Just give it to me in plain English
Straightforward, concise, informative. And completely at odds with another headline published just three weeks earlier in... The Guardian: "Syngenta Chairman Confesses: Genetically Engineered Crops Cannot Feed the World."
NOTE: Here's some more contradictory English for Alan Guebert's collection:
"Worrying about starving future generations won't feed them. Food biotechnology will." -- Monsanto European advertising campaign, 1998
"If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not”¦ To feed the world takes political and financial will" -- Steve Smith, Syngenta Seeds UK, 29 March 2000
"From a production perspective, we have abundance [of food]." -- Rob Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer, 25 July 2008. Fraley went on to say the "challenges" were in distribution and access to food because of wealth distribution.
TRANSLATION: Guebert notes below that it's easier for leaders to talk up biotech, thus pleasing big business and the GM lobby, than take the kind of actions that might really make a difference - hence the contradiction between the headlines in the extract from his article.
There's also a considerable difference between what Monsanto says when promoting GM - the context of its GM-to-feed-the-world campaign statement, and what it says when defending the lucrative ethanol boom - the context of its chief technology officer's comment (there's plenty of food to burn as fuel, folks!). PR reversals no problem!
As for the surprisingly candid statements that pop out of the mouths of Syngenta spokespeople from time to time, could it be that having considerably less GM seeds ready to flog than Monsanto gives you considerably more leeway to tell the truth?
Guebert: Just give it to me in plain English
By ALAN GUEBERT
The Journal Star, August 18 2008
As a trained professional in most things English (the language, not the nation), and with the Labor Day kickoff to election season just around the corner, permit me a three-minute tutorial on "English for the English Speaker."
We'll begin by acknowledging the obvious: English, like Yorkshire pudding, isn't always what it appears. More importantly, on the lips of the less-careful or purposely vague, English can, like, disappear, dude.
For example, was Republican presidential hopeful John McCain serious when he told a motorcycle gathering in Sturgis, S.D., recently that he'd rather hear the roar of 100,000 American Harleys than the cheers of 200,000 Berliners?
Of course not. He was playing the pandering politician. After all, everybody, even John McCain, knows that motorcycles don't vote.
Likewise, in explaining her firm's $695 million fourth-quarter loss, Sara Lee Corp. CEO Brenda Barnes complained Aug. 8 that "everyone's adjusting" to high commodity prices, especially food companies.
What she meant, however, was especially Sara Lee because the company made money in its just-finished fiscal year; $1.1 billion, in fact. Lax U.S. tax laws, though, permitted it to write off $874 million "associated with the goodwill of its North American food service and Spanish bakery business. . ."
Translation? Most corporations carry wildly inflated values of "goodwill" in certain assets on their books. They often then use those subjective values against profits to cut taxes - $377 million by Sara Lee in 2008. (And, yes, a $377 million taxpayer subsidy went a long way to cover Sara's higher commodity costs. That's accounting, though; a language all its own.)
There are muddier examples of American English. To wit, Tyson Foods' Richard Bond. If Pulitzer Prizes were awarded for corporate claptrap, he would be a finalist every year for statements like this gem from a July 28 Tyson press release explaining the company's less-than-stellar third quarter results:
"Beef performed better than expected, although results were masked by a negative $75 million impact from application of mark-to-market accounting treatment related to our unrealized derivative losses for forward cattle purchases and forward boxed beef sale."
A simple translation shows why he chose biz school baloney over egalitarian English: "Hey, we coulda' made money in cattle but we blew $75 mil trading futures." (No applause, e-mail or honorariums, please; it's a gift.)
Sometimes English is perfectly contradictory. Take this headline from the July 18 edition of a statewide, Midwestern ag newspaper: "Leaders point to biotechnology as essential help for food crisis."
Straightforward, concise, informative. And completely at odds with another headline published just three weeks earlier in the English (sorry) newspaper The Guardian: "Syngenta Chairman Confesses: Genetically Engineered Crops Cannot Feed the World."
I know what you're thinking: "Oh my, I'll just go to Disney World while they work this out." Don't! We can work through this! Courage!
First, the leaders referred to in the first headline are the elected (well, mostly) of the Group of 8 who met recently in Japan to discuss climate change. (A side tutorial: "Climate change" is, more specifically, global warming. The semantic difference only matters if you're looking for solutions. As such, politicians always say "climate change.")
Two days of yakking, however, yielded no agreement. They did, though, agree to "promote. . . seed varieties developed through biotechnology."
Why all the talk of seeds and not melting glaciers?
Again, simple. Melting glaciers do not respond to tax cuts or research grants. Big business and big science do, regardless if either actually succeeds.
Two words: Cold fusion.
Well, our three minutes are up. Next time on "English for the English Speaker" we'll take up dangling participles and cold fusion. You won't want to miss either.