The Audacity to Talk About the Science.
Imagine that you asked a question and no one stepped forth to offer an answer. Imagine that you required an opinion, a thought, an idea and no one shared one with you. Imagine that you needed the truth and you could find no one willing to speak it to you.
Silence may be golden, but the cacophony of opinions and thoughts is the sweetest of symphonies when it comes to progress and the betterment of society. No civilization has raised a generation, cured a plague, survived a disaster or met tomorrow robustly and ready that has not allowed, encouraged and enabled the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of knowledge. And science. There is always science there with its truths and incontrovertible evidence to fuel beliefs and provide that solid footing that is always necessary before one takes that leap of faith. Whenever the noise of science has been silenced society has darkened. No amount of instinct and supposition can sustain the demands of our world. It isn’t about right or wrong, it is about facts and truths.
Most of us give no second, cautionary thought to whether or not we should answer a question when asked. The majority of us hardly wait for a query before we offer up our opinions, thoughts and whatever else spills out of our head. For some though, having opinions, nay even having the answers, poses a risk and a quandary: to speak and endure the wrath of those who wish for you to remain silent or to keep silent and endure the exquisite torture of having an answer that someone is seeking and being unable to share.
Whether it be climate change, contagious disease eradication, biotechnology, or any number of the arenas and areas of study that involve and require the objectivity and empirical research and data that only science can afford, there is controversy. Even in today’s “modern society” there are demonizations, excommunications and witch hunts. Whether it be from fear, or for profit these efforts to silence science are not just attacks on data and experiments, they are attacks on humanity and the humans that provide the passion that science requires.
And it isn’t just the scientist. Oh no. It’s anyone who dare convey not only what they believe, what they know to be true, but anyone who shares the facts; the proof; the science.
Enter Joanna Lidback. Dairy farmer. Wife. Mother. Spitfire. (not in that order at all, except on certain days and when required).
Joanna is not new to the realm of controversy or the practice of voicing her opinion. She has opined on many an occasion, and specifically with regards to GMO labeling. So when it came time to speak up and speak out in front of a House Agriculture Sub-Committee on the Benefits of Biotechnology in July of 2014 she did. (her written testimony and the full release from the hearing). So it was no surprise to many of us that Joanna was invited back to appear in front of the House Agriculture Committee at a March 2015 public hearing on Mandatory Biotechnology Labeling Laws.
Just the other day she posted this on her farm’s Facebook page
While she had support from many, she admitted that she also had “a few negative attacks.”
An understatement. Those who know Joanna knew that it was more vicious than “negative”. In light of everything she was still willing to make the trek to D.C. and tell the truth; the facts; and most importantly, tell her story.
Some of her story I asked her to share…and Joanna, being Joanna, obliged:
Q. What was the most important question you were able to answer during last year’s testimony?
While I can’t remember the exact question, there were many important conclusions drawn from last year’s testimony. Two that I walked away with were: we need all farmers – organic, non-GMO and conventional alike and that there is room for all of us; and that we as farmers can do a better job sharing information about what we do and why we do it.
Q. Was there a common misconception that you feel was clarified to the House Ag Committee members at the testimony last year?
I think many folks in agriculture and even science perhaps were still trying to wrap their heads around why there would be objections to tools like those offered by biotechnology that help us farm in better ways. Those who have been around longer may have been a bit wiser to this type of objection. Regardless, consumers have a desire to know more about what’s in their food and how it’s grown and we have more tools than ever to share that information with them.
Q. Your testimony, at one point, specifically dealt with your interaction with your customers (and neighbours) regarding coming to understand biotechnology and its use on farms like yours…can you talk a bit about that?
There’s so much information out there and it’s hard to sort out at times what is accurate, factual information and what is not. This is a clear example of how important it is to dialogue when we can about why we are okay with various things – like growing genetically engineered crops even if we don’t actually do it. We as farmers have a unique and practical perspective we can share on various technology or methodology.
Q. You mentioned “negative attacks” after your testimony last year. Would you mind talking about those instances and speaking about what they entailed?
On social media and through private emails, complete strangers called me names, questioned my ability to parent and also a few made pranked phone calls to my house. An organization put my contact information out to their members, encouraging them to reach out and tell the panelists what they think about GMOs and GMO labels, which in my opinion was totally out of line. The other three were academics and surely had their office contact information. As a farmer, my contact information was the farm, which of course is my home as well. Needless to say, this opened my eyes to the sentiment that I believe is driving anti-GMO activity.
Q. Are you nervous?
Presently, no. I’m getting excited, though, and I’m sure when I get in the room and the hearing starts I will feel a rush of nervousness. Our work today is important, though, no time to let nerves get in the way.
(it should be noted that despite battling a cold Joanna definitely did not let nerves get in the way)
Q. You shared a video from FarmOn.com on Social Media when you announced your invitation to testify in front of the House Committee on Agriculture …how does that video speak to you?
Farming is one of the most rewarding professions and ways of life. It is full of extreme ups and extreme downs, and family is weaved throughout. As I watched that video I thought about my own family, husband, sons and extended, but also other farmers that I know and that I’ve known and how my work, including what I do here today, is done in an effort to help make their jobs easier. So that they and we can carry on and keep farming in the best ways we know how.
Despite the negative attacks and concerted efforts to badger her Joanna could not and would not be silenced. Her testimony was spot on, genuine, sincere, factual and well researched. Her deliver honest and heartfelt. Her answers to questions from the legislators were thoughtful and accurate, and many times applicable not only to the farmer that she is, but also as mother and wife. She spoke of how she and her husband Adam “believe in the science and capability of biotechnology” and how proud she was of the American farmer for growing and adapting to new needs and new pressures.
When a legislator chose to use some of his time for questioning the panel to compliment and applaud Joanna for being there he admonished those who had badgered her for her opinions in the past and honoured her for having “the audacity to talk about the science.” That’s when it became so clear- it wasn’t her opinion, or the facts, or even the sentiments that made her testimony so important. It was the very fact that she WAS testifying. She was answering questions. She was offering opinion. She was citing facts and data. She was solving the problem that plagues our time – communicating. The entire panel offered the facts and science on the safety of biotechnology. They spoke of the misunderstandings and the misdirection. The inequities and inconsistency of most labeling initiatives. The assumptions and fallacies that are promoted and furthered by those with agendas that do not include affordability, sustainability, food security and food choice. They spoke of the science.
The willingness of Joanna and the other panel members to appear, answer questions and offer testimony is not of little significance-it is a bold act in today’s age of witch hunts. It wasn’t what they were saying, it was that they were speaking. The efforts of those who wish to silence the science goes far beyond the midnight calls to a dairy farmer’s home and nasty emails. It entails agenda driven firms and organizations using FOIA requests to bludgeon and beat scientists into silence. It’s about smear campaigns disguised as “playful” advertisements that pits farmers against farmer with insults and lies. It’s about silencing the science and the farm voices.
If they are willing and wanting to silence the farmer, and if they are desperate to silence the scientist, then who is it that is supposed to speak? Where are the facts and the truths going to come from? Who would be left who is willing to answer?
…Someone with the audacity to talk about the Science.
Joanna can be found on Twitter (@JoannaLidback), Instagram (@joannalidback), Facebook (The Farm at Wheeler Mountain, and her blog FarmLifeLove.com, and where she is happiest: surrounded by her husband, two boys, and her cows (doting in a prejudicial manner on the Jerseys)