Vanity Fair does Frontal Assault on Monsanto

The Green Issue of Vanity fair has already drawn fair critique for being campaign journalism with one-sided sourcing. My primary interest was a story titled Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear. Here is the nut graph:

Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics—ruthless legal battles against small farmers—is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

The main structure of the story is straight out of a report by the Center for Food Safety, called Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers. Center for Food Safety is a high profile anti-biotechnology lobby with strong ties to Union of Concerned Scientists. Center for Food Safety’s Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell is an understudy of known anti-technologist Jeremy Rifkin, although Rifkin has no problems with plants bred with molecular plant breeding (PMB’s) which the anti-biotechnology lobby calls genetically modified organisms.

The report is a long list of supposed mistreatment of farmers at the hand of Monsanto, while the company is trying to protect and enforce it’s patent rights and license agreements.

The most famous case, which the Vanity Fair reporter did omit, is the Percy Schmeiser case from Canada. Scheiser had brown-bagged Monsanto Canola and was found guilty of this all the way through the Canadian Supreme Court. The anti-biotechnology lobby and Schmeiser himself is still claiming this was pollen flow, and that Monsanto was infringing on his heirloom seed by “polluting” those seeds via pollen flow. The Canadian court documents is unequivocal in their decision that this is not the case. Vanity Fair would not even have had a shred of credibility left, if they had used this case. Instead they picked a case that never went to court, so they could report on the bully tactics, rather than facts that was verified by a court.

The next part of the story is about Monsanto’s company history. This is taken directly out of the movie “The World According to Monsanto” which is a French crockumentary. The crockumentary gives a particular version of the well-known history of the chemical company Monsanto. The version is one that emphasizes malevolence and conspiracy. Against this backdrop the director asks the viewer if they think Monsanto has good intentions with their PMB’s.

The movie gets a ton of facts wrong, including such a basic fact as how Monsanto introduced the Roundup Ready trait into the soybeans. The movie claims the company used a gene gun, while they in fact have been using Agrobacterium for all the non-grass crops.

The last part of the story is about growth hormone for cattle. Diary farmers have been using growth hormone on their cattle since the 1940’s to increase the milk yield from their cattle. The hormones had to be harvested from the pituitary glands of cattle. Only in 1994 did scientists figure out how to get bacteria to produce the same hormone, and Monsanto markets this hormone under the brand name Posilac.

Certain diaries started labeling their milk as not containing growth hormones, which is factually wrong. All milk, regardless of hormone application will contain growth hormone. FDA said this was misleading marketing. The next attempt was to label the milk as produced without growth hormones, however since it is impossible to find a difference between milk from cattle that received growth hormones and milk from cattle that did not, the claim cannot be verified.

Vanity Fair argues that Monsanto is the ones that are pushing the label battle, while it is in fact food snobs that are insisting that this is important consumer information. I still claim that the label organic is all that is required, but most of the food producers in this battle are not willing to pay for organic milk. The food snobs started the label wars, to label Monsanto as the aggressor for defending their product, the integrity of consumer information, and sound science is misrepresentation.

From the beginning some consumers have consistently been hesitant to drink milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. This is one reason Monsanto has waged so many battles with dairies and regulators over the wording of labels on milk cartons. It has sued at least two dairies and one co-op over labeling.

We do in fact know that the milk labeled as produced without growth hormone never captured more than 1.5 percent of the diary market in the food conscious Northeast. But you will not find this information in the playbooks of the Center for Food Safety, which would require the poor reporter to actually do reporting…

Also, the part that the story leaves out on growth hormones and labeling is the fact that anti biotechnology lobby groups are leveraging lawsuits in most of the states across the country. This is driven by lobby groups, not by Monsanto. Monsanto is again in the position of defending itself, they are not the aggressor as Vanity Fair paints them.

For safe measure, Vanity Fair included one source in the whole story that was supposed to represent the other side. This one source was a call to Monsanto who declined to comment on the story about the country storeowner, which says Monsanto threatened him over illegally using the seed. There are plenty of sources out there who would be willing to discredit most all of the stories in Vanity Fair, but again the reporter could not bothered.

The final graph is just a plain out groin kick of Steven Milloy, who supposedly is behind a website that are presenting the other half of the labeling debate. There are some issues where Steven and I do not see eye to eye, mainly the stem cell debate. However, when it comes to all these issues about consumer safety and biotechnology, Steven has his facts straight, and the misleading information comes from the same sources that Vanity fair relied on so heavily in this story.