We commonly try to distinguish the message from the messenger. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” we used to holler when someone suggested that news they didn’t like was the fault of journalists doing their job.

Nowadays, though, rather than shoot the messenger, power is working overtime to muzzle the messenger. Let the messenger live, but don’t let her do her job.

I was reminded of muzzled messengers last Sunday as I watched a Canadian movie at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville. The movie was about the battle over genetic engineering of seeds.

Genetic engineering, the result of which is called genetically modified organisms, is the splicing of one live organism into another live organism. One purpose is to create a crop that will resist chemicals sprayed on it. Guess who manufactures the chemicals. These splices, such as putting fish genes into tomatoes or bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that lives in moths, butterflies and animal feces, into corn, do not occur in nature.

My concerns about genetic engineering are two. First, is has not been adequately tested for safety. Federal agencies that are supposed to test these organisms simply take the manufacturers’ word that gmo seeds are safe. The agencies tell their work is “science based,” yet they have made no attempt to duplicate the corporate results. Duplicating findings is the key to good science. In the absence of its own science, the USDA has remained silent on the issue, basically rubber-stamping applications for new gmo seeds.

Second, genetic engineering puts the white coats in the lab in the position of playing God or Mother Nature. Whoever you believe is responsible for creating the earth and its critters, if you have thought about it you probably believe that job is above our pay grade.

There are also matters such as the failure of genetic engineering to improve crop yields and the rising use of chemical herbicides and pesticides because weeds and insects have developed resistance to those herbicides and pesticides.

As the film “Modified” showed, almost from Day One, the corporations — Monsanto takes most of the heat from anti-gmo people, but others such as Syngenta and Bayer also engineer genetically — spent tons of time and money to keep us from knowing what they are up to. They want us to eat the food, but they don’t want us to know what is in it.

Over nearly a decade, everyone involved in approving or promoting genetic engineering in Canada and the United States refused to talk with the filmmaker. She filmed a dozen or so phone calls in which corporate and government types gave her the runaround.

The USDA approved Monsanto’s application for splicing bacillus thuringiensis into corn so the corn could tolerate the herbicide Roundup. Its active ingredient is glyphosate. Monsanto says, “Not only do glyphosate products work really well on weeds, but they also help farmers grow crops more sustainably.” So, non-renewable chemicals are “sustainable?”

Monsanto doesn’t tell you that in 2015 the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization declared glyphosate probably carcinogenic to humans.

This combination of corporate and government secrecy keeps us from deciding for ourselves whether gmos will save the human race or kill it. Or something in between.

Marc Bittman, former food columnist for The New York Times, coined the phrase “ag-gag law” to describe another corporate-government maneuver to muzzle messengers. These laws forbid private investigations of factory farms. Nine state legislatures have bowed to corporate farming and made it illegal to secretly photograph on farms. You’ve seen these videos, where an employee of a factory farm filmed animals being mistreated.

In two of the nine states, the laws have been held unconstitutional in court. In two others, lawsuits have been filed seeking similar rulings. Happily, 19 state legislatures have defeated bills to muzzle whistleblowers. More happily, Maine is among the 19.

In those state with ag-gag laws, though, we will never see sick animals dumped into manure piles to choke to death in their own waste, frustrated farm workers beating recalcitrant animals or animals confined to spaces so tiny they can’t turn around.

The people who want secrecy have little or no faith in the public to understand what the secrecy-seekers are doing. Think for a minute. On Monday, President Trump made a spectacle of himself after the Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin. A historically quite conservative newspaper used most of its front page to shout “OPEN TREASON.”

What would have happened if Trump and Putin had accepted Sen. Angus King’s suggestion that they meet on stage with cameras and audience? Then, at least, we could have seen how strongly Trump had questioned Putin about meddling in our affairs and about Putin’s response. As it is, the leaders kept their 566 million citizens in the dark.

It’s going on in Congress, too. Susan Milligan reported for US News that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has not once allowed any representative to propose an amendment to a piece of legislation. Bills come to the floor as “take it or leave it.” Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, a Democrat, said, “The last session of Congress was the most closed session in history. Legislation is routinely written behind closed doors. The People’s House has become the Speaker’s House. The American people deserve better.”

Our freedom to decide is threatened by government-corporate collusion (gmos), ag-gag laws (animal farming) and secret meetings (Congress and the Summit meetings).

Bob Neal believes Thomas Jefferson was correct when he said, “I should not hesitate a moment” to prefer newspapers without government over government without newspapers.


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