German and French translations
A leaked internal document from the German anti-biotech NGO community recently found its way to the Risk-Monger’s dusty basement. As it shows these militant activist groups recognising how factual evidence has undermined their 30-year long fear campaign and how low their views are on the intellectual capacity of those citizens they have been frightening over this time, I thought it worthy of publication (with an English translation). The source who shared this document with me is aware of this decision.
The facts and science do not support the NGO campaigns against new genomic plant breeding techniques. This is widely accepted today and as the German anti-GMO campaigners had recognised they were losing the genetic engineering debate and could not compete with the clear scientific realities of gene editing, they produced a strategy paper setting the scene to reframe the activist narrative. Rather than accepting the factual realities and ending their destructive and utterly useless three-decade long campaigns against the development of better, more sustainable agriculture, the document offers a strategy realignment with pathways for how the anti-biotech NGOs will try to regain the upper hand.
The Risk-Monger decided to publish the original German document and an English translation as it offers a glimpse into the thinking of some of the most extreme ecological cult warriors. They do not run campaigns to make the world better. They do not run campaigns based on the best available facts and scientific research. They run campaigns to win and as they admitted they have not been winning, it is interesting to see their end-game strategy on how they are prepared to fight on. It shows how they plan to use arguments they don’t believe, how they think their audience is not very smart and how they will believe anything these activists tell them.
The Risk-Monger received this document on the day that German NGOs in Berlin and Munich were publicly celebrating the closure of Germany’s last three nuclear reactors. A decision that has led to up to a third of German citizens suffering from energy poverty and a massive increase in the generation of coal-fired electricity … with coal power plant operating permits extended into the foreseeable future (with the entailing ecological and public health consequences). But the activists won, and winning is all that matters to these green cosmopolitan elites.
German green campaigners are the most extreme, most militant and, frankly, most stupid of all European environmental NGOs (and that is saying a lot when we see what has been happening with the attacks on farmers’ irrigation ponds in Sainte-Soline, France). With cultural and historical roots going back to Steiner and Hitler, German Greens have proven to be extremely intolerant, uncompromising and undemocratic. For too long they have been politically tolerated and their unhinged ideology romanticised. Years back I had compared German Greens to a fascist cult and things have only worsened since then.
The Internal Strategy Document was reportedly distributed in January, 2023 following a meeting that involved different German anti-genetic engineering NGOs including the bee-campaigning group, Aurelia Stiftung, and the organic food retail chain, Bioland. Many of the phrases and arguments reflect articles on the Aurelia Stiftung website. It seems there is a page missing from the original document that was printed and then scanned. Quotes from the internal document are from the English translation, indented and in italics, with my discussions in the regular text.
OK, We Lost. Now What?
The internal NGO document begins with an admission of defeat. The pro-science argument and the positioning of plant gene editing as a climate solution have destroyed the ability of the anti-GMO campaigners to make an impact. They admitted they cannot continue along the present campaign strategy.
Individual organisations and actions against genetic engineering cannot develop the authority and clout that would be necessary to break the unfortunately very successful narratives of the Pro-GMO proponents. Catchy arguments and narratives like:
- The Scientific Academies are behind us / We are the science / Follow the science!
- Opponents of genetic engineering are esoteric enemies of science
- Conventional mutation breeding with chemistry and radioactivity is like a shotgun blast to the genome and much riskier than targeted breeding with genetic scissors
- We need gene editing now for climate adaptation of agriculture
- Genetic engineering saves enormous amounts of CO2
These arguments cannot be stopped by individual NGO actions against genetic engineering in the relatively short time available (even if they take place in parallel). We have been trying this for years without much success and to the contrary, we are increasingly put on the defensive.
If the science and the facts are against you and no one is listening or supporting your argument, then it is highly likely that your position was just plain wrong. But the anti-biotech NGOs are a dogmatic cult, so facts and reality are not the most important elements affecting their belief system. They seem to understand that the gene editing science is sound, that there are enormous benefits and that the policymakers are moving toward approving it, but these activists don’t understand why they should accept it. As zealots, they are driven to win at all costs, so packing it up, admitting defeat and doing something useful with their time is not even considered as an option.
The view of these anti-biotech cult warriors could be compared to those stubborn Christian Creationists battling evolutionary science. They see the facts, they understand the benefits from the science, but they are unwilling to accept that the Bible could be wrong. Creationists have fought hard for centuries to find nuggets of miniscule doubt in evolutionary theory and have been extremely creative in finding science-like justifications by stretching scriptural interpretations. Like flat earthers before them, these fundamentalists just don’t know how to stop.
In the case of German ecological cults, you can replace the existence of a Biblical source with the demand that all agricultural solutions come from nature. This Church of Nature has different sects, from biodynamics to agroecology, but they are largely advocating taking humanity back to a more medieval world (of impoverished, agrarian production).
The anti-biotech activists recognise their present position is not working hence this internal strategy document seeks out a new path for their political actions.
For a real campaign strategy breakthrough, we need a new narrative that cannot be dragged onto the slippery slope of scientific (risk) arguments and one that even cautiously pro-GM actors can agree with. With primarily scientific arguments, we can only lose as we have nothing adequate to counter the “follow the science” framing because the people we actually want to reach disengage from debates about genetic engineering when it becomes too complicated for them. (Even though they reject genetic engineering on their own plates).
Are these activists recognising that their followers are not really too smart? Don’t get too sciencey please – it is too “complicated” for our followers. Back to the Creationist strategy, if we make jokes about people evolving from monkeys, those simpletons will continue to bow down and drop some coins in the collection basket. If the Eco-Cult Creationists shift the focus away from the science and pump up the fearometer, no one within this diminished congregation will notice (they’re not farmers or scientists and, if sufficiently scared, they will gladly continue to pay more at the organic shop for their daily bread).
The activists argue that they should not talk about facts, research or science – they can’t win there. They feel they need to create a new emotional, fact-free narrative against biotechnology. But this is not some new activist campaign strategy breakthrough (the German term: “Befreiungsschlag” literally means ‘liberation attack’ or ‘coup’). Most environmental activist campaigns have evolved in the last few decades to become emotion-laden, anti-corporate, anti-science and anti-innovation at a time when societies have become more technology-dependent.
Time to benchmark from the best.
Our campaign strategy needs to be loud and scandalous in order to be heard, while at the same time precisely avoiding polarisation and establishing proximity to our target audience. Is that even possible? Yes! Because that’s exactly what the climate movement has managed to do. We should learn from them. Fridays for Future are loud and scandalous, but avoid strong polarisation. Those in power have not been built up into bogeymen, but have an ongoing opportunity to step in, take action, prove themselves, and side with the “good guys”. Above all, the climate movement appeals to emotions and values, creating closeness and humanity. This resonates! Scientific terminology (unfortunately) generates yawns, and potential genetic engineering risks seem even more abstract than climate change.
So the “good guys” want to be scandalous. Only zealots get up in the morning thinking what they are going to do during the day is a battle of good vs evil. When you believe you are the “good guys” and those you are fighting are evil, how will you be able to compromise in order to ensure policymakers can reach a reasonable consensus? That is a trick question. These dogmatic zealots never compromise and never give up. Yet somehow, they continue to get German government funding to influence the public debate.
But should these groups compare themselves to the Fridays for Future movement? Does that mean anti-GMO groups will start trying to enlist children to weep in the streets? I’m not sure that trick can be pulled off twice and now an image stuck in my head of Claire Robinson hanging around outside of middle schools looking for opportunities is creeping me out.
Rather than Fridays for Future, I think these strategists, with their ambition to become hugably scandalous, were thinking more about becoming the next Extinction Rebellion. This now basically defunct flash in the pan was indeed scandalous but I doubt you could say they were avoiding polarisation. They craved it and tried to glorify the ‘us vs them’ battle to save the planet.
This new anti-biotechnology campaign strategy would entail stepping up their civil disobedience. Sorry, but anti-GMO campaigners have gained a lot of attention by breaking in and destroying test-fields (often in fields without GMO seeds). How would they possibly be able to become more scandalous while keeping a good relationship with those in power?
The internal report then shifted to how to be more effective as a collective of NGOs via third-party online websites.
This “neutral” web platform does not have to be very extensive. On the contrary, it must focus on our lowest common denominator. It should also actively attack and counteract the other side’s narrative about “the opponents of genetic engineering”. We are not “against genetic engineering”- we are for freedom of choice. (I myself, for example, have had myself vaccinated with genetic engineering). Being “for” or “against” genetic engineering is the framing of the pro-genetic engineering proponents. We must not adopt it.
Did they really have to put the word “neutral” in quotation marks? This indicates that they are only pretending to set up a “neutral” website to try to deceive people and that, in reality, they do not, for a moment, believe this common ground position they are communicating. Where is their integrity? Where is their commitment to delivering trustworthy information for their followers? It shows pure contempt toward the intellect of those they are trying to enlist: Let’s just sell them that “lowest common denominator” bla-bla-bullshit!
The paper identified different web techniques they need to exploit to pretend their organisations and movements are actually bigger than three people in a room with a laptop. Many of these tricks are already being used by the Aurelia Stiftung like their third-party Save the Bees call to action.
But the biggest alteration in the NGOs’ strategy is their focus to show how their struggle to stop biotechnology is actually a fight for your freedom.
We demand no more and no less than that the citizens’ right to self-determination be respected. And they do not want genetic engineering. Especially not untested. Period.
We therefore say: If genetic engineering is to be used, then it must be risk-tested. Just like vaccines. Untested genetic engineering must not be smuggled secretly onto fields and plates.
So it is not about facts or benefits. It is not about risks to the environment or public health. The new Anti-Biotech 2.0 is about you, the people and your right to be free!!! Hmm.
This is a bit confusing and indicative that these groups have still not quite figured out their strategy. “We are not against genetic engineering” (some of my best friends are genetic engineers!!!) but our followers don’t want it. But haven’t the activists been grooming these people to do what they tell them to?
Until now, all GMOs requesting EU authorisation have been “risk-tested” and have passed the most stringent EFSA regulatory risk assessment requirements, but still these activist NGOs have fought tooth and nail to refuse authorisation. So it is not about untested genetic engineering. The main issue these groups have is that some gene-edited food may be untestable because there is no difference between a native plant and a plant with a few genes edited out to reduce blight or pest vulnerabilities (without the need for pesticides). This mystical fear is similar to Creationists arguing about the role of angels – just because you can’t see them does not mean they’re not there.
Like the Creationist argument that there has to be a first cause, these activists can now accept that the science on gene editing is sound, there are benefits, but they still don’t feel they need to believe it or accept the technology. “We are free to reject gene editing and if you try to continue your research and development, then you are violating my right to self-determination!” So in order to not violate the rights of these activists, they argue, we must ban the use of all gene editing technologies. I suppose freedom for farmers to have better seeds and more sustainable yields or the freedom for consumers to have affordable food security don’t factor into this newfound Activist Freedom Struggle.
I have frequently seen this “We don’t want this technology, so ban it now!” line and often wondered who this “We” was (besides three people in a room with a laptop). 400,000 signatures on a biotech-free bee petition is not a democratic quorum. And how are “The People” asked? If I went out into the street with my clipboard and asked these “lowest common denominators” if they would like to eat unregulated poisons secretly pushed on us by evil corporations, then I’d get the answers I want. If I had time to explain to people the gene editing process, the benefits and the safety then I would likely get a more informed result.
But the activists are not interested in learning what the people really want; they have nothing but contempt for anyone who disagrees with them. In any case, most people are struggling to pay the rent and keep the lights on and really have bigger fears to deal with than those pushed on them by some self-appointed privileged elites. But maybe they’ll pay attention if their freedom is being taken from them.
The Right to be Stupid
The main task of these anti-biotech NGOs now is to reframe the narrative with freedom at the centre.
Narrative, not only “slogans”: develop complete text with decision-makers/victims/villains/heroines (in a small working group). Always let it resonate subliminally: New Genomic Techniques are also genetic engineering! Compile hero narratives from this (also with victims: empowerment!)
What a novel idea! I can just imagine a group of hard-core anti-GMO activists sitting around the table, enjoying their organic, non-dairy lattes when one of them speaks up: “You know what … maybe we should just go out and find some victims“. I am sure no NGO activist has ever had that idea before. There must be some CRISPR victims out there. And do tell me: Who should the villains be? Scientists? Farmers? Industry? The juvenile stupidity of these eco-warriors and their contempt for the intellect of their public is unbelievable.
The funniest part of this ridiculous paragraph though is their claim to “Always let it resonate subliminally: New Genomic Techniques are also genetic engineering!” … “Subliminally”??? Ya think!!! GMO 2.0 was the only message the anti-science activists communicated on gene editing technologies and they blasted in continually until they scared the bejeebers out of the European Commission civil servants, leaving them immobilised for nine years until the European Court of Justice was forced to make an uninformed decision. Highly charged, emotional eco-warriors are incapable of being subliminal.
The internal strategy document then went through a long list of ways to reframe the narrative that most NGOs are already doing (promoting the “ecologisation” of agriculture as the only way to mitigate climate threats, show how industry must be excluded from agricultural developments, link all seed breeding to intensive industrial agriculture and, of course, strengthen the precautionary principle…). The main focus, they insist, should be on consumer freedom, freedom from poisons and industry and freedom to know what is on their plates.
Not in Anyone’s Backyard
Who should be deciding on these rights to self-determination? The “good guys” or those dictating corporations?
Whether we will be able to decide for ourselves in the future what we eat and how we breed, cultivate or keep and eat plants and animals, or whether corporations like BAYER-Monsanto dictate what goes in our fields and on our plates, will be decided by the people on the ground: through their daily work in ecologically or conventionally GMO-free farms, through the purchase of appropriate products and through civil society commitment.
But this freedom already exists. Consumers are free to choose non-GMO. Farmers are free to grow organic. The organic label (now euphemistically renamed “ecologically grown”) leaves consumers free to make that choice. When I buy canned corn in France, some labels say “GMO-free” (even though I am aware that all canned corn in France is GMO-free). Marketers have always had this option and they have been deceptively taking advantage of these activist-driven fears. Where is the loss of freedom?
What these activists want though, is to stop farmers from using better technologies. They don’t want to ensure that their consumers have a free choice; they want to remove the free choice from others who trust scientists and food regulators. They want to remove any options for farmers to grow food more sustainably.
This is a good example of where green activists are rather fascist. Not in my backyard is only possible if they can change the regulations to make sure it is Not in anyone’s backyard. If I am afraid of food derived from enhanced seed breeding, who am I to then force everyone else to comply with my demands? If I am afraid of a minimal risk from a low pesticide residue on food, what right do I have to make it impossible for farmers to protect their crops and for everyone else to have to pay so much more for their fresh fruit and vegetables? If I am afraid of ten-metre-high waves hitting a nuclear power facility outside of Munich, who gave me the power to ignore reality and force those struggling on low incomes to suffer in cold homes with no lights? And now, when they admit the facts fail them, these dogmatic fundamentalists want to tell me they are fighting for my freedom.
And our lame, leaderless governments took the cowardly route, ignored standing up to defend the best available science and sided with the “good guys” while declaring precaution. They decided to call this utter nonsense: “Farm2Fork”.
Why Didn’t they just Admit Defeat?
A decade ago, when the emerging plant breeding technologies showed some promising benefits for farming and global food security, the organic food lobby was having a serious debate on whether these seed innovations could fall under the “organic” classification (as there was no synthetic or transgenic interventions). Those in the militant faction like Testbiotech and Corporate Europe Observatory prevailed, and the non-scientific GMO 2.0 strategy became the official organic food industry lobby position. This was a brutally stupid decision that badly handcuffed organic farmers and has now marginalised the anti-biotech campaigners.
These activists know the science is against their position (they’ve admitted it here). These activists know their campaigns are damaging farmers’ means to make a living. These activists know they are threatening food security in developing countries where local research institutes have been using gene editing to eradicate some important threats. So why didn’t they just admit defeat, pack it in and look at doing something positive for humanity? Who keeps pushing them to flog this dead horse?
Follow the money.
The only people who would think continuing this campaign is reasonable would be those profiting from such imposed decisions, ie, the organic food industry lobby. Maybe that is why organic food retail chain, Bioland, was present at this strategy meeting (someone had to pick up the bill). As long as people are afraid of food technologies, organic food retail will continue to increase their markets. As long as these low-cost genomic technologies are identified with big corporations, people will lash out and demand more “ecological” food. As long as groups like Bioland keep writing the cheques, these worn-out, defeated cult eco-warriors will continue to get up in the morning and try to confuse the public with emotions to challenge the obvious facts. I suppose that’s what the “good guys” do.
Maybe it’s time these Luddites just admit they were wrong, the science does not support their zealot dogma and that it is time for them to just shut up and sit down. Maybe it’s time for policymakers to start treating the anti-biotech crowd in the same way they treat religious Creationists – be polite but don’t give them a microphone. They offer no value to the future of agriculture. Maybe it’s time that time is called on this incredibly stupid debate so we can move forward to develop the best tools to support our farmers, consumers and the environment.
7 Comments Add yours
A comprehensive exposition as usual thank you Mr Monger of Risk, although dogmatic fundamentalists of various kinds are causing tangible damage and no longer merit even the pretence of politeness. Legislators should stop pandering to shrill activists.
LikeLiked by 2 people
The sad point Mark is that the European Commission civil servants will read this and shrug. They know there is no science or facts behind the campaigns of these “three people in a room with a laptop” but they are somehow compelled to still engage with them while other DGs continue to give them money. They have to start treating them as eco-cult Creationists.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It is a continuing conundrum why such zealots, for whom facts and evidence are optional, get so much time and attention from officialdom. Which public do they serve…coupled with absent accountability when unrealistic policy fails.
LikeLiked by 2 people
The anti-GMO campaign is far older than three decades, as they started in the late 1970s – early 1980s. Even then, it was not about the science. It was *never* about the science, although “science” was the battleground for the weak minded. Instead, it was always about politics and getting suckers to support a hidden political agenda by sowing fear, lies and distrust.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Took to freedom to translater post into German. The Aurelia document (inline) is an OCR read of the original pictures.
LikeLiked by 1 person