Sustainable ag leader says ‘scientism’ leaves no room for public debate


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It’s officially called the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), but at last week’s Farming for the Future Conference, the group drew participants from 39 states and eight countries.

“This is a younger group every year, and this is the most diverse crowd yet,” Executive Director Brian Snyder told the record number of attendees jammed into the Penn Stater Conference Center to hear his opening message.

Emerging voice

Discussing “scientism” and the rise of the agricultural-industrial complex, Snyder said a new voice has emerged. Snyder distinguished scientism from the normal practice of science, which he said all appreciate if done properly without undue bias and in the public’s best interest.

On the other hand, Snyder said, this “scientism” has no dialogue where people can think differently and where each party has science on its side about how food should be produced and marketed.

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Milk debate trigger

Snyder discussed the recent milk-labeling issue concerning rbST. He termed the controversy “food” labeling, because he said a broader effort is under way to undermine trends in the marketplace.

“Is it pure coincidence,” he asked, “that FDA made the announcement that cloned animals are OK right in the middle of the milk labeling debate?”

Snyder told the audience he was at a meeting with other sustainable agriculture and food system leaders when he first learned of the Pa. Department of Agriculture’s Oct. 24, 2007, ban on what it called false and misleading milk labels.

“I was deeply embarrassed and angry,” he said. But then, “It didn’t take long to mobilize.”

The crowd cheered at his declaration, “Not in PASA’s back yard.” Snyder asked the crowd to pause and celebrate its ability to get the governor to rescind the ban. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced Jan. 17 that milk labels that inform consumers that milk produced without rbST or artificial growth hormones can continue to be used.

Snyder cautioned that this new ‘scientism’ voice considers itself above public interest and it has become a religion for some.


Snyder cautioned that this new “scientism” voice considers itself above public interest and it has become a religion for some. He said that in scientism, an “activist” is someone you strongly disagree with; and “sound science” is science biased on behalf of industry.

“Truth,” Snyder reported, is the most abused term by scientism, and it translates into the best scientific conclusion money can buy.

Snyder has no doubts that “scientism” had a big impact on the labeling debate. He said a leading spokesman of banning “absence labels” is the head of the Dairy and Animal Science Department at Penn State, Terry Etherton. Etherton doesn’t understand, Snyder charged, that there can be other opinions and that different opinions matter.

Civil rights

Snyder said scientism controls the answers by first controlling the questions being asked. He urged recovering the questions the research institutions are obscuring.

“The struggle for food sovereignty and food research is rapidly becoming the major civil rights struggle of our time.” Moreover, Snyder reminded the conference crowd that the local food movement is itself the greatest threat to the agricultural-industrial complex.

New programs

Snyder announced three programs to face the challenges he described.

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture will form a partnership with the Food Alliance of Portland, Ore., to offer sustainable farm certification to its members and other farmers.

The outreach program of local food systems, started in the Pittsburgh area, will be expanded. This “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program will connect consumers and farmers, boosting sales and teaching sustainable ideals.

Snyder implemented the third program on the spot. He and representatives of the other partners joined him at the close of his message by signing a memorandum of understanding for a new coalition to promote local, organic and sustainable food and farming systems in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Pennsylvania Certified Organic, the FoodRoutes Network, White Dog Community Enterprises and the Rodale Institute make up the other members of this coalition.

“We are working with government, industry and the university to further the cause of ‘Farming for the Future’ in a diverse and unified way,” Snyder stated.

The public should be able to eat wholesome foods of its choosing, he continued.

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