When you log onto Facebook today you are bombarded with dozens of articles. Normally these begin with catchy and imploring titles egging you to click the link and read more. Being an agriculture student, I noticed an article claiming, “One Man Holds a PATENT that Could Crush MONSANTO and CHANGE THE WORLD”. Naturally suspicion arouse and I clicked to learn just what this might mean. What I found was an extremely biased and uneducated article making claims with no facts or sources to back it up.
Paul Stamets, the man who holds this world changing patent, is a well known and respected mycologist. Although this article praises him like a king, I firmly believe that he would be ashamed to even be mentioned in it. First off, there are absolutely no direct quotes from Stamets himself even though this article is supposed to be all about his work. Secondly, the article is just furthering the mainstream and false perspective of agriculture held by the majority of the public. Although I am happy to see a good food revolution growing around me, people see the word “natural” (which I might add, is not a term regulated by the USDA) and automatically assume good things.
Let me start off with a disclaimer that I am not attacking this science. Biological controls like this can be a great tool in fighting off pest infestations in an integrative system and more research and information on this would be awesome! But by just looking off of this article, I see many issues that are not being addressed:
1. One common misconception is that all insects are bad. The article mentions that this fungus can attack 200,000 species of insects. Personally I am not aware of 200,000 “pesty” insects but I do know of many beneficial insects. We depend on some insects to keep other “bad” insect populations under control. These good insects also naturally till the soil and keep the entire system regulated. This non-specific introduced fungus could do some real damage to our friends, not just our enemies.
2. The article claims that this biopesticide will eliminate the need for GMO crops and Round-Up Ready Corn (a Monsanto product). They do not seem to realize that Round-Up Ready Corn is designed for weed elimination, not insect elimination. These two things are unrelated and the point is irrelevant in this context. Actually, if this biopesticide would indeed eliminate beneficial insects, weeds would be even more problematic because many of these insects eat these seeds and keep their populations in check.
3. Just because this is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. There have been many natural solutions that have had terrible unintended consequences. For example, chrysanthemum flowers have been used to make pyrethroids, which are natural extracts of the plant. Pyrethroids were put in place to eliminate the use of other chemically based pesticides. Because these were the natural counterparts, people automatically considered them safe. BUT they were also found in multiple studies to cause extreme harm to aquatic ecosystems basically knocking out small organisms that form the base of the food chain. I might also add that things like Ebola and viruses are “natural”. I think that we can all agree these are bad.
4. Nothing in agriculture is natural. Half of the crops we cultivate today would not even survive without human intervention. You would never go on a hike through untouched nature and find an acre of corn. We need to focus on producing the food we need in a sustainable way that causes the smallest amount of environmental harm possible. There are no singular quick fixes, and just because this is naturally occurring it is not an exception.
Everything about this article disgusts me. I understand that others may not be as passionate about agriculture and the food system as I am and understand that they do not have time to do further research on every article they find. Someone without a biological or agricultural background could see this and easily think it is the end all be all, considering all other readily available information on agriculture also harps on the same false and biased information.
What bothers me the most is that these kind of articles are threatening every area of study whether it be biology, psychology, political science, etc. Social media claims to be all about creating a community and sharing information but this is not at all helpful when it is actually tearing us apart and giving us false facts for clicks that benefit advertisers. You can not obtain a degree on Google for a reason. Do not believe everything you see on the internet and stay away from articles claiming bold statements like this. If you do see an article making false statements that you have background in speak out! Help spread positive change and truthful information. We all deserve it.