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Before anybody gets paralysed or panicked by the headline, I am just twisting a quote in the style British newspapers have become so notorious for since the arrival of Rupert Murdoch on the UK media scene in 1969.
There must be some point to misleading headlines and articles in newspapers. I can sort of see it in low-end, red-top, shag rags, but I fail to see the point at the higher end of the market in a business where circulations are plummeting year on year. Not down at the ‘Indy’ though. And it’s obvious why.
The paper, which used to be innovative and refreshing when it was young and hungry, ran under the banner “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The slogan was dropped in 2011, along with standards that were already in steep decline. Probably from fear it might be in breach of the Trades Description Act. From competing with The Guardian, The Telegraph and pre-Murdoch Times in its glory days – even winning readers from all – having changed ownership a couple of times, the ‘Indy’ seems to be racing down the slippery slope towards brazen sensationalism by trying to compete with the likes of The Daily Express and The Daily Mail. This Friday’s edition provided at least one very good example of that trend.
In a leading article, headlined Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK the paper trawled the depths of the sewage tank. Had it employed the words “British spud” instead of potatoes, and “foreign” crop pests, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Sun. Turns out a real, fully-qualified, scientific, boffin type is getting we Brits all het up over crop pests that invade our beloved spuds by putting the blight back into Ol’ Blighty.
In regard to the potentially devastating threat of fish ‘n chips without any chips, and bangers ‘n mash without the mash, Professor Sarah Gurr, of the University of Exeter and Rothamsted Research, is reported as saying to The Independent:
“The UK has significantly underestimated the scale of the threat. This is a huge problem that is lacking in public and political awareness. People are absolutely paralysed with fear of diseases like Ebola, but while they are extremely dangerous, the need to tackle crop diseases is just as pressing,”
Have you all gone stark, raving bonkers over there? Admittedly, I haven’t been back to the old country for a while, but I still have contact with family and friends. So far, none of them have mentioned being ‘absolutely paralysed’ from fear of Ebola. Perhaps the absolute paralysis is the reason I haven’t heard from some in a week or two.
But what isn’t mentioned in the article is the Rothamsted Research’s connection with GM foods and Monsanto funding. Neither is the increasing pressure on European governments by the US to overturn current restrictions of the planting of GM foods and sale of them without labelling them as such. Monsanto is one of the leading companies trying to push GM foods on a sceptical European public.
My intention here is not underestimate the threat of Ebola, or to pour scorn on its victims and their families, but this sort of rhetoric helps nobody.
To put blighted chips and mouldy mash aside – and what true Brit wouldn’t? – I can see the coast of Africa from my front room window.
Each year, thousands of illegal immigrants, desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the continent, risk drowning by crowding into unseaworthy wooden boats to cross the Straits of Gibraltar in search of better lives. Many don’t make it.
Quite a few come from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, the nations most affected by Ebola so far. On occasion, they land on a beach not fifteen minute’s walk from my home. Some get caught by the coastguard and are sent straight back, others disappear into Spain and the rest of Europe to search out menial, low-paid jobs. A very small minority might even prosper.
The risks they take most Europeans wouldn’t be able to understand, let alone consider. So, before the professor starts breaking open another thesaurus of superlatives, perhaps she wouldn’t mind assuring people the risk of catching Ebola in Britain is extremely low at the moment, and the chances of survival are far greater in the UK than in Africa.
To equate poor people, often suffering near-starvation on a daily basis, and all the more susceptible to disease because of bad diet and poverty, with the the British potato being ‘off the menu’, as The Independent puts it, is cynical enough to qualify as psychopathic. And perhaps the professor should have mentioned a potential conflict of interest where potatoes are concerned.
Not one of the locals I speak to, living in Europe’s nearest point to Africa, has been ‘absolutely paralysed’ with fear of Ebola. They haven’t even mentioned it. And we’re all still venturing out without face masks when the wind from Africa blows our way, which it often does. So, I cannot believe there is even one person actually ‘absolutely paralysed with fear of diseases like Ebola’ in Britain, which is so much further away. Unless you’ve all gone soft in the head.
We now have experts deliberately confusing people and creating paranoia by linking entirely unrelated events, some that haven’t yet happened, and may never happen. There is little doubt much of it is at the behest of Big Pharma coughing up enough cash, and as many perks as it takes, to flatter scientists into conducting controversial research before publishing highly-questionable and heavily-redacted results. At the same time, but less reported, increasing numbers of other scientists – not funded by Big Pharma and Big Farmer – are starting to regard GM food as a bigger long-term threat to the world food supply than the naturally occurring threats that have existed in the environment since time began.
I have little doubt there are diseases out there that can destroy potato crops. It wouldn’t be the first time. Potato blight led to famines all over Europe in the mid 19thC, which, in turn, led to starvation, death and massive migration to the USA. But cut out the overheated rhetoric, prof. It’s not the job of a scientist to create panic and foment rumour with underlying racist dimensions. It’s your job to spread calm and give advice, not to spread unnecessary fear in the interests of commercial gain by any party. It is immoral and unethical in the extreme.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
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This type of switch & bait hyperbole is exactly what pulled the US into war with Iraq 11 long years ago. And we are still snarled in a morass that won’t let us go ad for which we seem to provide little if any positive after effects.
It’s always refreshing Bryan, to read your point of view bringing some sanity to the madness out there.
Thanks for that, I’m happy to say I can return the compliment and enjoy your pieces from the other side of the globe very much.
It’s so good to see the rural folk of Australia rising up against the relentless tide of big business interests and big business government. Unfortunately, I still hear the lethargic refrain of ‘it’s the system’ far too often. Serfdom once used to be the system, and that’s what we’re heading back to if we don’t make a stand.
Yes, thanks Bryan. I hate all these scare tactics. However GM foods and Monsanto and their methods really do scare the hell out of me. Not that I fear for my life – soon to be 80 I’ll soon kick the bucket anyway as Australians say – but what of my descendants? What sort of a life are they going to have? I am also worried about poverty on earth caused in great part by our excesses. This poverty results in a never ending stream of refugees. If they don’t drown at sea most of them end up in refugee camps without prospects of ever being allowed to resettle somewhere.
Also our greed for resources causes violence and wars. Will mankind ever learn to act in a reasonable way?
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I agree with you wholly there, Uta. Although I don’t have any children, Anji does, and hate to think what their futures will be like due to the immense greed of a small minority who appear to believe they own the world. But also for all children in the world.
Monsanto is an extremely secretive company. As the company gives so little real information about itself away, we can’t be forgiven for wondering what shady secrets from the past it has to hide.
As you correctly point to what’s being forcibly put under the light, i.e., public scrutiny, without much merit or a whiff of evidence, I look for what’s being darkened, so to speak. Meaning, what’s the purpose of diverting attention to a non problem. I personally don’t know what it is, but wouldn’t doubt that the purpose of the whole campaign may be to prepare the way for some new product, being pushed by the corps that stand to gain from public fear, another anti-immigration piece of legislation, or just, as you mentioned, the secretive links between the university and Monsanto. I’m not surprised that the Independent would spouse such baseless claims, but you’re right again when you ask for a minimal sense of civic responsibility from the part of the professor. Let’s hope she’s not doing this just to call attention to her own line of research, although it seems pretty likely. Thanks, Bryan.
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I have the feeling, like many newspapers today, The Independent runs a skeleton staff, relying on AP for many of its stories. It certainly seems to be heading downmarket.
Obviously, realising one of the biggest staples of conservative European consumers is the potato, Monsanto is just playing on the paranoias of the rabid right, who probably think the potato has existed in Europe since God was a boy. Many British people think a Brit invented it.
Came across an interesting piece on what Monsanto is doing in Chile to take over the potato growing industry completely: Sowing Chile’s Future
Thanks for your input, Wesley.
Wesley just sent me an email with some interesting links:
To your point, a quick search produced a few interesting articles too, that show how Monsanto is trying to get a foothold in the rich Brazilian market for export seeds, and how surprisingly it’s been warded off, at least for now.
Judging by the lack of clear commitment from the part of presidential front runners, the president herself included, it’s fair to expect that it’s just a matter of time until their foot in the door will break the frame and start the onslaught of trade of GM seeds throughout the continent.
A word of caution, though. Although it’s always positive to see that even temporary wins against Monsanto are reported, as you know, one has to also be weary about who’s reporting. Not so much questioning their sincerity but just making sure that support of the person writing is dutifully subtracted from the content, so to more or less gauge the real news at the core.
Since big newspapers, for obvious reasons, have underreported this issue (I haven’t found yet a thorough, recent, story, even in Portuguese, about it), one has to be constantly ‘editing’ mentally what it’s out there. Nothing against activism reporting, but the big press still has to be accountable about what they cover, or at least they should, so it’s usually easier to see whether the story has any basis on reality or it’s a piece of corporate propaganda.
Which is also one of the reasons why they pick and choose what to cover. No need to emphasize how low my confidence on the big print press is these days either.
(I email you directly because I’m not sure I wanted to blanket your comment section with my asides, but feel free to paste it on there if you see it fit)
All the best,
All I can say to that Wesley is: feel free, your added knowledge and wisdom is always welcome.
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I am in the UK at the moment and have not had any Ebola conversations with anybody, although I have to say if potatoes are going off the menu I have no idea what my parents will live on….
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