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Comments about environmentalists draw reaction

olindana/Getty Images cherries
HIT A NERVE: Using the term “environmentalist” too broadly in a recent article about GMO cherries and apples irritated a reader who works for a legitimate organization with “environmental” in its name.
Reader Report: Those who legitimately work to protect the environment don’t like being lumped in with those who deal with facts loosely.

An article appeared on this website on July 2 that drew comment from one reader who was irritated by the choice of words. The blog describes how members of an environmental activist group are protesting bioengineered apples that don’t turn brown when bit into or sliced. The technology is developed by Intrexon and is on the market. Amazon is selling the apples. Some fast-food chains have buckled to pressure and agreed not to sell the apples.

The reader didn’t object to the main point of the article, which is that some people with hardcore beliefs sometimes react quickly, whether science supports them or not. The impact, in this case, could be the downfall of a potentially helpful technology.

What the reader objected to instead is that the article first uses the term “environmentalists” to describe who is objecting to the technology. Then it mentions that the group is Friends of the Earth, which issues radical calls for action against various technologies and conservative political issues on a regular basis.

Letter to the editor
Dear editor,

I get Indiana Prairie Farmer in my email inbox and enjoy reading the articles. You recently posted an article entitled “Will the world get fruit that doesn’t turn brown? Or will environmentalists apply enough pressure to squelch the technology?”

As somebody who works for an environmental organization, I resent being lumped into the same category with an organization that doesn’t represent my view and doesn’t even have the word “environmental” in their name. So now if I go up in front of crowd of farmers to speak, they will cross their arms and form an immediate opinion of me, thinking that I’m the kind of environmentalist who doesn’t believe in using technology to improve our food supply. You do us all a disservice when you perpetuate the myth that all “environmentalists” are the enemy. Now more than ever, we all need to be working together to ensure that agriculture continues to thrive hand in hand with clean air and water. I believe in farmers, I believe they provide us with one of the safest, most affordable, cleanest food supplies in the world, but farmers won’t believe in me if reporters like you continue to use the word “environmentalist” as if it were a slap in the face.  

Respectfully,

Karen,
senior manager, sustainable agriculture,
NutrientStar administrator,
Environmental Defense Fund

Editor’s note: Karen’s point is well taken. We probably used too broad a brush by leading with the term “environmentalist.” We believe most farmers today can distinguish between those groups that pay attention to science and work for the best interest of the environment in a commonsense manner, and those that appear to blindly follow their own agendas. However, Karen’s view is that not all farmers have reached that point yet. We will strive to be more specific in terminology in the future and avoid using broadbrush terms. At the same time, we stand by the main point of the article — there are groups that ignore science and protest technologies that may in fact be useful to everyone.

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