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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Son's Remembrance

Air Date: Week of

Marc Lappe, January 14, 1943 - May 14, 2005 (Photo: The Center for Ethics and Toxics)

Mark Lappe, the noted toxicologist and medical ethicist, who helped shape many of the nation’s environmental and health policies died earlier this month. His son, journalist Anthony Lappe has a remembrance.


LAPPE: The current controversy over Monsanto’s genetically modified corn seems to confirm everything my father had warned: GM foods are different from non-GM foods, and they may cause health problems.

CURWOOD: That’s journalist Anthony Lappe. His father Marc Lappe, the noted toxicologist and medical ethicist who helped shape many of this nation’s environmental and health policies, passed away earlier this month. Anthony has this remembrance.

LAPPE: On the second night of the Republican National Convention, my film crew and I were taking a break when my cell phone rang. It was my sister who told me our father’s brain tumor was late stage, and there was little hope. I sat down on 32nd Street – numb, bathed in the glow of a huge electronic sign welcoming the GOP faithful to New York. How ironic, I thought, to get the news here surrounded by spectacle that represented everything my father had fought against.

Marc Lappe, January 14, 1943 - May 14, 2005 (Photo: The Center for Ethics and Toxics)

My father wasn’t a political man. He didn’t go to rallies or raise money for John Kerry. He was a scientist who spent his working life opposing corporations and government officials who put profit before public safety. He consulted on over one hundred lawsuits, including the battle over silicone gel breast implants, Agent Orange and the Woburn, Massachusetts water pollution case dramatized in the book and film “A Civil Action.”

He was chief of California’s Hazard Evaluation System in 1980 when an infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly threatened citrus crops. The state and industry pushed for spraying Malathion, an insecticide with known toxicity to humans. My father was the lone voice of opposition. He leaked a memo about Malathion’s dangers and after the state began spraying he resigned in protest.

In 1998, my father and Britt Bailey wrote “Against the Grain: Biotechnolgy and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food.” The book warned that the Monsanto Corporation’s new agricultural products – Round Up Ready seeds and the powerful herbicide that is sprayed on them – posed unacceptable risks to the ecosystem. Their first publisher backed out when Monsanto threatened to sue. They found a new publisher, the aptly named Common Courage Press.

My father believed in what’s called the precautionary principle – the idea that if the outcome of an action is unknown, and the consequences might do harm, it’s best not to proceed until all the risks are known. For him, GM crops failed that basic ethical test. Today, we splice fish DNA into our strawberries and DNA from bacteria into our corn, with no long-term studies on how it will effect us. He saw it all as a massive experiment for the sake of profit.

This week, Point Arena – a small town in northern California where my father taught science to kids at a charter school he helped found – voted to ban all GM food and animal products. The ordinance may not make much of a difference – the area is full of enviro-friendly types as it is – still, I think it a fitting tribute to the lessons of my father’s life. To protect the planet, you have to take a stand, no matter how big or small.

CURWOOD: Anthony Lappe is the executive editor of GNN.tv, the web site of the Guerrilla News Network. His father, Marc Lappe, died on the 14th of May. For more information about Marc Lappe and a link to his center for ethics and toxics, go to our website: Living on Earth dot org. That’s Living on Earth dot o-r-g.



The Center for Ethics and Toxics


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