The pharmaceutical giant Bayer, Inc. has announced a $66 billion dollar buyout of Monsanto. While this buyout no doubt represents a significant and lucrative investment for the German corporation, it has raised a large battery of objections from concerned "citizen advocacy" groups who have long protested Monsanto.
One such entity, the international protest group March Against Monsanto, is dedicated to pursuing the "truth" behind consumer science endeavors such as genetically-modified crops. A leader in such fields and a company somewhat infamous for its almost-total lack of a public face, Monsanto is an ideal nemesis for these civilian "watchdogs." The problem with this group is that it attempts organize a mass movement based upon an anti-science ideology, that marries the worst of the anti-vax and anti-GMO movement.
March Against Monsanto: the Mission
March Against Monsanto's website takes a vague but strong-sounding stance against the company by declaring: "We will not stand for cronyism. We will not stand for poison. That's why we March Against Monsanto." The site's articles decry the alleged negative impacts of certain scientific advancements over the last 20 to 30 years. The group seems to maintain that rather than aiding societal progress, modern medicines and consumables are instruments of its moral, and possibly physical, demise. Annual protests are held across the globe to protest Monsanto's considerable influence. Amid declarations that the company wields unjustified amounts of autonomy and answers to virtually no one, people take to the streets in droves to demand greater accountability and labeling of "genetically modified organism," or GMO, products.
Curiously, these champions for truth, despite a Google-ful of photos of their gatherings, made the puzzling stylistic choice on their own "mission statement" page to poorly Photoshop the campaign's logo all over an unrelated protest march. That's neither here nor there, but it's certainly bad optics for a group whose raison d'etre is to expose corporate fraud.
Thanks to the impending buyout, March Against Monsanto has expanded its seemingly-limitless campaign against "Big Science" to include protests of vaccination. That's right--it's the perfect storm of anti-GMO and anti-vax sentiments. It was bound to happen, and I'm sure they've crossed paths before, but there haven't been many previous instances of both movements being housed within the same highly-influential group. The protestors' Facebook page has over 1.2 million friends. Alongside its vegan-friendly recipes, 207 around-the-house uses for coconut oil, and ham-fisted memes accusing your neighborhood doctor of poisoning you and your children for kickbacks, you can now find "irrefutable evidence" that hazard-laden vaccines are decimating public health. This claim is both spurious and dangerous, which puts it right at home alongside most "GMO's cause cancers" allegations.
MAM and Anti-Vax, Taking to the Streets, Y-E-L-L-I-N-G
More often than not, the people buying into the messages espoused by MAM are just desperate for answers when none are readily available. They want to understand why their loved ones are sick, and someone has found an answer they can readily apply to their situation without too much digging. Whether or not it's remotely true might be less important in a time of emotional distress than simply having a "bad guy" to blame--what could be more "evil" than a huge corporation that tinkers with the building blocks of the food we eat? Statements that no studies have shown GMO products to be harmful are readily countered by MAM arguments that not enough studies have even been conducted to be so cavalier about that safety.
So if I'm disturbed March Against Monsanto, it's not necessarily against the bulk of its followers that give me reason to furrow my brow. They aren't blameless, exactly--buying into this propaganda is still a choice--but I'm actually more upset at the beliefs themselves, which are cobbled together from unverified studies and biased documentaries capitalizing on society's current "organic and natural" pseudo-religion. Being in many ways birds of a feather, it's hardly a shock that anti-vax sentiments receive a welcome into the flock from March Against Monsanto.
One thing that can be said about the anti-vaccination campaign: it's tenacious. Now that it had a chance to set its jaw, it really doesn't seem likely to let go. While I tend to think of Dr. Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study relating vaccination to autism as the time when anti-vax crossed the rubicon, there has been an ebb and flow of anti-vaccine sentiment since the early 20th century. Despite multiple debunkings of Dr. Wakefield's conclusions, as well as the dissociation of his colleagues from the study and his own revoked license over those fraudulent, incorrect conclusions, publishing it once was enough to irrevocably change the landscape of public opinion. MAM climbed aboard this train with gusto, referring to California's recent initiative to mandate vaccinations for schoolchildren, State Bill 277, as "Nazi-esque." The same incendiary article goes on to note:
"Evidence linking vaccination to SIDS, autism, cancer, diabetes, food allergies, and asthma exist [sic], yet vaccine mandates are in the works all across the land of the free."
I would humbly disagree with the sentiment, but it would be akin to humbly disagreeing with assertions that the sky is normally green. First: Even if there is evidence of correlation, that's not proof of causation. For instance, I see autism lurking near the top of that list, and science has ripped that correlation to shreds. Second: The "land of the free" is also "the land of the free of several crippling epidemic diseases" in part because of vaccine programs. Third: Three states (CA, MS, WV) do not a totalitarian regime make. Other states may be working on similar legislation, but let's not yet proclaim the doom of individual freedom. And finally: The bulk of this argument is an impassioned plea by Hollywood derelict Rob Schneider to grant parents the agency to make unqualified health decisions that could affect everyone else's children. The spokesman of a cause dictates in part its credibility, and you've got Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Gutsy choice.
The Campaign is Emotionally-Charged Rubbish. And It Doesn't Care.
When you take issue with a belief or position, one argument you can employ is called reductio ad absurdum, which sounds like a Harry Potter spell but is actually the Latin phrase "reducing to absurdity." It's not exactly a prized method of argument in most debate; while it still integrates proof and counter-examples, its rhetoric basically implies that the initial argument really can't be taken seriously in the first place. If you respect the other party's position, it's not the most advisable course in a civil debate. Fortunately, I don't labor under any such restriction in this matter, because I don't have any faith in what MAM is pitching, and adding anti-vax doesn't exactly put a spike in their flatlined credibility.
Their Facebook page promotes virtually every current public-health conspiracy theory, even when the details do not generally make sense.
The above is an example that weaves together four separate fears--none of them backed up by science--into a cumulative panic-inducing allegation against vaccines. There's a few sour notes in this particular dog-whistle, though (A hat-tip to respected science writer Alex Berezow for point these out):
- There is no "pediatric cancer epidemic,"
- Vaccines don't cause cancer,
- Glyphosate isn't actually known to cause cancer,
- There is no glyphosate in vaccines.
These facts didn't stop the image from being shared over 4,000 times by people far too willing to accept at face value a series of allegations that, when conflated, sound a great deal like a public health crisis. This is a dangerous pot to stir, especially in these days of heightened public concern about essentially everything.
There's already a surfeit of MAM "articles" telling us all to beware vaccines' effects on pets, babies, and even presidential hopefuls, as they allege Hillary Clinton's bout of pneumonia is a clear indication that her vaccines were no good. MAM doesn't bother to temper that accusation with an admission that there are several strains of pneumonia--some of which do not have vaccines. Clinton's case of walking pneumonia was likely due to one of these strains, believed to be mycoplasma pneumoniae.
Reductio ad absurdum more or less dictates that I draw this feckless campaign even further down its own rabbit-hole. I decided to whip up a new graphic to help March Against Monsanto integrate its new zeal for protesting vaccines with its existent cesspool of anti-GMO sentiments. Behold! Here's an entirely-fabricated new crisis with just enough "truthiness" to stoke the fires of consumer terror. Expect it to be reposted to your credulous friends' social media within a week:
MAM's Beef with the Bayer Buyout
Regarding the pairing of Bayer and Monsanto, MAM seems only too happy to reference Bayer's checkered past as an indication that it cannot possibly be contributing to modern public welfare. I won't pretend that Bayer's WWII development and provision of lethal Zyklon B gas is an excusable offense, but I would contend that the corporation as it stands today is not the same manufacturing concern that took part in those atrocities. MAM sees no difficulty in assuming nothing has changed in the better part of a century, and calls for the boycott of nearly 100 products Bayer has a hand in making, from baby ointment to over-the-counter painkillers to diabetes medications. They are not without their share of blemishes--their hormonal birth control Yaz currently faces scrutiny for causing blood clots--but to suggest that people should stop using products that contribute to their well-being because the faceless pharmaceutical concern behind them did some things before they were even born is asking a whole hell of a lot.
In the mind of these protesters, they are witnessing a union directly out of Revelations--cue Famine and Pestilence--the war-profiteer drug company linking arms with the deceptive chemical-spewing consumer products conglomerate, and the pair of them strolling right over to the switch that ends the world. It is true that these individual companies have been responsible for some serious mistakes in the past, but MAM's visceral reaction to the buyout seems grossly exaggerated.
It's hard to take seriously--I applaud the enthusiasm, but I emphatically disagree with the logic, and because of that I can't lend any credence to this movement. Maybe I'll change my mind in May of 2017 if there's a March in Dallas, but I can't imagine that some kid in a Guy Fawkes mask waving a hand-lettered "MON$ANTO" sign with a crudely-drawn skull on it is going to be the agent to flip that switch.
This may seem like a strange topic for a personal injury law-firm to opine on. However, the combination of educating, persuading, and engaging with groups like March Against Monsanto has done little to stem their tide. If they want to enjoy 19th century medicine, then we're more than happy to revive another 19th century institution--public shaming.
As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis once wrote:
If the broad light of day could be let in upon men's actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.
And that disinfectant is as organic as it gets.