The always venerable Democracy Now is today reporting that administrators at California Polytechnic State University refused to let author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food) deliver a planned lecture on sustainable food at the university last night. An esteemed author and expert on food politics and sustainable agriculture being muzzled at a state university (universities being those institutions where free thought and the exchange of ideas are generally encouraged) seems a bit strange. Strange that is until you follow the money. It seems the plans for Pollan’s lecture were filleted when a high-level executive at the Harris Ranch Beef Company threatened to withdraw a $500,000 donation that they had made to the university for a new meat processing facility. A chairman at Harris Beef objected to Pollan being given “an unchallenged forum to promote his stand on conventional agricultural practices.” In an effort to attempt to both have their meat and free speech too, the university added Gary Smith, a Colorado State University professor with strong ties to the meat industry to the evening’s bill, and presented the event as a panel discussion, rather than the planned lecture by Pollan. Regarding the decision, Dean David Wehner of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences said, “We feel it’s important to feature a balanced panel that offers the audience insight into the issues California food production professionals face on a daily basis.” But while Pollan supports the open debate of the topic, he believes there is more to this story. “What’s happening at Cal Poly has a very different flavor,” Pollan said. “They want to close this conversation down. Harris Ranch does not understand academic freedom. They are shaping the way the debate gets played out. Will I be invited when Monsanto comes in to talk about genetically modified foods?” For more about this story and information on past incidents in which big agribusiness has attempted to silence Pollan and his books, read this story in the Washington Post.
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