The battle being waged to ban genetically modified crops in California is a war that must be fought and won not by biotech corporations, but by California farmers and ranchers because it is producers who stand to lose the most if the radical anti-biotech movement wins over an unsuspecting public with its lies and distortions.

Fresno County, Calif., farmer Don Cameron says the anti-biotech movement orchestrated by out-of-state groups like Greenpeace and Organic Consumers Association “is not about biotech companies forcing biotech on growers. It is about our survival — our future — this is our fight. We must counter misinformation being put out by the anti-biotech movement.”

Farmers need biotechnology to produce crops for less cost to remain competitive in world markets, said Cameron. Take biotechnology away, and California producers will be at a disadvantage, he added.

Cameron made his comments at the recent California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors (CPCSD) Expo at Shafter, Calif.

One of the arguments used by the anti-biotech radicals is that biotech crops contaminate organic cotton.

Cameron knows that is not true because he grows organic cotton as well as conventional and biotech cotton. Reasonable isolation precludes contamination issues, he said.

He is going to prove his point by opening his farm to tours by consumer and retail groups like Patagonia, which buys his organic Pima.

Farmers are credible sources of information, he said, to report the facts about biotechnology and debunk the distortions and lies being told by a small group of extremists who have succeeded in getting anti-biotech initiatives on the ballot this fall in at least four California counties. They did succeed in passing a biotech ordinance in Mendocino County by a slim margin and Trinity County has passed an anti-biotech ordinance. Neither county grows biotech crops.

“Farmers have first hand experience” with not only biotech crops, but conventional and organic crops.

‘Tell their story’

“I would encourage everyone to tell their own story to the public,” said Cameron.

“The battle is ours to lose,” said CPCSD president Bill Van Skike. Ninety percent of CPCSD's cotton varieties sold this year had biotech traits.

Hal Moser, head of CPCSD's biotechnology program, said a ban on genetically modified crops would have a “chilling effect” on current biotech crops in the state and would slow down the technology that offers even more benefits through biotechnology to farmers.

“Biotechnology is working. It is allowing farmers to develop farming strategies that they could not have before — like conservation tillage,” he said. Benefits of biotechnology have been well documented, like in Arizona where producers once treated cotton 10 to 12 times per season for insect pests. Since the introduction of Bt cottons there, growers treat for insect pest only one or two times per year.

Moser said biotechnology has been scientifically proven to be safe. Unfortunately, the public is not aware of that. Radical anti-biotech groups feed on the public's ignorance of the complex technology with distortions and lies to create unfounded fears.

Rick Roush, director of the University of California, Davis integrated pest management program, said the radical anti-biotechnology groups have lost the battle to persuade farmers not to plant biotechnology crops. Now they have taken their anti-technology, anti-corporate campaign of fear to the public.

Expert manipulators

These groups are small, yet very dedicated, highly organized and experts at manipulating the media with deception and untrue claims about biotechnology.

One is that genetically modified crops have not been evaluated for risk. Roush said scientific risk assessments have been done since the mid 1990s.

According to Moser, biotech crops are evaluated by at least three federal agencies over six to 12 years at cost of $30 million to $300 million. And studies continue to make sure biotechnology is safe.

A native of San Diego, Roush spent 10 years in Australia before taking the position at Davis last year. He first encountered anti-biotech groups in Australia.

“They try to hijack” biotechnology with deception and lies,” said Roush.

Reputable scientists have proven in peer reviewed research that biotech crops significantly reduce production costs and pesticide use.

Arguable the most significant, beneficial case for biotechnology was the introduction of Bt cotton into China where 500 to 1,000 people died each year from mishandling pesticides used to control lepidopteran pests before Bt cotton was introduced.

Since 1998 Bt cotton has reduced pesticide use by 80 percent. “It has completely changed the lives of 5 million Chinese cotton farmers and their families,” said Roush. They are making money growing cotton and their families are healthier because of Bt cotton.

“You would think something that spectacular would win endorsement from environmental groups,” said Roush. It has not. Greenpeace continue to oppose Bt cotton in China as part its anti-corporation campaign.

Farmers know better

“Chinese cotton farmers know better and have not been moved by anti-biotech groups like Greenpeace,” said Roush.

One of the co-founders of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore, who left the group several years ago to form another environmental group called Greenspirit, said Greenpeace's agenda is now anti-science, anti-technology and anti-human.

Modern day environmental radicals, said Moore, are confrontational, ever-increasing extremists and politically left-wing who reject consensus politics and sustainable development.

Moore says the environmentalists' campaign against biotechnology has “clearly exposed their intellectual and moral bankruptcy.” Moore said the so-called environmentalists have “alienated themselves from scientists, intellectuals and internationalists.

“It seems inevitable that the media and the public will, in time, see the insanity of their position,” said Moore.

However, it takes effort to challenge these groups, and Roush has uncovered many inaccuracies of the anti-biotech movement.

For example, one of the cornerstones of the California movement is a book called Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith, a member of the Natural Law Party, a Fairfield, Iowa, based transcendental meditation organization. Roush said the book is quoted at virtually all anti-biotech gatherings in the state.

Footnote reference ‘lie’

Roush admits it is an impressive-looking book, replete with footnotes that appear to give it scientific credibility. Roush traced the footnotes and found many were simply made up. The book cited a study by a prominent scientist Roush knows. Roush contacted the scientist who called the footnote reference “a complete lie.”

“The footnotes look very intelligent, until you track them down,” said Roush.

Another argument the anti-biotech group foists on the unsuspecting public and media is that Bt corn reduces the Monarch butterfly population.

Roush said that is based on a single scientific study no reputable scientist has been able to duplicate. There are six others reports that debunk the notion that Bt corn hurts Monarch butterflies, but these do not get reported.

One of the most preposterous anti-biotech claims is that Monsanto flew Blackhawk helicopters over Canada dropping “Roundup bombs” on farmer fields to detect illegally planted herbicide-tolerant crops. This came after Monsanto successfully sued a Canadian farmer for illegally saving genetically modified planting seed.

Roush questioned that claim at a speech given by leader of the anti-GMO movement in California and was told the proof was on the Internet. “You can find more about alien abductions on the Internet than you can about Roundup bombs,” he said.

Other arguments seem more reasonable, like the one demanding biotech foods be labeled. “This is not about the consumer's right to know. The motivation behind this is to label food to make consumers suspicious, implying something is wrong if it is labeled genetically modified,” he said.

Definition muddled

Even this group's definition of genetically modified is muddled. Roush says they want to ban any crop which has had “gene doubles.” This would result in banning most all commercial strawberries. Today's strawberry varieties have been bred to contain eight chromosomes.

These groups have hauled people identified as “Midwest farmers” to California to “share their stories” about biotech crops. They are not farmers, said Roush.

“If they want to hear what farmers have to say on the issue, why not ask you?” Roush told the growers at CPCSD's annual field day.

Since Greenpeace and others have lost their anti-biotech battle with farmers, they are trying to further anti-technology agenda by trying to convince countries to ban crops. One of the anti-biotech ordinances proposed in Alameda County not only bans biotech crops in the county, but would prevent ships with biotech crops onboard from docking at Alameda County ports.

It seems improbable that these groups could stop biotech crops since they are grown on 160 million acres in 18 nations by 7 million farmers. There are more than 600,000 acres of biotech crops growing this season in California.

However, Roush said do not underestimate this small group of radicals. He said they stopped the development of biotech potatoes by scaring McDonald's into refusing to buy GMO potatoes.

The only people who can turn back this radical movement at the ballot box and in the public arena are farmers, said Roush. The biotech corporations cannot do it because they are lightning rods for the anti-corporate groups.

If farmers do not aggressively campaign against these initiatives, their future “could be at risk.

“It is up to you and your colleagues to decide,” said Roush.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com