It’s hard to dialogue…

Genetic engineering is just one of the many many parts of ag that are really really difficult to discuss. We all come to the table with our own biases, our own understanding of the way things “should” be, based on our experiences, education, philosophy, religion… all of the things that make us who we are. While these individual characteristics are valuable and important, they can lead us to react inappropriately to people who have views that are different than ours. They can also cause us to be combative rather than receptive to proposals of dialogue.

One particular example of bias preventing dialogue is conspiracy theories involving “big ag”. There exists these ideas that everyone who interacts with “big ag” is somehow part of “big ag”. People who subscribe to this view include farmers as part of “big ag”, as described by Nate Taylor on All Things Agriculture:

You obviously have many issues with the current food system, and I do not disagree that there are many to go after, but including the farmer in that mix and then calling them Big-Ag because it is easy and people “understand it” doesn’t help and creates divides. I am not Big-Ag and never have been.

There is a real interaction between farmers and “big ag”. They buy products from and sell their crops to corporations that are considered to be part of “big ag”. This doesn’t mean that the farmers are in cahoots with some master plan of “big ag” or that their personal philosophies align with whatever people think “big ag” stands for.

Whether it’s explicitly stated or not, there is a general feeling coming from opponents of “big ag” that farmers are stupid, greedy, or malicious tools of “the man”. Maybe the opponents of “big ag” don’t mean to target individual farmers, ranchers, ag researchers, and others but it sure feels that way. I’ve seen quite a few farmers get angry at getting lumped with a concept that they don’t feel adequately represents them. The claims feel like attacks, and result in people wanting to fight back. It’s sad, because this isn’t a fight, or shouldn’t be.

Science bloggers like those of us here at Biofortified are often claimed to be part of “big ag”, even when we are very forthcoming about exactly how we are funded, who we work for, etc. Like farmers, we do have an interaction with “big ag” in that we read and analyze their research, and we may see scientific merit in their work. We might work with the UDSA currently or plan to in the future. We might currently or plan to participate in academic research that is funded by the USDA and/or agricultural companies. We might even end up with jobs at companies like Monsanto, Pioneer, or Syngenta. As bloggers, we might communicate directly with these companies in order to get information, as the saying goes, straight from the horse’s mouth. Like farmers, that interaction does not mean that our personal philosophies are aligned with whatever philosophies people think “big ag” stand for. Also like farmers, when people lump us with the negative ideas that people have about “big ag” or “industry”, we get frustrated and sometimes we take it personally.

So here I’ll leave the abstract discussion and speak more personally. I am unfortunately too optimistic when it comes to people in that I expect people to be truthful, to be careful about what they say, to be observant of how their actions and words affect others, to not repeat information that they have heard with out at least a quick investigation. While I know these things aren’t universally true, I like to follow the moral “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that don’t reciprocate.

In a lot of cases, the attacks have been personal. I’ve gotten comments on my blog that include physical threats. I’ve been called a charlatan, a fraud, a shill (and those are the nice ones). I’ve been told directly and had it implied that I’m some sort of corporate zombie without an opinion of my own. I’ve been told that Monsanto is my puppeteer and that they are what’s really behind my blogging efforts and my small successes. of these confuse the crap out of me because I’ve always been as open and honest as I can. I admit when I’ve made mistakes and sometimes turn my position around 180° when more information presents itself. I’m not dogmatic or unreasonable. So, can you blame me when I am a bit defensive? Can you say I’m unreasonable when I strongly react to unfounded claims involving me, my co-bloggers, our efforts to nurture dialogue on a complicated subject? Sure, you can say it, but you wouldn’t be right.

Here at Biofortified, we’re honestly hoping to engage in dialogue. We honestly want to both learn and teach in a two-way conversation. The thing is, it’s not two-way unless you get involved. We may have been preaching to the choir, but it’s not because we don’t want other people in the church. So get on in here. Comment on posts, get involved in the forum. Write responses on your own blog and let us know about them so we can respond in kind. Let’s actually work to expand our own and each others’ knowledge and world views. I’m ready. Are you?

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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!