After controversy erupted when the University of Minnesota yanked the opening of Larkin McPhee’s new film, Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story, U of M officials gave the go-ahead for the October 3rd screening. The film explores agrochemical runoff and growing dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
Molly Priesmeyer of the Twin Cities Daily Planet exposed a conflict of interest between U of Minn. and Big Ag:
Karen Himle is Vice President of University Relations, which is the office that determined the film needed ‘scientific review.’ She is married to John Himle, president of Himle Horner, a public relations firm that represents the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council. The Council is a strong proponent of ethanol and industrial farming, both of which are critiqued in the film. John Himle was also president of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council from 1978 to 1982 and his organization currently serves as a ‘member’ of the Council.
The University’s ‘conflict of interest’ policy was called into question last year by the Minnesota Daily, which also cited Karen Himle’s summary of her outside sources of income as including Himle Horner and Nebraska farmland crops.
While Himle Horner’s client records are not public (something that has drawn the ire of some in the community as former co-owner Tom Horner is running for governor), Himle Horner was still representing the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council as recently as this summer.
I believe this was an important issue to note since it could present a serious conflict of interest and raises further questions about whether Big Ag is mounting pressure on the U to halt the film’s release for ‘scientific review.
McPhee points out that the film underwent extensive scientific scrutiny. Every fact was verified by “at least three independent sources.” Assistant producer, Shanai Matteson, told Daily Planet that:
[T]he film was also reviewed by as many as 12 prominent university scientists, including Jon Foley and David Tilman (both from the of U of M’s Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior department); Robert Diaz, a professor of marine science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and an expert on ‘dead zone’ issues in the Gulf of Mexico; Eugene Turner, a zoologist at Louisiana State University who has done extensive research on wetland pollution and coastal erosion; and Nancy Rabalias, another LSU professor whose research has dealt extensively with pollution issues in the Gulf of Mexico.
Several local publications and radio shows covered the censorship, but it was after Tara Lohan at AlterNet exposed all this yesterday morning that the university reversed itself.
Information suppression is a key strategy of chemical polluters. Recently, California Watch reported that the Alliance for Food and Farming received $180,000 from the state to “correct the public’s misconceptions about pesticide residues.” Last month in Argentina, 100 thugs attacked local farmers who gathered to hear a scientific presentation on the toxicity of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. (See this interview of Andrés Carrasco, Argentina’s chief scientist at the National Council for Science and Technology, here.)
In the Gulf of Mexico, numerous independent scientists warn that despite safety assurances by government officials, seafood is not being tested for heavy metals or for toxic oil dispersants. News crews were ordered to stop digging in the sand, for which officials later apologized.
One hundred years of toxic chemical use is having deleterious effects on humans and the environment. People know this. Attempts at censoring the information only serve to highlight the issue. More than likely, attendance at “Troubled Waters” next Sunday will spike because of the controversy. One hopes.