on often hostile foreign powers.”
Although exact details of the project and its timetable for delivery still remain sketchy for the moment, Prof. Pingo Detritus, who’s been heading up the international project, said, “This breakthrough is of such monumental importance, that it’s vital that the G20 leaders now unite behind this inspirational global endeavour and start to remove all regulatory barriers to genetically modified crops. Critics of GM foods also need to abandon their doctrinaire fact-free opposition to this life-saving technology.”
A spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington D.C. said, “We don’t need regulation of our friends in the banking sector, and we don’t need regulation of a technology that can feed, fuel and heal the world. The G20 leaders need to recognise that GM, while not being the single answer to all our problems, is the solution to the world’s most pressing needs. It can also provide the kind of economic stimulus for the global economy that our members feel would be most appropriate.”
The line about a CEO not being able to afford to run his hummer was a clue, and “a multi F-ing super food” bolsters the case. But Prof. “Pingo Detritus” is a dead giveaway. A parody name for Ingo Potrykus, the man whose team developed Golden Rice – it all fit together just in time for Lendman to email me back. He responded that this article was indeed the source of those quotes, and I quickly replied that he quoted a fake article written for April Fools, and asked him to comment.
Meanwhile, I looked up Mark Henderson’s email address and sent him a note asking if he wrote the joke post or had heard of it. I got a prompt response:
Thanks for this. I hadn’t seen it — as you suspect, it was an April Fool, nothing to do with me or The Times. The tinyurl goes to GM Watch, which isn’t surprising really — they’re not my biggest fans. It would be flattering if it were funny!
Stephen Lendman, not to be outsmarted by reality, sent me a short response defending the article as genuine:
no idea but Henderson and The Times are real and a trusted anti-GMO group sent me the article. I’ve read dozens of pro-GMO statements just like ones quoted. They’re all lies.
Yes, because the article has real names put at the top it must be real. I said I was in contact with Henderson and that he did not write the article, and I was interested in finding out who was the source of the joke, asking who sent it to him. In case he did not want to implicate one of his pals, I said he could forward my request to whomever sent it to him.
It was about this time that I finished eating my breakfast banana. Stephen Lendman, who was very fast at getting back to me with several emails has decided to ignore my emails since then. Still, I would not be happy myself if I based a conspiratorial argument on a marginally funny April Fools joke, but at least I would admit that it was fake and post corrections all over the place. His article, published only yesterday, has already spread around the internet. It is Lendman’s responsibility to correct the record.
I wonder who started the joke, a pro or anti-GE individual or organization? It sounds like an attempt to parody pro-GE sources to make them sound like anti-GE people hear them. Plus, calling Ingo Potrykus Prof. Detritus is a little telling. So I’m willing to wager that it was written by an anti-GE source. But this is what is funny about it – the only people that seem to have been fooled by this joke were the anti-GE people themselves!
One blogger who doesn’t seem to inclined toward genetic engineering already discovered the joke.
This reminds me of an occasion several years ago, when an anti-abortion blogger mistook an article in The Onion about holding your first “abortion party” as real. Chonicled at my blog, The Inoculated Mind, his mistake gathered thousands of hilarious snarks from commenters. His response was that he thought it was real because he has read stuff like it, and that pro-choice people really believe it. Not too different from the response I got from Mr. Lendman. I believe I have found his political polar opposite twin!
Due to the fact that this April Fools joke is misleading even their own crowd, I think GM Watch, GE Free Ireland, and others should make it clear that it was a fake article. Normally, an absurd article published on April 1st would do no harm, but it seems that at least one anti-genetic engineering writer is easily fooled.
That’s not right about nobody claiming “we do not need any regulation of GE crops”. Read for instance Henry I Miller’s many pieces arguing that GE crops need less than zero regulation because the technology is so much more precise than conventional plant breeding. Miller, who used to be part of the FDA’s office of biotechnology, also says that the regulations that exist were foisted on a reluctant US government by Monsanto as a rubber stamp PR exercise to reassure the public – a move that he says has backfired by creating the false impression that there are risks from this technology that require regulating. Miller also suggests that Monsanto is motivated to have unnecessary regulation in place as an anti-competitive strategy to exclude smaller companies, who cannot afford all the costs imposed by regulation, from the crop biotech field. Regulation is therefore anti-innovative and that’s another reason for doing away with it. There are also those who argue that the benefits of GE crops are of such an order that they require that existing regulations be removed, or at least minimized, so people can be lifted out of hunger, poverty and malnutrition as rapidly as possible.
Hi Eleanor, thanks for your comment. You do present an interesting perspective, one that I have considered – that excessive GE crops regulations might actually benefit the big biotech companies by keeping smaller businesses from being able to compete. Ironically, this would mean that the anti-GE people are working to help Monsanto maintain its market dominance!
I have not heard about Henry Miller’s position, and I will check it out.
Yes do. Miller not only points to the damage done by regulation but to the evils done by the whole concept of Corporate Social Responsibility which he sees as pernicious, “a 21st century Trojan horse designed to destroy free enterprise from within.” Fortunately, argues Miller, some corporate warriors still understand that businesses don’t have social responsibilities and their sole responsibility is to pursue their employers’ interests, which are essentially to make as much money as possible (within the law, of course). He certainly walks the talk in terms of trying to lighten the regulatory burden for corporations. When he was at the FDA he was their reviewer for the early GE-derived drugs and was instrumental in the rapid approvals of GE human insulin and GE human growth hormone. The “marketing approval of the former in five months was an FDA record at the time”, his profile notes.
It is interesting that you say that a business’s “sole responsibility is to pursue their employer’s interests, which are essentially to make as much money as possible.” Because there is a marked difference between making as much money as you can in the short term, versus the long term. Corporate social responsibility, as I understand it, involves not depleting and destroying the natural and human resources that a business depends upon, or creating unnecessary problems that negatively affect other people. Cutting down and not replanting a forest satisfies short-term gains, as well as reducing employee benefits to next to nothing – and we cannot always expect that a business will think in the long term. Long-term planning is often the best, because of the fascinating correlation between long-term planning and benefits for everyone involved.
Like the banks that helped put us in the current economic crisis, we need protections and regulations to make sure that businesses that think short term do not short-change society for immediate gains.
Here’s a thought experiment – let us say that highly profitable human slavery is legal in some country in the world, and a US business is involved and makes money off of it. If all a business is supposed to do is just make money, what besides Corporate Social Responsibility would dictate that such a business should not become a part of it? Would you buy stock in that company?
An interesting further experiment is to consider what you would do if you could get away with it without anyone knowing as against what you would do if it was public knowledge. Monsanto profiting from child labour in its Indian seed production is a good example of this – it took CSR type steps to address the problem, and publicised what it was doing, following repeated adverse publicity. CSR can be necessary PR but the company’s fundamental philosophy remained as Philip Angell described it to the New York Times “to make as much money as possible” and that’s what drives innovation and competitive markets. CSR is just window dressing and it can backfire as Miller points out about Monsanto shaping federal regulation it thought would help win approval for its products.
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