Is Destroying a Field of GMO Sugar Beets Terrorism?

Takepart.com

An act of terrorism took place in Oregon last month. Didn’t you hear the news? In the southern part of the state, radical environmental activists destroyed two fields of glyphosate-resistant sugar beets.

Yes, you read that correctly: plants were destroyed. Apparently by hand—meaning they were pulled up out of the soil, ruining the crop. No one was hurt, no violent force was used; in a different context, the act might be considering something known in agriculture as “harvesting.”

Was it a crime? Sure: The destruction of private property is illegal, and the FBI is investigating the incident, calling it "economic sabotage and a violation of federal law involving damage to commercial agricultural enterprises."

So where does the terrorism bit come in? That’s a new, inflammatory development courtesy of Jay Byrne and Henry I. Miller, a Forbes contributor who claims to “debunk hypocritical, dishonest junk science,” according to his byline bio.

Yesterday, Miller and Byrne (who both have background in biotech; Byrne was as one time the head of corporate communications for Monsanto) used the sugar-beet episode as the jumping off point for a fairly lengthy piece about the history of domestic eco-terrorism. How does the pair make the jump from uprooted beets in Oregon to an empty research lab being set on fire at Michigan State University? (An act of terrorism in the pre-9/11 sense of the word: a destructive action used to bring attention to and promote a political position or ideology.)

Well, Miller and Byrne don’t really. Judging solely on the basis of the argument, politics aside, it sucks: There is no deduction, just a statement of unsubstantiated fact. “These violent acts are the kind of terrorism that historically has been linked to cells of extreme environmental and animal rights activists with names like Earth First!, Animal Liberation and Earth Liberation Front (ELF),” the pair write. This comes immediately after they call the Oregon case and other, similar occurrences of GMO crop destruction vandalism—a fair definition!—and decrying the FBI’s “economic sabotage” designation as a faulty term coined by eco-terrorists. So what is it? Vandalism or terrorism?

And then comes the history: Greenpeace swapping out GMO rice seed for conventional rice in packages destined for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines; test plots destroyed in Iowa; the Michigan State arson. “These terrorists did not limit their actions to the destruction of property,” Miller and Byrne write, “They planted pipe bombs, mailed packages booby-trapped with razor blades, and physically assaulted scientists at public events.” This violence, however, is only alluded to, rather than being substantiated.

In the end, the story is about business—this is Forbes after all—and the travesty of eco-terrorism (itself a stand-in for the anti-GMO movement in this context) aren’t the acts themselves, but the influence the false, unfair arguments against GMOs, as the authors see it, have on competition. The “eat ours because theirs will give you cancer” marketing message—and corporate funding of anti-GMO activism by the likes of Stonyfield Organic co-founder Gary Hirshberg—only has one goal in this market-centric worldview: “The ultimate objective, of course, is to sell more overpriced, overrated organic food.”

The story closes with a rhetorical question: Miller and Byrne ask the reader to remind them, in light of their (non)argument, “who the ‘socially responsible’ businesses and reasonable voices are in this debate over sustainable food and agriculture and consumers’ freedom to choose.” See, the idea is that you’ve changed your mind about GMOs by the last graph. Why? Because terrorism. How can you argue with terrorism?

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