Murphy: When Young gets old

Neil Young and friends are launching a new single titled, "The Monsanto Years," which, as you might guess, takes aim at the contentious issue of GMOs.

Yeah, I thought you'd be thrilled.

Young's group, which features Lukas and Micah ("Mee-kuh") Nelson, the sons of protest balladeer Willie Nelson, debuted the new song at an "Outgrow Monsanto" event in Maui.

That is some seriously savvy scheduling, as opposed to, say, marching through the streets of some urban industrial district to protest genetically engineering.

A rock concert with a couple of protest songs mixed in always sounds better at 80 degrees, with soft tropical breezes stirring the night air.

As Rolling Stone magazine noted, the goal of the Hawaii event was to "raise awareness of the agrochemical giant's unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly practices, particularly the promotion of genetically modified foods and seeds."

Wow. It's always nice when you get a reporter to simply reprint your one-sided news release. I'm sure there are plenty of trade groups who'd love to have that arrangement.

Actually, Young's ire over Monsanto is focused on Starbucks, implicating the Seattle-based coffee giant because of its support of a lawsuit against the state of Vermont, after the legislature there passed a law mandating GMO labeling.

Young and pals recorded a music video "Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop" (sic) to highlight their campaign. Honestly, it looks and feels like a parody song, a la Weird Al Yankovic, with a bouncy pop soundtrack recorded over grainy video clips of the band members sucking down Starbucks lattes, then throwing the coffee at the camera.

Real original.

The trudge of time

Look, Neil Young is an undeniable talent, especially during the 1960s when he was a member of the groundbreaking Crosby Stills Nash &; Young band. I don't want to date myself too much here, but I forked over for tickets to see the group several times in concert during their initial tours, and the 1970 release of their landmark second album was the only time in my life I stood in line at a record store to buy the album the day it came out.

Yikes. That sentence just made a couple liver spots pop out on the back of my hand.

Unfortunately, Neil Young: The Later Years makes Old Elvis look like an ad for the miracle of plastic surgery. Let's just say that the years have not been kind to the now wildly inappropriately named rocker. I mean, when you open the dictionary to "Aging Rock Star," you don't even need a definition just side-by-side photos of Keith Richards and Neil Young.

I hate to say it, but he's morphed into a poster boy for the dangers of creepy old men who are either merely senile or actual stalkers.

But back to Monsanto.

You might ask, since Monsanto's the bad guy here, why is Young picking on Starbucks, especially when the company issued a statement specifically noting that, "Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign?" Not to mention that elsewhere, Young has acknowledged that Starbucks has been progressive on such issues as labor conditions, gay rights and climate change.

Let the man himself explain, in an excerpt from his website "Neil Young Times:"

"Hiding behind the shadowy ‘Grocery Manufacturers Association," Starbucks is supporting a lawsuit that's aiming to block a landmark law that requires genetically modified ingredients be labeled. Monsanto might not care what we think, but as a public-facing company, Starbucks does. If we can generate enough attention, we can push Starbucks to withdraw its support for the lawsuit."

And the best way to do that, apparently, is to fling some of Starbucks" finest at a camera as you're recording a cheesy music video.

A much better way to neutralize the controversy would be for the food industry to be proactive. In the "70s, such a strategy used to be called "co-opting," taking the legitimacy of an issue away from the protestors by having the opponents embrace it themselves.

If the message is that genetic engineering is safe and scientifically sound which it is then the best and only way to communicate that effectively to the food-buying public is to voluntarily label foods manufactured with ingredients from GE crops.

Those products already dominate the grocery shelves, so why pretend that fighting a state-by-state battle against referenda mandating GMO labels will somehow make consumers" concerns go away?

All that does is further fuel the production of lamentably amateur-hour video clips from the likes of Neil Young and company.

Which reminds me: "The Monsanto Years" will be released on CD and iTunes on June 29.

Sorry, but I won't be standing in line for that "event."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.