Rodale CEO: U.S. Agricultural Companies “No better” Than Syria

By Keith Kloor | September 6, 2013 11:09 am

This open letter to President Obama from Maria Rodale is the sort of low-hanging fruit that I try to avoid. But I give in to temptation every now and again when the author is someone widely admired within the U.S. food movement and a prominent environmental voice. (In the letter, Rodale identifies herself as “the CEO of the world’s leading health-and-wellness publisher and the granddaughter of the founder of the organic movement in America.”) To truly grasp the comparison she makes between Syria’s murderous regime and multinational agricultural and biotech companies, you have to read this lengthy excerpt:

Yes, Syria has undoubtedly used chemical weapons on its own people. Maybe it was the government; maybe it was the opposition; maybe you know for sure. But here’s what I know for sure: We are no better. We have been using chemical weapons on our own children — and ourselves — for decades, the chemical weapons we use in agriculture to win the war on pests, weeds, and the false need for ever greater yields. While the effects of these “legal” chemical weapons might not be immediate and direct, they are no less deadly. And you, Mr. President, have had an unprecedented opportunity to stop it, but you haven’t. You haven’t. In fact, you have encouraged it. And I am supremely disappointed in that.

What got me thinking about this was one of those Facebook posts where there is a picture of you, Mr. President, talking to a child in a classroom. It’s an adorable picture because I know you genuinely care for children, and it shows. But the bubble coming out of your mouth says, “We are going to war with Syria because they poison their children” which is met with a little girl’s words, “So why don’t you bomb Monsanto, you prick.” Harsh, I know. Perhaps unfair. I know you probably don’t hang out on Facebook much, but it’s getting a lot of “shares” among my friends. Yes, even my liberal friends. I laughed when I first saw it. But the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

We’ve been trying to tell you for years that chemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer Crops Sciences, and others are poisoning our children and our environment with your support and even, it seems, your encouragement. Just because their bodies aren’t lined up wrapped in sheets on the front pages of the newspapers around the world doesn’t mean it’s not true.

This is the sort of insensitive crack-pottery that increasingly defines the organic movement. Huffington Post commenters at her site are incredulous and disgusted. If anybody feels otherwise, I’d like to hear it.

  • mem_somerville

    We were just reminiscing this morning about how psyched the foodies were when Syria banned GMOs. It was all they tweeted and wrote about for several days.

    Assad bans GMOs in food ‘to preserve the health of human beings’.

    Yeah. They are so fickle.

  • Loren Eaton

    “Harsh, I know. Perhaps unfair.” Perhaps?
    “Yes, even my liberal friends. I laughed when I first saw it. But the more I think about it, the angrier I get.” Laughed? That says a lot.
    But it is why she’s angry that’s totally disgraceful. Not because someone launced an ad hominem against the President, not even because joking about bombing ANYONE is a ‘slippery slope’. Is it any wonder that people like this can defend and advocate acts of vandalisim and arson to further their causes (animal rights people are cut from the same cloth). Sorry, Maria, Obama is not any less intelligent because he doesn’t follow the organic lemmings off the cliff.
    A little hubris with your organic fair trade coffee?? Perhaps!

    • Steph Corby

      wow, i had no idea we were being compared to the likes of animal rights activists…I always thought of them as zealots and stayed as far from them as possible. I just want to know whats in my food.

      • Loren Eaton

        ‘ i had no idea we were being compared to the likes of animal rights activists’. Look at the Facebook post, the photo and and the comments. Then you’ll understand why the comparison is valid.

  • Georg

    was a vegetarian….

    • First Officer

      And an artist.

      And people are all up in arms against scientists. Go figure.

  • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

    Don’t they know we have to go to war to lower the world population enough for organic yields to be sufficient?

    The only reason we still burn fossil fuels is to use global warming to increase the amount of arable land at high latitudes.

    • Thinkyhead

      Since over 70% of our agricultural yield is going to feed livestock and/or be converted into ethanol I think we could feed ourselves just fine just by eating lower on the food chain.

      • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

        Well that almost makes it sound like I was being silly…

    • DrDenim

      I like the phrase she use: “false need for ever greater yields”. Yes, getting more food to starving people and the poor is a “false goal”. I mean I can buy all the $9 orange juice I want so what more do we need? …

      • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

        I’m a little ashamed of myself. I just googled “starving kid” to make a tongue in cheek point.

        It isn’t funny AT ALL. I need to figure out how to use my limited affluence to fight that problem. There are valid arguments that distribution inequity is the underlying issue, but certainly REDUCING productivity isn’t going to help.

  • zackrobbin

    A friend of mine posted that “joke” on Facebook yesterday. I tried to tell him I thought it was a bad joke and a bad comparison, but he went off on a”zombie seed” rant and I don’t think I got through to him. It’s sad.

  • First Officer

    ” Just because their bodies aren’t lined up wrapped in sheets on the front pages of the newspapers around the world doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
    Maria, you have to understand. They aren’t wrapped up in sheets because, still being all alive and healthy, they just wouldn’t lie still for it !

    • Rod Walton

      Perhaps people wouldn’t be so disgusted with this “joke” if the actual casualty count in this war against Americans and the world for that matter could be displayed as neatly as the images from Syria.
      Allowing big corporations to modify and pollute our food and our water with little disruption from their pet government watchdogs is criminal.

      • First Officer

        i’m pointing out in a somewhat humorous way that the reasn there are no bodies in sheets because of our agricultural practices is because there are no bodies from it, period.

      • DrDenim

        I know! That we let the huge multinational “organic” food producers to use unnecessary large amounts of inefficient fertilizer and pesticides, like cow urine and manure, when better alternatives exist, is criminal. More food infections come from these scam operations for this reason. AND! they charge us more for it!

  • jh

    “This is the sort of insensitive crack-pottery that increasingly defines the organic movement.”

    Which is why that movement is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

  • Clear Food

    Rodale, a longtime board member and funder of the Center for Food Safety reveals the true socio-political underpinnings of many in the organic movement. While a religion for some, for others like neo-Marxist Andy Kimbrell (and apparently his ally Maria Rodale), they use these issues for deeper political means. It’s a dark, insidious and Machiavellian – yet they claim the big bad biotech industry is the villain.

    • Loren Eaton

      I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence that the more successful the organic industry (uhhh movement) is in vilifying all other forms of ag, the more sales they’ll make. But they’re not about the money.

  • Johnny Abyssal

    I guess it all boils down to motive. If you kill with chemicals out of hate you are evil. If you kill for profit, you are a patriot. Dow made money from napalm. Bayer makes money from neonicotinoids and you sir make money from somebody. It is not too hard to figure out who that might be.

  • jayaich

    Her argument is misinformed, but still touches on a truth. Fritz Haber, who first figured out how to synthesize ammonia thus leading to the Green Revolution, also devised and oversaw the first mustard gas attack. The connection between agribusiness and chemical warfare is quite old now.

    • Buddy199

      So is the connection between using a knife to cut a ham sandwich and using it to stab someone to death. Ban knives, save lives. For the children.

    • DrDenim

      genious chemists make several important chemical discoveries! woopie doo, what a surprise. Guilt by association is quite ineffective you know

    • Loren Eaton

      First of all, Ms. Rodale might actually vilify the Green Revolution nearly as much as mustard gas. Second, the entire argument against biotech using what an earlier form of a company did decades, if not centuries ago (see duPont/dynamite) is a red herring of the highest stench. Monsanto did not invent Agent Orange, they, among others, manufactured it….. 50 YEARS AGO. How many current employees were involved with that particular project?
      Oh and Fritz Haber never quite got over the mustard gas thing.

  • Buddy199

    I guess not making the Nazi comparison is supposed to make us take this comment seriously.

    • DrDenim

      argumentum ad Monsantum is quickly overtaking Goodwin’s law

  • JE

    Interesting how we keep poisoning ourselves and yet life expectancy keeps increasing. Now, if she was right, I’d expect quite the opposite effect. Thinking of how widespread pesticide use is nowadays one can easily assume that the majority of the global population digests food treated with chemicals and yet we are getting older. I really wouldn’t want life expectancy of the stone age, where people had organic food and fresh air all of the time.

    Also, if you feel organic farming can feed the world, think Africa. That’s the continent with the most experience in organic farming worldwide.

  • Matthew Slyfield

    So many chemophobes, so little time.

    To all chemophobes:

    Your entire body is made of chemicals. So is every other plant and animal. Everything you can smell or taste or touch is made up entirely of chemicals.

    Grow up and get over it.

    • Steph Corby

      thats just silly. Of course everything is made of chemicals (elements) but that doesnt mean none of them will do harm. If you arent scared of manmade chemicals, go ahead and drink a cup of glyphosate, or bleach or gasoline – after all, theyre all just chemicals.

      • Matthew Slyfield

        Lots of perfectly natural toxins that are far worse than anything man has made.

        By the way, anything is toxic in high enough doses, even water (and no I don’t mean drowning).

        • Steph Corby

          I agree, that was my point, silly. Your original statement insinuated that we are “chemophobes” – afraid of chemicals – as we should be in many cases – manmade or otherwise.

  • Steph Corby

    This entire thread makes me sad. I had no idea that people thought this way. I work with GMO Free PA. We are not freaks, we do NOT advocate violence or retaliation of any kind; we research both sides of the issue. We advocate only scientifically proven information. We pass along information and lobby for GMO labeling. We work to calm zealots and look to recruit scientists and doctors (and yes there are many in our favor - As with any group, you will encounter a few people who are more than passionate about the ir cause, but please do not stereotype, its not very logical to do so…


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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