U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing the fraud and corruption surrounding the food industry, launched an investigation into the intimate and unethical relationship between the biotech industry and university faculty and staff, which is used to manipulate public opinion about GMOs and to coerce the government into passing legislation supportive of Big Ag’s patented seeds and pesticides.
The investigation, which is still ongoing, reveals how biotech industry giants Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences and others, buy academics employed by taxpayer-funded universities to push GMOs and lobby Congress to pass legislation favorable of their products, with one of the most high-profile examples including attempts to derail states’ rights to enact GMO-labeling laws.
The collusion between Big Food, its front groups and university staff has been exposed through thousands of emails and documents obtained through a USRTK Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which was meticulously filed over a six-month period.
USRTK: Public deserves to know about flow of money and level of coordination between Big Ag and public university scientists
The FOIA request sought to obtain emails and documents from 43 public university faculty and staff to learn more about the biotech industry’s public relations strategies. Records were requested from scientists, economists, law professors, extension specialists and communicators, all of whom are employed by taxpayer-funded public institutions and steadily promote GMO agriculture under the “independent” research.
Currently, USRTK has received thousands of documents in nine of their requests; however, much more information is expected to be released as FOIA requests continue to be answered.
The documents received thus far expose how the biotech industry funds expenses for university faculty to travel the globe promoting and defending GMOs and their associated pesticides, highlighting the shift that scientists have made from being researchers to being actors in Big Ag PR campaigns.
Named the “Biofortified boys” by Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA), a biotech front group, the academics were awarded thousands, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in unrestricted grant money.
Dr. Kevin Folta, professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville, is one of the biotech industry’s most cooperative “Biofortified boys.” Emails show that Folta was enlisted to travel to Hawaii and later to Pennsylvania to “testify to government bodies to oppose proposed mandatory genetically modified labeling measures.”
Folta has repeatedly denied ties to Monsanto or having accepted funds from them; however, newly released documents prove otherwise, exposing him as a bald-faced liar and attack dog for the biotech industry.
Sponsored and organized by the HCIA, which includes Monsanto, DuPont, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta and BASF, Folta and others were recruited to meet with local business execs to lobby against Hawaii’s proposed GMO-labeling law.
HCIA’s Maluafiti writes:
So please know that you are part of our overall public education strategy and specifically – how do we use your valuable time wisely while you are here in Hawaii (besides hitting the beaches!) I’d love to hear your thoughts. Aloha!
A second email authored by Renee Kester, wife of Dow AgroSciences R&D Leader Kirby Kester, who is also president of the HCIA, thanks them for their support:
First off I would like to thank you for all of the support you have given us over here in Hawaii with regards to our recent legislative battles, it means a lot to all of us over here.
Monsanto asks academics to author articles promoting GMOs
In an effort to influence “thought leaders and influencers,” Monsanto reached out to Dr. Folta and other academics, asking them to author a series of pro-GMO policy briefs to be used for “outreach and engagement with policy makers and consumers.” The briefs were to be promoted as being authored by “independent scientists.”
Eric Sachs, the chief of Monsanto’s global scientific affairs group wrote:
The key to success is participation by all of you – recognized experts and leaders with the knowledge, reputation and communication experience needed to communicate authoritatively to the target groups. You represent an elite group whose credibility will be strengthened by working together.
Recognizing participants’ careers are at stake, Sachs offers the academics assurance by promising that he will protect their “independence,” as well as their reputations.
Some of the topics the academics were asked to write on include:
- Meeting World Challenges (discuss how GMOs will save the world by addressing shrinking agricultural resources, food security, food affordability and environmental sustainability).
- Stifling Innovation (discuss how GM crop regulations stifle technological advancements and prevent GMOs from improving overall quality of life).
- Holding Activists Accountable – assigned to Kevin Folta (discuss how anti-GMO activist campaigns spread false information and if left unchallenged will limit consumer choice, increase food prices, decrease farmer viability and undermine global food security).
- GM Crop Safety (address consumer and policy maker concerns that GM crops aren’t tested for safety, convince public that they are proven safe).
- Consequences of Rejecting GM Crops (address public health fears and political resistance and concerns about biodiversity and biological safety and intellectual property rights that create barriers to GM acceptance).
- Sustainable Crop Systems (discuss how GM crop technology provides environmental benefits, increases yields and improves productivity).
- Responsible Choice (highlight the role GM crop technology plays in ensuring increase production and how it balances our needs for food, feed, fiber and fuel).
Academics were asked to include a “call to action,” which would be used in the briefs to influence the public on a variety of platforms including social media, blogs, websites and allied organizations.
Montano enlists university scientists to pressure EPA to abandon proposed pesticide regulations
Documents reveal that Monsanto also used academics to put pressure on regulatory agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – in one instance pressuring the EPA to abandon its proposal to tighten regulations regarding pesticide use on insect-resistant crops.
“Is there a coordinated plan to maintain pressure and emphasis on EPA’s evolving regulations?” asked Sachs in an email to Dr. Bruce Chassy, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
Sachs continued, “Have you considered having a small group of scientists request a meeting with Lisa Jackson