I was vacationing in Europe last week but I took an evening to appear on a panel at a "human rights film festival" in Geneva.
Leaving aside their "I read this thing on Google that says corporations control science" conspiracy tale, one thing really stuck out: Americans are a whole lot more scientific than Europe.
I have written about this many times. Though we may lament that some don't understand science as well as we'd like, Americans actually lead the world in adult science literacy. And with just 5 percent of the world's population we produce a third of the science. We lead in Nobel prizes by far.
Stop right there, Campbell, you may be thinking; if people start accepting science you are out of a job.
That probably won't happen. While we have been able to just about end smoking in American young people we'll never be able to end beliefs in science voodoo or that you can buy a health halo. Beliefs will just change. And organic food marketing is mutating as we speak.
Sneetches add more stars
If you are not a fan of Dr. Seuss (1), he wrote a story in 1953 called "The Sneetches," which later became a cartoon, in which some among a species called Sneetches were born with a star on their bellies. This made them elites, even though it was just a decoration.This is as great a metaphor for "organic" shopping as you are likely to find; it is not about what's in your belly, it's the star you put on it.
Credit: Dr. Seuss Enterprises
Then along comes Sylvester McMonkey McBean, the Fix-it-Up Chappie, and he offers everyone a star. For a price. Suddenly elite star status was gone. So McBean invented a way for elites to remove their stars for three times the cost of getting one. He created a pricey nocebo, the opposite of a placebo in which benefit is derived from what you think isn't in there. Then when commoners also did that the same Fix-it-Up Chappie sold a way for elites to get two stars. And so on.
We're watching that happen now. A former organic food journalist from the New York Times has endorsed a new, more elite version of organic food. It doesn't just lack conventional pesticides, it adds things like worker rights and animal welfare. Their Sneetch has two stars. And eventually it will add even more.
Former journalist Stephanie Strom and various corporations, from Dr. Bronner (2) and Rodale to Patagonia, have embraced Regenerative Organic Certification, essentially Organic Plus, because they don't think regular organic cares enough about workers' rights, animal welfare and...soil? Yes, modern agriculture has made it possible to grow food without soil, and legacy organic believers think that is not really organic, even if it uses none of the pesticides or genetic engineering (3) the organic process claims to oppose.
No soil is a bad thing? Every farmer, scientific or not, embraces crop rotation, reduced tillage and other techniques to keep soil from being depleted. But if you use no soil at all, the ultimate preservation of Gaia, these companies and Strom don't want it to be organic. They instead want organic farmers who have the federal seal to be turned into second-class citizens. Because this is a competitor to the corporations that keep them in business, Organic Trade Association (OTA) is firmly against another seal, they say it will diminish the value of the existing USDA one. Consumers will get "seal fatigue" from too many Sneetch stars.
OTA is motivated by the financial interests of the corporations in their group, but they are correct. This is an unneeded additional stigma on food. Seuss, real name Theodor Seuss Geisel, was lashing out against anti-Semitism in 1953. He would be just as shocked by this new form of food bigotry today.
(1) You should be. Sylvester McMonkey McBean had to be the inspiration for Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who is a staunch capitalist somewhere to the right of Ayn Rand that made his fortune convincing people on the left to buy his product.
All the rest of that day, on those wild screaming beaches,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie kept fixing up Sneetches.
Off again! On again!
In again! Out again!
Through the machines they raced round and about again,
Changing their stars every minute or two.
They kept paying money. They kept running through
Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
Whether this one was that one... or that one was this one
Or which one was what one... of what one was who.
He made a fortune exploiting the bigotry of wealthy elites, just like organic food has.
Credit: Dr. Seuss Enterprises
(2) Which is run by a “cosmic engagement officer” in David Bronner, and literally sells magic soap. They are also anti-vaccine, which is another belief that is embraced by the demographic who thinks food can heal them and affordable energy for the poor is a bad thing.
(3) GMOs are not organic, mutagenesis is organic. Somehow.