By Denise Tessier
When a reported 2 million people participated worldwide in the “March Against Monsanto” last month, the Albuquerque Journal ran an Associated Press story along the fold line of an inside page in the B section.
One could excuse the Journal for keeping this massive event off the front page that particular day (May 26) because the stories that did make A1 were strong and local: “‘Desperate Times’ for N.M. Ranchers” reported on drought-induced cattle starvation, “Old Shelter Ready for New Threat” was a rare opportunity to go vicariously into a 1960s home-made bomb shelter via columnist Leslie Linthicum, and “Power line may go through new monument” was bona fide, solid news.
What’s inexcusable is that nowhere in the paper did the Journal carry the news that “hundreds” had marched against Monsanto in Albuquerque, walking from the University of New Mexico to Civic Plaza. That news, with a gallery of photos to prove it, came courtesy of New Mexico Compass, with its May 28 post “Burquenos March Against Monsanto.”
The march took place on Memorial Day weekend, and the Journal, with limited staff, chose not to send even a single photographer to the Albuquerque event. Yet the Compass, with even more limited resources, had a reporter/photographer (Elise Kaplan) interested enough to cover it.
Organizers of the massive event noted that most papers, like the Journal, carried the AP story, and despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend, said they couldn’t help but wonder if Monsanto’s ad-buying power might have factored in when some outlets downplayed or ignored the event altogether. But overall, they were pleased with the result, writing to supporters:
We are unaware of any time in history that so many news outlets covered the issue of GMOs in our food supply. Google Trends analysis shows that on Saturday (May 25) “Monsanto” was the 6th most Googled word in the United States. Moreover, we are unaware of any time since February 15, 2003 where entire planet spoke in unison about an important issue.
Another option the Journal had, which would have given this massive March Against Monsanto more worthy play, would have been to promo it on the front page, either next to the index or as one of three “teasers” at the top of the page, the latter of which are designed to appeal to potential buyers at the newsstand or coin box. The index, understandably, touted Memorial Day events on B1. The page-top teasers offered a tomato thrower at the charity “Tomato Assault” (unusual and colorful), the fifth-ranked Lobo men’s golf team heading to Georgia for a national meet, and the come-on that the Sunday Journal had $2,208 in ad and coupon savings inside.
Monsanto marchers didn’t have a chance.
Before jumping to the conclusion this is an example of conservative media (the Journal) versus liberal media (N.M. Compass) coverage, however, consider this:
Today’s New Mexico Compass (June 6) features an interview, also by Kaplan, with a southern New Mexico farmer who has embraced use of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) produced by Monsanto, the health and farm sustainability implications of which form the heart of the controversy against the seed-producing giant (“Southern New Mexico Farmer Talks GMOs”).
And back in early April, Journal features writer Rick Nathanson was given a section front (C1) to showcase a lengthy exploration of GMOs that included both detractors and supporters. Nathanson’s “Farm Meets Lab” provided the numbers on the pervasiveness of GMOs in our food supply – “According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 93 percent of the acreage planted nationwide with soybeans is genetically modified, as well as 93 percent of cotton, 86 percent of corn/maize, 95 percent of sugar beets and 90 percent of canola. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that 80 percent of the packaged foods sold in the U.S. and Canada contain GMOs.”
Nathanson’s story came as federal legislation was being introduced to require food manufacturers to label GMO foods, and he noted that:
Food, agriculture and biotechnology industries have consistently opposed labeling efforts and Monsanto Co. last year contributed $8 million toward defeating one such proposition in California.
Among those opposed was Steve Hanson, an associate professor of molecular plant pathology at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, who told Nathanson:
. . .consumers already have a choice by purchasing foods that are voluntarily labeled as being organic or free of GMOs.
“Big companies can’t ram things down our throats if we don’t want them. People who grow GMO corn and soybean feed are not forced to grow them, and the beef industry doesn’t have to buy them. GMOs didn’t establish themselves because Monsanto said it must be so.”
Nevertheless, the last paragraph of the AP story used by the Journal on May 26 is this:
The Senate this week overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to require the labeling of genetically modified foods.
In other words, the feds don’t want the states to allow labeling.
And apparently, not all of the organic producers want to be saddled with the labeling requirement, as illustrated by this chart.
Kaplan’s story about the southern New Mexico farmer also mentioned that New Mexico State University received $1 million from the State Legislature between 2008 and 2012 to develop a genetically modified chile. This is a story that has been covered by the University of New Mexico’s Daily Lobo but has received scant attention from the state’s leading daily.
So, both the Journal and New Mexico Compass are covering Monsanto and GMOs, but it does appear that the Compass is covering it with regularity and interest. The Compass’ Robin Brown, for example, on April 2 reported on a Food and Water Watch meeting attended by about 100 people in Albuquerque, which was not reported in the Journal.
The Journal on May 30 did run a brief version of an AP story (available on the Journal’s web site) about rogue GMO wheat turning up on a farm in Oregon.
But the Journal also ran on April 12 a column by a “Bloomberg” columnist who turns out to be a “visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor at National Review.” (“Suits over genetically modified foods not about health”)
Again, this exemplifies why New Mexico readers are fortunate to have more than one news source.