Talking Up Chuck Benbrook To Talk Down GM

Imagine meeting a person who was once a top advisor to American Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Senior and also Bill Clinton! He would have to have been rather special to have survived both sides of politics for that long as a top advisor.

According to Michael Thomson writing in The Land this week (pg 24) and also ABC Online, Dr Chuck Benbrook is that special – he was an advisor to those three US Presidents.

Dr Benbrook is currently touring Australia at the invitation of The GeneEthics Network with the tour sponsored in large part by the organic food industry. Organic Wholefoods, Organic Wholesalers, NASAA, Select Organic, Eden Seeds, Four Leaf, Lovely, Australian Certified Organic, Biological Farmers of Australia, Melrose Health Supplies, PureHarvest and The Diggers Club all feature as sponsors on the flyer advertising Benbrook’s visits to all capital cities.

I heard Benbrook speak this morning in Brisbane. He had apparently just come from a meeting with senior Queensland government officials including Deputy Premier Anna Bligh.

The key message on the GeneEthics flyer is that GM Crops have been a failure in the US and “Australia can’t afford to repeat America’s costly GM mistakes!” At the meeting Benbrook claimed he wasn’t anti-GM just against first generation GM crops particularly GM soy. He then preceeded to tell the audience the technology is risky.

They say when you are writing for a newspaper you should put the really important information in the first couple of paragraphs, given The Land piece and ABC Online claim Benbrook has been a top advisor to US Presidents in their opening paragraphs – well this is what gives the guy so much authority. This is why we should trust and believe him – this is why we should be suspicious of GM food crops. This is why someone is paying Benbrook to fly all over Australia and visit every state capital and Canberra for two weeks to tell us about GM.

What sort of positions would you expect a top advisor to three Presidents to have held? He would surely need to have been much more than an advisor to a congressman or Executive Director of the Board of Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences. Is it enough to have been Executive Director of a Subcommittee of a House Committee on Agriculture or Agriculture Staff Expert on the Council for Environmental Quality?

Benbrook has obviously worked within the Washington bureacracy, but I am not sure it is appropriate to claim “Top Advisor to three Presidents”?

The only really remarkable piece of information I could find out about Benbrook was that he was sacked from the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Science.

A piece in the journal Science (Vol 250, No. 4985, Nov. 30, 1990, pg 1202) refers to Chuck as Charles and explains:

“Charles Benbrook, a hard-charging critic of agribusiness who for 7 years has headed the Board of Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences, is leaving his job. According to several sources, he was handed his walking papers by academy president Frank Press and given less than a month to clear out.”

So what has Benbrook done since he left the Institute in 1990? According to the Pew Charitable Trust he runs Benbrook Consulting Services, a small consulting firm based in Sandpoint, Idaho.

I would rather discuss the pros and cons of GM food crops – the social, environmental and economic costs and benefits. But it seems our newspapers and organic industry prefer to talk up the credentials of a consultant from Idaho on the basis he is good at talking down GM.

The piece in Science can be downloaded by clicking here. It is about 270 kbs.


5 Responses to Talking Up Chuck Benbrook To Talk Down GM

  1. rog December 2, 2005 at 7:12 pm #

    What the organic industry should do is focus on providing a certifiably clean natural and in the main quality product; instead they have adopted a political stance to gain market share.

    They are being sucked in by their own rhetoric, they should concentrate on the positive not the negative.

    People should be free to make a choice, if GM is risky then it’s their risk.

    Sponsoring Benbrook is a waste of valuable resources and a signal that they are chasing windmills (IMHO of course).

  2. Neil Hewett December 2, 2005 at 9:42 pm #

    I despair at the futility of the debate, just as I bemoan the absurdity of the global climate antinomy and yet despite the legitimacy of opposing arguments, here in the third reich of environmental facism, employment is advertised for a Greenhouse Inventory Officer to assist the Council undertake the tasks outlined in its “Milestone 5”, whatever that happens to represent.

  3. Ian Mott December 3, 2005 at 11:57 am #

    In the past I have given both verbal and written advice to both Bob Hawke and Paul Keating as to which orfice they might deposit their policies. I am also over 50 so I guess, on Benbrooks example, that allows me to hold myself out as a former senior policy advisor to two Prime Ministers. So tell me, if the anti-GM people are soliciting funds from the public, then surely they must be subject to the consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act?
    They damned well should be.

  4. detribe December 4, 2005 at 12:53 pm #

    The GMO Pundit has several new posts that address some of the claims made by Argro-economist cum organic farming consultant Charls Bedbrook

    My take on the comments that donations are solicited to defray tour costs is that it is spin to take attention away from where the huge amount of money for expensive speaking tours actually comes from.

  5. Ian Edwards December 5, 2005 at 4:56 pm #

    Charles Benbrook was a government bureaucrat:
    * Council for Environmental Quality 1979-80
    * Exec Dir of the subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture – actually worked for Democratic Congressman George Brown – not Republican President Ronald Regan!
    * In 1984 he was recruited as Exec Dir of the Board of Ag. of the NAS. In 1990 he was sacked following a series of complaints from both the USDA and the chemical industry .
    * Working in Washington DC is one thing – claiming to be a Presidential Advisor is something else and takes quite a stretch!
    * He worked to persuade the Zambian Government not to accept US food aid for their starving people, since it included some GM corn. What’s good enough for 280 million well-fed Americans is not good enough for Chuck and the starving Zambians. Never mind Chuck – they broke into the sheds and took the food anyway!

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