Rachel Parent is a young Canadian anti-GMO activist, who claims to have been speaking about her fears of GMOs since she was 12: and then for a school project, where she “did some research.” She burst into wider public view when, at the age of 14, she appeared on a morning Canadian talk show hosted by Kevin O’Leary in 2013.
Now, Rachel and her supporters spin this appearance as her confronting a “TV bully” and winning, but if you watch the actual segment, O’Leary keeps asking her hard scientific questions and she brushes them all off, simply repeating her mantra that “GMOs should be labeled.” She also falsely asserts that Golden Rice was abandoned because “it didn’t work.” In fact, O’Leary politely puts Parent in her place time after time as she avoids answering his questions. Not a big win for her, as she ended up looking ridiculous.
Parent’s back-story starts with her school project and her continuing activism. She also claims to have founded “Kids Right to Know,” a website and organization that promotes her unscientific views. At no time does she reveal the source of funding for this elaborate website and her travels and activism. Nor does she ever mention any scientific references to support her views.
It’s may not seem fair to pick on a “kid,” who arrived at her views contrary to those of hundreds of major scientific organizations worldwide, but Ms Parent is or will be 17 this year, and is not a “kid.” She’s a mature and poised young woman who hasn’t changed her views or even expanded her argument significantly in that time. And by now, shouldn’t she have studied some science in school? She also says over and over that she is “not a scientist.” Wouldn’t her views be more persuasive if she could cite some actual science to support them?
In October of 2014, Parent gave a TEDx talk in Toronto on this same subject. Now TEDx events follow the format of TED events, except that they are locally administered. They are supposed to reject talks on pseudo-science, but despite some objections, Parent was allowed to speak. By then, her spiel had turned into a scary, dramatic reading. You could almost hear the ominous music in the background. However, there was no science in it to support her views, and the only time she tried to mention a scientific paper, she stumbled on it, so we don’t know what she meant to say.
In 2015, Parent met with the Health Canada minister, protesting thw possible approval of Arctic apples. Of course, she gave a press conference afterwards, even though the meeting itself was private. And, in fact, the meeting was a failure as the minister told her that approvals were based on science and not on consumer interest or demand.
But Parent and her supporters are really good at getting her on TV, and if you look at her web site, you’ll see quite of list of videos where she pretty much says the same thing over and over. In fact, her supporters have made some pretty slick videos like this one, professionally produced. She even has her own media kit.
Where is she getting the money for all this? What is never mentioned is that Rachel Parent is the daughter of Wayne Parent, the owner of Nutrition House, a Canadian chain of natural food stores (although there is one in Atlanta as well.) And it appears that Wayne is using his daughter to further his commercial enterprise. And since no other funding source is referred to, we can assume he is funding these videos, and (indirectly) arranging these many TV appearances to further the views of his business. She even has an agent.
But Rachel Parent is not just a Canadian phenomenon. She has appeared the (now defunct) Ed Show on MSNBC and recently, she managed to wangle (borrow) a proxy, so she could attend Monsanto’s shareholder meeting a week ago.
So did she take the time to get a tour or talk to any of the scientists who work there? No! She asked aggressive and obnoxious questions during the audience question period. Here’s what she claims she said:
“If you truly believe your GM technology is safe, if you truly believe it has the potential to feed the world, why are you treating it like a dirty little secret that can’t be shown on food labels? Why, if it’s such proven technology, are you spending millions of shareholders’ dollars fighting it, rather than promoting it?”
Not exactly the way to start an intelligent discussion.
We have a lot of respect for Rachel Parent’s poise and intelligence, but she is being badly used by a movement that is hiding behind her youth and charm. Let us hope when she goes to college she will expand her scientific horizons and engage in some real scientific discussions with her professors and mentors and grow into the major contributor she deserves to become.