Part I: Brett Wilcox, We’re Monsanto, Feeding The World, Lie After Lie
Brett Wilcox is a hubby, father, Licensed Professional Counselor and not quite over-the-hill vegan runner. He and his 15-year old cross country champion son, David, will run across the USA in 2014 while his wife, Kris, and daughter, Olivia, crew for them. They are running for a GMO-free USA. Brett is the author of We’re Monsanto: Feeding the World, Lie After Lie. Visit RunningTheCountry.com for more.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody I’m Caryn Hartglass, how are you doing today? It is December 17, 2013, and it’s a cold one here in New York City. We’ve had a nice dusting, the sky’s white, and I like it. It’s refreshing especially when you’re sitting inside looking outside through the window. Okay, weather is really interesting especially when you think about what we’re doing to impact the weather and if we are indeed having an impact on the weather. There’re all those conversations on global warming and all the things we’re doing to the environment. And there’s something else going on in the world that we need to be talking about. I know everyone on this show talks about genetically modified organisms, and were going to be spending quite a bit of time in the next half hour with Brett Wilcox, who’s the author of “We’re Monsanto, Feeding the World Lie After Lie”. He’s a hubby, a father, a licensed professional counselor, and not quite over-the-hill vegan runner. He and his fifteen year-old cross country champion son, David, will run across the United States in 2014 while his wife Kris and daughter Olivia crew for them. They’re running for a GMO-free USA. And they have a website, runningthecountry.com, and we’ll find out more about that in a moment. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Brett.
Brett Wilcox: Thank you Caryn, it’s so good to be here with you.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, gosh you know, it’s a funny thing, I really believe that if we pay attention, the universe will direct us to where we need to be and the people we need to meet, and the universe did just that. I was looking for people to have on my program, and I found you and your book, and I was really delighted to find out all about you and what you’re doing.
Brett Wilcox: The delight is mutual.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so you wrote this book and we’re going to talk a bit about that. So, basically, you’ve listed a number of different items that are about Monsanto, and you’re actually calling them lies in your book.
Brett Wilcox: Yes, that’s correct.
Caryn Hartglass: And then you discuss them. So my first question is, how is it you get away with doing that in a book, and how is it Monsanto hasn’t come after you?
Brett Wilcox: Well, I think the way I get away with it is by making sure everything I write is thoroughly documented and researched and make sure that everything I am writing I believe is the truth. If I was to write something and misrepresent what I believe or what I think is the truth, I think that could be a problem. As long as I stick with what I believe to be the facts from what I’ve dug up, then I think I’m on safe legal ground there. As far as why Monsanto hasn’t done anything about it, you know, I think at this point I am a very small mosquito. In a world where there are millions of people who oppose Monsanto, we’ve had two global marches against Monsanto just in this last year, I am just one of millions, and if Monsanto wants to go out and rebut what we are all doing, they would do nothing but that. So, they would have no time left. I do believe if I ever get to a point where I’m more that a small mosquito, and our run attracts more attention, it may behoove Monsanto to weigh the pros and the cons of whether they are going to address what we are doing or not. And we’ll see how that plays out.
Caryn Hartglass: I like the analogy to a mosquito because a mosquito is very small and can be very annoying.
Brett Wilcox: Yes, that’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: And could get a lot of attention. And it’s so important for people to realize that we are not insignificant, the work we do is important. And if you ever think that it’s not, just think of a little mosquito in your room when you’re trying to go to sleep.
Brett Wilcox: That’s for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: That little mosquito can really make a point. And if that’s why mosquitos are here, to make us realize how significant each individual is, well then, maybe that’s the good thing about mosquitos, because I don’t know what else they’re good for. Alright, let’s dig in to some of these lies, shall we?
Brett Wilcox: You bet.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, so, I’ve got this big stack of pages here. How many lies are in this book?
Brett Wilcox: 50 lies and this is the first book.
Caryn Hartglass: More lies to come.
Brett Wilcox: Yeah, there’re 50 more that are to come, it’s almost ready to be published.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I think it’s the first one. Monsanto lets us know that they’re really in this business to do good for the world, make the world a better place and feed all the hungry. I know a lot of people that have heard that and believe it, but it’s not really true, is it?
Brett Wilcox: The most dangerous lie that Monsanto tells is the lie that we believe, and this is the deal that they have going on at Monsanto. They take a natural food and they inject it with a bacteria or a virus, they do something to it that nobody wants, except for them, the shareholders, which absolutely no one needs, and then they saturate it with poisons, and then they give it to the marketing team, and they say “sell this”. So imagine yourself being on the marketing team when you get this stuff that nobody wants, and nobody needs, and you have to market that. So the marketing team knows that telling people that these things aren’t all that bad, and doesn’t cause cancer that often, and your kids aren’t going to have birth defects that often, and it’s not really all that bad for the environment, and not all the butterflies are going to die, and not all the bees are going to die- that wouldn’t sell anything. And so you have to go to the opposite extreme in order to get people to buy into this product, and they know what people want. People are good-hearted and they want everyone on the earth to be fed, and to be able to be satisfied with the food that they have. And so they take that, and they exploit that, and they show us pictures of poor Africans who are starving to death and they reinforce the message again and again and again and say that if we don’t do this that millions, or possibly billions of people, will die. So we’ve gone from something that nobody wants, and nobody needs, and is saturated with poison to, we need to do this, because if we don’t, look at all the billions of people who will die. And they sell that lie so effectively that good-hearted people buy the lie, and say “yeah, we need to do this, we need GMO’s because that’s the only way we can keep up with the world’s population growth”
Caryn Hartglass: Now I don’t want to believe that everyone who works for Monsanto believes that they’re lying. I think that there are some people that work for Monsanto and other companies that are making genetically modified organisms for food and for other things; they think they are doing something good. I know I’ve met certain scientists that work for Monsanto or for DuPont or for Syngenta and they really think that, they really believe that they’re doing something good.
Brett Wilcox: Absolutely
Caryn Hartglass: It’s hard to believe that they’re all evil over there.
Brett Wilcox: No, and I wouldn’t want to suggest that. I do recall a man, and I’ve forgotten his name now, but he bought into the stories that Monsanto tells, and he was hired on, and I think he was going to work in marketing or sales, and he got in there and the president or CEO at the time said some great things in the speech, and this man says “wow, wasn’t that speech amazing?”, and his coworkers took him aside and said “don’t listen to that, that’s what we tell the public. We don’t even understand what he’s talking about”. And so, at a certain level there are people who buy into it, and they hire on, and they do believe into it, and they are goodhearted people. Of course you’ve got to be goodhearted, you do believe you have a good product to produce and sell, and it is necessary, but when you get to a certain point, and you read the data, you read the research, and see the biodiversity, and that small scale farming really does do better, perhaps not in yield per acre, but definitely in health per acre, and nutrition per acre, and you see that fewer resources are used, and that more people are employed, the food is healthier, it’s not saturated with poison, – when you get to that point, yeah, it does come down to out-and-out lying.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I am not a fan of genetically modified food, and I don’t know if it’s safe, and I have a feeling that there are probably some health issues connected to it, and I know it impacts the environment in a negative way. I believe all those things, but, I just want to say that because we haven’t had enough, or really any, studies that connect the impact of genetically modified food with long term human health. Let’s just assume for a moment that it doesn’t create a problem. I think it does, but let’s just assume it doesn’t. There are so many other things that are wrong with using genetically modified plants in the environment, and I just wanted to highlight some of it. I think it’s important for people to realize this. People are screaming that we don’t know if these things are safe for consumption, but there are so many other things that matter. For example, genetically modified food encourages all the wrong things in our current agricultural system. It encourages the use of too many pesticides and herbicides. It encourages not rotating fields, and regenerating the life and the necessary organisms, and health and nutrients inside the soil. It doesn’t encourage the use of, well let me just say, it encourages using monocrops, and when you’re growing the same thing, field after field after field, you’re encouraging viruses and poor health and soil, and wreaking havoc on all kinds of life. All of those things aren’t good, and even though it’s given us a great deal of efficiency, and it does for agriculture, we’re now seeing the impact, how it’s devastating the topsoil, and the food that we’re growing isn’t nutritious.
Brett Wilcox: Exactly
Caryn Hartglass: And then, on top of all of that, let’s add to the potential that it’s dangerous for us to eat these foods.
Brett Wilcox: Right
Caryn Hartglass: We’ve got a nightmare.
Brett Wilcox: Right. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories that Howard Vlieger and other farmers tell, how the farmers have placed a conventional cobb of corn on a tree, tacked or nailed it there next to a GMO cobb of corn, and they leave it there for the squirrels to eat it, and the squirrels do eat the conventional ear of corn, but they don’t touch the GMO corn. And Howard, on a first name basis, talks to farmers who either intentionally conducted that experiment, or unintentionally, by leaving a GMO sack of corn in the barn over the winter, next to a conventional sack, and going out in the spring and seeing that the conventional sack is gone, and the GMO corn still sits there. So, animals don’t need a double blind placebo and studies the way that we scientists and humans do, they just somehow know the GMO is not food.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny how they don’t need labels.
Brett Wilcox: That’s true. They don’t need labels, and Mother Nature cannot read labels. So, we talk about having the GMO corn next to the conventional corn, and Mother Nature, the bees, they’re going to come along and pollinate one way or another back and forth and things get contaminated, and that is one of the really damning truths about GMOs. Once these things are released or unleashed in the environment, they continue to grow and spread. Chemical pollution, chemical contamination always dissipates over time, but biological pollution, in the form of GMOs, spreads and gets bigger, and we have no idea what the long-term effects are going to be on the environment. Nobody knows that, scientists couldn’t possibly say they know that. We do know that we are a piece in the web of life, and when we mess around with the web of life the way we are doing with GMOs, we are really placing ourselves at great risk.
Caryn Hartglass: So, you’ve got 50 lies in this book, and each one of them is pretty intense. I think we should talk about a few of them.
Brett Wilcox: Yeah, let’s do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, one that comes to mind is what we’ve done in Iraq.
Brett Wilcox: Yes. That’s one that really doesn’t even get much coverage, from people like myself, who really believe strongly that GMO is not the way to go. Many people still don’t know that there is such a thing as Order 81. And when you get online and google Order 81, and google Iraq, you see how the US government played hand in hand with Monsanto. Monsanto went in on the coattails of the US military, and Order 81 said the Iraqi seed was unstable on uniform and unsafe, or something like that. They said that the farmers needed to start growing genetically modified seed. And that’s what Order 81 is, and that really shows the extent that Monsanto is wrapped up in the US government and military affairs, and how the FDA and the US government are almost the same organization. Beyond the FDA, the State department goes out and actively promotes Monsanto with Monsanto DVD’s and brochures. It’s as if the State department is the marketing arm of Monsanto.
Caryn Hartglass: And did the farmers know that they had to pay for the seeds every year?
Brett Wilcox: It is my understanding that the seeds were given to them out of benevolence the first year or two.
Caryn Hartglass: The first two were free?
Brett Wilcox: Yeah, like a drug dealer, that’s correct.
Caryn Hartglass: So, another scary thing about GMOs and the way our law works today, is that- Okay, it’s bad enough that Monsanto and DuPont and Syngenta, and whoever else is involved in this, it’s bad enough that they’re growing fields, test crops or approved crops, of genetically modified plants, but there’s no protection with the pollen that flows through the air, and those plants that can pollinate and contaminate conventional plants, and some of those plants are even organic plants. And then the seeds from those contaminated organic plants can then be grown on a plot of land that’s considered organic, and low and behold, you have a genetically modified plant, and that farmer can actually be sued for not paying for the patent rights to use those seeds.
Brett Wilcox: Yes. That has been the case up until this last summer when Jim Garrison, with the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, they filed a lawsuit against Monsanto for contamination and they got a partial victory stating that Monsanto could no longer sue farmers for inadvertent contamination. They had been doing it for years, but that’s changed incidentally.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s very good news.
Brett Wilcox: Yes, it is. But the patent issue is just absurd because Monsanto and the other biotech companies, the other chemical giants, they reap all the benefits of the patent but they assume none of the liabilities of the patent, it’s the organic conventional farmers that assume all the liabilities. When these farmers go to the USDA and say, “hey, you approved this, we need compensation,” the USDA’s response is, “buy insurance”. I have a good friend in Oregon, a farmer, and he told me that he had to plow under his Swiss chard, and I said, ”Swiss chard, what are you talking about? There’s no GMO Swiss chard.” He said, “Brett, they were planting GMO sugar beets next to my Swiss chard, and they are so closely related that contamination would have happened”, and he couldn’t take the risk of being contaminated because once you’re contaminated, you go from being able to get top dollar for your crop to getting significantly less because we obviously want to pay top dollar for non-GMO food. And who paid for that (loss)- he did. Even though the government approves it, even though these chemical giants use this stuff, they’re not having to pay for these farmers who are having to plow under their crops to avoid contamination. Or the farmers who are no longer organic, they’ve lost their organic certification, an expensive procedure in itself, it takes years to get back, and they’re just out of luck.
Caryn Hartglass: And, we just need to buy insurance?
Brett Wilcox: Yeah, that is the response.
Caryn Hartglass: Out of theses fifty lies, do you have a favorite?
Brett Wilcox: Well for me, I tend to want to focus on the lies that people are most prone to believe. There’s a lot of lies in there about prop 37, and those lies are recycled with I522 in Washington (D.C.) this last year with the same results. The chemical giants were able to defeat the labeling of GMOs. But to me, the worst lies are the lies that really get into the good hearts of Americans, and we believe them, and my favorite lie might be a lie that‘s coming out in book two, the lie involving golden rice, because the lie is that if we can supplement rice with vitamin A or inject rice with vitamin A, it will save 50,000 kids a month from going blind. And, of course, who wouldn’t want that sort of thing? And so, it’s another one of those lies that opens the door to the whole host of the monoculture corrupt political environmental mass type of agriculture that is what the chemical giants are doing on our farmlands. I tend to focus on that, because those are the things that people need to be most careful of, the lies that get into their hearts and make them pause and think, “wait a minute, maybe this thing isn’t so bad after all”.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to talk a little bit about golden rice and one of the things that people don’t realize when it comes to GMO foods, is that most people are hungry because they don’t have money. They’re extremely poor, they don’t have land to grow food on, or they’re living on land that has been so degraded that they can’t grow on (it), or they don’t have enough water, or too much water, and these are the issues that impact these people. When you think about it, GMO foods can’t help them.
Brett Wilcox: They don’t. They can’t.
Caryn Hartglass: If we really want to help people, we need to help them grow food, and that means land has to be made available, land needs to be nurtured. I’m a big believer in knowledge and technology, and I think there are some good things about technology, and some not so good things, but we can take all the things that we’ve learned, and take them to people who need them, and we can show people how to nourish their soil, how to enrich it with nutrients, and they can grow, for the most part, things that are native in their area, and can nourish themselves from those plants that want to be there. And they talk about bringing in golden rice, which is supposed to support these children with vitamin A and necessary nutrients, well, why can’t they just grow the crops that are native there and would naturally want to grow, and show them how to nourish their land and find ways to make them do what nature wants to do in those locations, instead of creating this frankenfood.
Brett Wilcox: Yes, so beautifully stated. Tufts University was conducting research on golden rice in China, and they’ve gone in there to do research to see whether it really did have the Vitamin A that they were talking about and see whether it had a measurable difference with the kids. The thing is, the GMO rice, the golden rice subject, was so sensitive it was considered too sensitive to tell the subjects that that’s what they were being tested with. When that came out, the misuse of ethics involved in that, the study was shut down. So, imagine that we’re presenting a solution to people but we don’t even dare tell them what the solution is because it’s too sensitive, or, in other words, it’s too offensive. People don’t want to consider that, they don’t even want to go there, and yet they’re trying to sell that to the world as the solution that’s going to solve blindness, and you can’t even tell the subjects that that’s what they’re being tested with. It’s absurd. It’s not the rice that needs to be modified, it’s the political and economic system that needs to be modified.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, amen to that. So, let’s talk about some good things. You’ve decided to run. Really, you have a video, and I watched it, and where can people watch this video?
Brett Wilcox: We, right now, my son and I are running across America, starting January 18, from Huntington Beach, California, and we have a fundraising campaign, it’s live right now, it’s at indiegogo.com. Type in GMOs in the Indiegogo search bar, and you’ll see a list of campaigns that come up, including ours. You’ll see a picture of me and my son, and the name of the campaign is Running for a GMO-Free USA. When you click on that link, it takes you to our campaign video, and the video does a great job of explaining the run, and why my son is so passionate about running across America, and where the roots of that came from, as well as the mission, and that is the GMO-Free USA, and the GMO-free world mission that we’re embarking on.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I really enjoyed the video, it was really well done, and it’s really inspiring to see young people talking so intelligently and showing their concern for the future of our planet. Sometimes we have to look to the young people because the older people seem to forget what’s important. The real essential things that matter.
Brett Wilcox: So well stated. My son’s been a vegetarian for years, and he sensed some things about life, and the secret nature of life, earlier than I did, and he led me down the path, and now he’s going to be leading me down the road. He’s a cross-country champion runner and I’m a 52 year old man who hopes that I can tie a rope to him and keep up with him.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, when I contacted you, I didn’t know you were a vegan.
Brett Wilcox: I am vegan, and I’ve been vegan for a year and a half. My family is vegetarian.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well congratulations and thank you for that. Now, I’ve been vegan for over 25 years, and a vegetarian for longer, and on this program I do promote eating a plant-based diet. I’ve talked to a lot of different people about the benefits of plant foods, and so it was just an extra bonus when I contacted you, because I had no idea what your food choices were. Not everyone who is against GMO foods chooses to not eat meat.
Brett Wilcox: That is true. The cool thing about this issue is that, regardless of what our food choices are, I don’t know that there is any group out there that would say, “Yeah, GMOs are the answer, and that’s what I need to sustain my body, and that’s what I hope other people eat”. Nobody’s saying that. We’re all on the same page when it comes to GMOs.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m trying to think if I knew anybody who said,” yeah, yeah, yeah, give me a big bowl of genetically modified food”.
Brett Wilcox: Nobody has ever gone to the store in search of GMOs.
Caryn Hartglass: Excuse me?
Brett Wilcox: Nobody has ever gone to the store to buy GMOs.
Caryn Hartglass: But, you know, they have gone to the store to buy foods that are inexpensive.
Brett Wilcox: Yes
Caryn Hartglass: And when foods aren’t labeled, and maybe even if they were labeled as genetically modified, I think a lot of people would go for the cheaper price.
Brett Wilcox: Well, the cheaper price, inexpensive, is really an illusion. Most cheaper prices are there because the very foods that we shouldn’t be eating are subsidized throughout the food system, the agricultural system. We have always subsidized the chemical giants, the huge agribusiness farms, we subsidize what they produce so that it can be sold cheaply to the dairy and meat industry, so that they can produce what they do very cheaply, and that’s subsidized. So, it looks cheap on the grocery store shelf, but it is not cheap. We’ve paid for it several times through our taxes. We pay for it several times through our insurance as well.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I didn’t mention this before but, when I was talking about all of those things that were wrong about growing genetically modified food that aren’t connected to whether they are dangerous to consume or not, I think you mentioned in the book, but, most of the foods that are grown, that are genetically modified, soy and alfalfa, they’re used to feed animals.
Brett Wilcox: Yes
Caryn Hartglass: And they thwart this habit we have here in the US, and more and more in other countries, of consuming too many animals.
Brett Wilcox: Yes. A fraction of our corn and soy is fed to human beings. Most of it is fed to cars in the form of methanol, but poor people can’t drive; and a good share of it is fed to livestock, which poor people can’t afford to eat. So the whole idea that Monsanto and the chemical giants are producing food to feed the poor doesn’t play out because it’s feeding an agricultural system that’s wasteful, both the ethanol and the livestock industry are extremely wasteful, and we could feed two or three times the earth’s population with what we’re currently producing if we actually grew healthy food and ate it directly instead of feeding it to cars and animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I like the idea of not relying on foreign sources for energy, especially foreign oil, but I don’t think people realize that it takes quite a bit of energy to make ethanol from corn, and it’s really an inefficient process, and it really doesn’t have a lot of benefits.
Brett Wilcox: No, no, it’s a huge environmental cost involved in ethanol.
Caryn Hartglass: So, other than running across the country, what should we be doing?
Brett Wilcox: I love that question because people say “Brett, we can’t all run across the country”, and that’s true, and not everybody has that desire or interest. My answer to that is,“find your calling, find your mission”. If you feel that this is an important issue, whether you feel it is or not, it is because we all eat food. Find what your mission is and find out how to best share that. I believe that the reason that we have an awareness today is the internet. That has taken away the control that the media has on our minds. We can go to the internet and we can google Order 81, and all the other things related to Monsanto, and the chemical industry. And so, with the access to that information, we’re then free to say “wow, this is amazing. We can talk to our grandmothers, we can share, we can like, we can tweet”. There are many musicians who have made songs about this and put it out on the internet. And so, whether you read or write or speak or paint or make music, whatever it is- find the way that appeals to you, that calls you and make a difference- according to the way it works out for you.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. And of course if we want to avoid consuming them, the best thing to do is buy organic.
Brett Wilcox: That is absolutely the best and safest way.
Caryn Hartglass: Or grow your own.
Brett Wilcox: Yes, which would be organic at home.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, because even when there is no labeling when you get a food that is labeled organic, that has that little code, that five digit code that starts with a 9 that means organic, you’ll know that it’s not genetically modified.
Brett Wilcox: Right
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Well Brett, I can’t wait to read part two, when is that coming out?
Brett Wilcox: Well, the goal is to have it out before the next march against Monsanto, which is May 24, 2014. I only have a few more lies to finish up to get that book done, but I’m not going to make any promises because we are going to be on the road and we’re going to be speaking to people as often as possible, getting the word out there as often as possible, and I feel like we may want to emphasize the run because we have seven months on the road, which is a huge opportunity to draw media attention. You know, there are many platforms that just speak for media attention. My son is going to be the second-youngest person to ever do this run, we are the first father and son team.
Caryn Hartglass: How old is he?
Brett Wilcox: He just turned fifteen in November.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have a map of where you’re going?
Brett Wilcox: We have a more-or-less map. I haven’t placed it on the internet, but we’re starting in southern California, and we’re going along Route 66(ish), and we’ll be turning up towards St Louis, and we’ll definitely be going through St Louis because that’s the headquarters of Monsanto. We’ll also hit D.C. because that’s the other headquarters of Monsanto.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. Well I hope to see you somewhere along the way.
Brett Wilcox: That would be wonderful.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s really a good thing you’re doing because, I’m sure a lot of my listeners are pretty tuned in with what’s going on with genetically modified foods, but most people aren’t. We do not have enough media, we don’t have enough information in our faces on a regular basis, talking about whether they’re [GMOs] good or bad. Nobody’s talking about it.
Brett Wilcox: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: We need to have this conversation a lot.
Brett Wilcox: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Brett, I want to thank you so much for joining me today on “It’s All About Food”, and people can visit runningthecountry.com and go to that Indiegogo site if you want to help support them in their project to run the country.
Brett Wilcox: Thank you so much, Caryn, it’s been a pleasure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, good luck to you.
Brett Wilcox: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, are you motivated to do something like run across the country to stand up for something that you believe in? What are you inspired to do to stand up for something you believe in? It’s really something when we see what some people are doing, and we all need to do more. I keep thinking I’ve got to do more. And what I’m going to do right now is take a break, and then when we come back, we’re going to relax and talk about some delicious food with Chef Del Sroufe, who’s got a new cookbook called Better than Vegan, believe it or not, better than vegan. So we’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Melanie Ostrander, 4/13/2014