The Cornell Alliance for Science had booked the Space @GreenStar Co-op for their September 10, live event, "Ask Me Anything About GMOs." It has now been voluntarily moved to the Unitarian Church of Ithaca, 306 N Aurora St, Ithaca, NY.
The event was meant to make available a diverse panel of US University GMO scientists for answering your questions about the controversial science they are engaged in. It was proposed by the Cornell Alliance for Science, some of the staff longstanding co-op members themselves.
GreenStar agreed to rent the Space because they do so without censorship or discrimination—but also without any implied endorsement. The truth is, while many (or even most) of GreenStar’s members are anti-GMO, not all members feel that way. In the spirit of democratic cooperation, there have to be ways even for unpopular ideas to be heard.
When the event was being booked, GreenStar staff suggested that there might be a disruptive attitude toward the panel. We thought having a moderator from GreenStar might help ensure that the hard questions would be asked and answered, and that there would be a respectful exchange between the panel and the audience.
The idea was that the scientists would be confronted with the very real difficulty many people have with GMOs. A the same time, those critical of GMOs could meet some of the real people who believe just as much in the work they are doing creating them. The event would provide everyone—scientists included—an opportunity to hear different points of view in the spirit of true co-operation.
But the event was seized upon by a few vociferous people, mischaracterized, and misrepresented. Assumptions of motives were disseminated quickly across the web without any attempt at contacting either GreenStar or the Alliance to hear what their involvement or their motives were regarding the event. Soon, accusations and indictments came from literally all across the country, shutting down what is at the heart of democratic cooperation: the right of diverse voices to be heard.
Rather than cause the co-op any more harm than was already caused, the Alliance for Science voluntarily withdrew the event from the Space, with the intent to hold it elsewhere.
While we understand how and why people reacted the way they did, those people were not presented with the truth. So we felt we each needed to speak for ourselves from our very different relationships to this event and our intents as the proposed moderators.
GreenStar has always taken a strong, anti-GMO position. It is a member of the Non-GMO project, GMO products are characterized as “discouraged” in our stores, and we do not carry them if at all possible. GreenStar is concerned that the GM industry restricts access to its products by researchers and has compromised the science by doing so. The co-op supports GM labeling.
The Cornell Alliance for Science encourages evidence-based decision-making around discussions ranging from biotechnology to climate change. It promotes access to innovation to ensure that scientists have access to the tools needed to find innovative solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. The Alliance emphasizes the importance of choice—so that farmers and consumers globally can make their own decisions about what they want to grow and eat.
As organizations and as moderators, we do not agree about GMO’s and probably many other things as well, but we do both believe there is a lot that could have been gained from such a discussion promised by this event — especially in our cherished community that prides itself on tolerance, life-long learning, and on embracing diversity.
Joe Romano, Marketing Manager, GreenStar
Sarah Evanega, Director, Cornell Alliance for Science
August 30, 2015