I had an absolutely serendipitous experience a couple of weeks ago. I sat next to a man on a short Southwest Airlines flight who turned out to be a PR, lobbyist guy for biotechnology, factory farming and Monsanto. I apologize if you were sitting within six rows of us.
I was schlepping my carry-on bag down the aisle when a man in the aisle seat invited me to have the window seat. He said he was trying to save the middle seat for his co-worker. He joked that I was smelly and ugly and no one would want to sit next to me (at least I hope he was joking).
He jumped up and hoisted my very heavy, bursting at the seams bag into the overhead compartment.
It wasn’t a minute before his young colleague joined us. They chatted very excitedly about something. I snooped and saw they were emailing a press release to the New York Times.
I normally don’t make small talk with seat mates until the end of a flight in case they are overly talkative. The man started chatting with me and I gave the obligatory short, sweet answers and put my book in my face after each answer. But he kept on. I was a little intrigued since I saw them emailing the New York Times. He asked what I did for a living, I told him about my real job in advertising. I asked what he did.
He told me that he was in PR for a big agriculture group that I’d probably never heard of and he lived in St. Louis, MO. I connected the little dots in my swimming head and realized that he represented none other than Monsanto (makers of GMOs and Round-Up pesticides and herbicides). One of the main reasons I started this blog was to warn people about this very issue. You can search GMOs on this blog if you are new to the subject.
My heart started palpitating. I can’t begin to describe to you the panic, rage, expectation etc. that I was feeling in that moment. I was so utterly flabbergasted and unprepared for what I had hoped, prayed and meditated about; to have the ear of someone who could bring about change.
I said, “You don’t work for Monsanto do you? Please, tell me you don’t work for Monsanto!”
He and his co-worker exchanged glances that said, “Oh, no. There goes our peaceful little flight.”
As you can imagine a heated debate ensued. It started off friendly, but escalated quickly. We really did have to apologize to the people in the row ahead of us when the flight was over. They kindly said we were passionate. That’s the understatement of the year.
His main message to me was that I was wrong about GMOs, I didn’t understand science and that I just couldn’t understand that GMOs are a good thing. I asked him to just show me one long term study demonstrating that GMOs are not causing harm, JUST ONE.
He said, “You’ve been eating them for 20 years and you’re fine. That’s your long-term study.”
I said, “Bingo. In the last 20 years obesity and disease have sky rocketed.”
His argument to that was that people are living longer so they get sick in their old age. He also said that I just think people are sicker because our friends tell us every detail of their ailments on Facebook. Good job, deflecting blame to Facebook.
I told him that the rise in childhood Leukemia over the past 20 years could not be attributed to old age. He said there isn’t a rise in childhood Leukemia.
Here is the United States, National Institute of Health website saying that there has been a rise over the past two decades. Again, this is from the federal government’s website.
Here is the beginning of the abstract, you can read the full article if you wish.
“Acute leukemia is the most common cancer in children but the causes of the disease in the majority of cases are not known. About 80% are precursor-B cell in origin (CD19+, CD10+), and this immunophenotype has increased in incidence over the past several decades in the Western world. Part of this increase may be due to the introduction of new chemical exposures into the child’s environment including parental smoking, pesticides, traffic fumes, paint and household chemicals.”
“…The most notable feature of this period of time is the rise of the “common acute lymphocytic leukemia” (or CD19+, CD10+, B-cell cALL) peak in 2-6 year olds, a peak absent in some populations such as Africa and India, and in an ecological sense associated with countries that have higher socioeconomic status . It is also notable that this peak may vary by ethnicity within the United States, with Hispanic:white:black ratio being 1.2:1.0:0.6 [8, 9]. Whether this is related to genetic or environmental reasons is unknown.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839796/
By the way, two decades as stated in the paragraph above coincides with the introduction of GMOs and the overloading of pesticides and herbicides. Also, India has banned the growing of GMOs and so have many countries in Africa; another correlation in the paragraph above.
Of course, I did not have this information at my unprepared fingertips at this chance meeting.
He went on to again tell me how wrong I was and chastised me for “getting my information from the internet.” I asked where I should get my information, from an encyclopedia? Where else does one get information from these days?
I stayed very calm. He kind of lost it. At one point, he told me that for all the organic food I ate, my coloring was terrible. He didn’t seem to mind my coloring when he invited me to sit with him. After that exchange I told him he was just being nasty and I didn’t have anything else to say to him.
He apologized and said he was just frustrated. I’ll bet. People like me probably make his job a lot harder.
For the record, he probably did think I was some Austin hippy, dippy weirdo. I was wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt with a Khamsa on it. This is a khamsa so you can get the full effect and have a laugh. WHY WASN’T I IN A SUIT? I would have been taken more seriously.
I realized that I just couldn’t reason with this man when he told me that factory farming was great! Here is a little light reading about how “great” factory farmed meat is for you, not to mention the poor animals.
I know you want this story to have a happy ending. I do as well. Maybe it will happen down the road. Remember his young colleague? She was sitting between us, quietly listening to the incessant bickering. Once in a while she would interject something to back him up, but mostly she listened.
At the end of the flight I said something like, I know you and I are not going to change each other’s minds. I will try to take in some of what you said to me today. I pray you are right and that GMOs are perfectly safe. But please do this for me. As you go about your daily life, please look around at the families you know and your own families. Observe if there is ANY family where at least one person does not have a chronic disease or is on some type of medication. Then ask yourself if you are culpable in this. People ARE sicker and fatter. Not to be unkind, but he was not the picture of health.
My hope is that the young woman will start seeing how sick people have become over the last 20 years and hopefully change her course. Maybe she will speak out against Monsanto and change will come.
Ironically, he said that this new mix of herbicide and GMO that are made by DOW are horrific and we should be afraid. “Enlist Duo” is a mixture of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) and the even more toxic 2,4-D (part of the chemical mixture Agent Orange).
Here is how you can bring about change. Vote with your dollars. Buy anything that is a GMO crop or derived from a GMO crop organic. That would be: corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, and as of 2017 some apples and potatoes.