It’s no secret that agriculture is now firmly in the sights of activist groups. We’re in a time where farmers and industry must be wary and alert. Activist organizations are very creative at how they shroud their purpose and those of us in agriculture can get drawn into supporting something we never intended to.
A recent example is how a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada was exploited by a filmmaker in the documentary Percy Schmeiser: David vs. Monsanto. (film trailer below)
You can’t fault a person for standing for their principles (right or wrong), but Schmeiser is pulled into a one-sided story wrought with misinformation.
Schmeiser’s purpose was to stand for what he felt was his right to save seed to re-plant the next season – a stand that ended up pitting him against the research company Monsanto. The filmmaker’s purpose is quite different however: To halt research and transgenic product development by Monsanto. Period.
To the untrained ear the documentary makes a compelling case. But to those who live in agriculture every day, there are too many gaps to the story to be believable. Some examples that I caught from the film:
- Schmeiser comments that transgenic plants do not yield as well as conventional plants. In the early years of development this was true, but today transgenic plants have contributed to the greatest yield breakthroughs in history. So why did the filmmaker leave this fact out?
- Schmeiser states that “He has been growing and developing his own seed for 50 years… and one year of transgenic Canola has ruined 50 years of work.” Truth is, Canola varieties have only been in commercial production just more than 30 years (the name “Canola” was registered in 1979). Why did the filmmaker ignore this fact?
- Schmeiser claims that transgenic seed blew into his conventional field, but the film opens with a speech about a farmer’s right to re-plant seed saved from a prior harvest. Near the end of the documentary, a point-blank question is asked: “To clear the record, did you, or did you not use saved seed?” Schmeiser’s lawyer responds to the question, talks around it and never answers it. Why does the filmmaker never answer this question either?
The film cleverly embeds misinformation throughout, bringing an unknowing audience to only one conclusion: Monsanto is evil. But what about the farmers who have prospered growing transgenic crops? Where are charts showing increased yield trend lines? Where are the experts describing how modern agriculture has kept pace with world demand for food among an ever-increasing population and ever-decreasing access to farm acres?
Percy Schmeiser and other farmers were roughed up by Monsanto’s tactics as the company sought to protect its patented research. Yes, Monsanto went too far in numerous instances and learned its own tough lessons along the way. But progress and development continues… to the dismay of anti-progress activists.
The lesson from this video is stark: Be cautious of what claims to be a “documentary” about agriculture. Make sure you understand the true purpose before getting involved. To our friends and consumers who don’t live in agriculture, the message of this film was skewed from inception, an assault on progress in agriculture. Monsanto is painted as the evil multi-national corporation preying on the farmer. You are never given a chance to form your own opinion.
It begs the question, “What’s the other side of the story?” So what do you think it is?
Dr. Colin N. Clarke is a strategist for AdFarm who monitors the growth trends of agriculture while keeping one foot rooted in its history. Follow him on Twitter @colinnclarke or on Facebook at Facebook.com/cnclarke.