Filed Under: Organic Activists

Organic foods marketers and nonprofit nannies find new poster boy

Six months ago it was Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer-turned-activist, that the Nanny Culture tried to pass off as a simple, unbiased farmer whose livelihood was destroyed by big, bad Monsanto. But even an unqualified court judgment against Schmeiser’s claim didn’t stop groups like Craig Winters’ “Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods” from using Schmeiser and his fabricated story as an emblem in its fight against revolutionary food technology.

Now it’s David Vetter, a Nebraska organic farmer, whose profile is growing week by week. The July issue of Sierra (the magazine of the Sierra Club) complains that Vetter’s organic farm has been “contaminated” by biotech pollen; Vetter blames government regulators, conventional farmers, and, of course, Monsanto. “Somebody’s introduced technology they can’t manage,” claims Vetter, who is presented as just another unsophisticated farmer about to be run out of business by evil biotech., a project of anti-technology zealot Andrew Kimbrell (who operates the International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety), paints a similar picture of Vetter. A recent CropChoice story quotes him as saying: “It’s their genetics. I wish they’d keep them.”

So who is David Vetter, really? It turns out that Vetter hardly fits the mold of impartial victim that the anti-biotech activists have carved out for him. In fact, he’s something of an activist himself. David Vetter studied organic farming at the University of Nebraska with Fred Kirschenmann, who now runs the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Vetter founded the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society in 1976, in order to protect the economic interests of organic-only farmers; he was the group’s president for 10 years, and is still listed among the group’s available public speakers.

Vetter also organized the Nebraska chapter of an international group called the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA); he later went on to become the organization’s International President from 1990 through 1992, and moved its headquarters to Nebraska while in office. OCIA is the world’s largest organic crop certification agency.

None of this seemed to matter to Ben Lilliston, whose article “Farmers Fight to Save Organic Crops” was just published in the left-leaning magazine The Progressive. The article makes David Vetter out to be the new Percy Schmeiser. It begins: “For the last four years, Nebraska organic farmer David Vetter has been testing his corn for a new kind of pollution. Situated right in the middle of corn country, Vetter’s 280-acre farm is small compared to those of his neighbors.” Lilliston, hardly an objective observer, is the communications director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and shared authorship (with the Organic Consumers Association’s Ronnie Cummins) of a book entitled Genetically Engineered Foods: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. His Progressive story is just the latest salvo in the public relations war against genetically improved foods. Maybe, just maybe, the mass media won’t give David Vetter the same free pass that it bestowed upon Percy Schmeiser.

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