Oct 22, 2009
On Monday night, the television show “CSI: Miami” launched a vicious attack on American farmers, corn farmers in particular; an angry assault motivated by willful ignorance and driven by scientific illiteracy.
The result was worse than bad television. It was malicious propaganda based on distortions and lies about the common practices of modern agriculture. Call it “un-reality TV.”
I'm responding because I AM a farmer. I am a business man. I own my own land and work for no one else. I work very hard every day to produce healthy, high quality food for my family and consumers around the world.
“CSI: Miami” is a popular police-procedural show, now in its eighth season on CBS. It routinely ranks among the top-20 most-watched programs in the country. About 13 million people typically tune in, according to the latest data from Nielson.
Monday’s episode was called “Bad Seed.” At the start, a young woman dies. Doctors and investigators suspect food poisoning--but then the show delivers its own deadly dose of venom. It means to poison the minds of Americans with toxic nonsense, turning them against a staple food and the farmers who produce it.
This soon becomes apparent as the heroes of “CSI: Miami” uncover a dastardly scheme. A company called Bixton Organic Foods is growing a new variety of GM corn--and its killing people.
There’s nothing wrong with a little fictitious embroidery in the service of a good drama. The problem with “Bad Seed” is that it doesn’t merely invent a police department with world-beating technologies and seemingly infinite financial resources. Instead, it bases its plot on a sinister falsehood: the notion that farmers and other food-industry professionals don’t care about the health or even the survival of consumers.
That’s not the only deception. The show also says that eating genetically modified crops and products derived from them is bad for you. It basically charges GM food with murder.
Here are some facts that any rookie crime-scene investigator would soon uncover: Every day, millions of people in the United States and around the world consume GM food. It’s no less healthy or nutritious than non-GM food. We know this from years of experience as well as extensive scientific and regulatory testing. GM foods have never so much as caused anyone to sneeze.
But according to “CSI: Miami,” the stuff can end your life. In a key scene, as investigators piece together their case, one of them mimics the flamboyant rhetoric of European anti-biotech activists: “They Frankenstein bacteria with plants,” he says.
This line not only mangles the English language by turning a proper noun into a verb, it also twists the truth. Cross-breeding is an age-old agricultural practice. Farmers have been doing it for thousands of years in a quest to grow better crops.
Biotechnology allows today's plant breeders to transfer genes carrying desirable traits from one plant to another. The practice has improved our lives in all sorts of ways, especially through the advancement of medicine.
In agriculture, biotechnology helps crops use nutrients more efficiently and resist weeds and pests. By limiting crop loss to both, the technology boosts yield on existing farmland, which keeps prices in check for consumers and reduces the stress on wilderness regions. Our future food security and environmental sustainability will depend upon the spread and acceptance of this vital tool.
This is hardly on the agenda of Halloween monsters. In the fevered imagination of the producers and writers of “CSI: Miami,” however, biotechnology presents a mortal threat.
There’s only one way to say it: “CSI: Miami” puts the “BS” in CBS.
The show’s worst offense may be its sweeping denigration of farmers in the field, regulatory agents in government, and business leaders in the private sector. According to “CSI: Miami,” they’re all accomplices to homicide.
The ultimate villain of “Bad Seed” is the CEO of Bixton Organic Foods. The character is called Jerry Mackey--a name strikingly similar to John Mackey, the head of Whole Foods. At the end of the episode, he issues a vile little speech about his priorities: “If one man’s death means 500 get fed, yes, I’ll take those odds.”
He’ll take those odds? They’re completely and utterly unacceptable. I don’t know anybody who farms, let alone anybody in the entire food industry, who would accept this rationale. John Mackey of Whole Foods certainly wouldn’t.
Suggesting that such a person exists--and that he symbolizes those of us who devote our lives to producing safe and healthy food--is a smear.
If CBS wants to find a real crime scene, it should start by investigating itself.
Tim Burrack raises corn and soybeans in partnership with his brother on their NE Iowa family farm. Tim is a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology www.truthabouttrade.org