Update: This blog has been updated to include a running list of news stories and commentary generated by our ongoing investigation.
U.S. Right to Know is conducting an investigation into the collusion between Big Food, its front groups, and university faculty and staff to deliver industry PR to the public. That investigation is ongoing. Thus far, it has been fruitful, as today’s New York Times article shows.
The Times article links to emails obtained via state Freedom of Information Act requests filed by U.S. Right to Know. These emails reveal how Monsanto and its partners use so-called “independent” third-party scientists and professors to deliver their PR messaging. Since the companies themselves are not credible messengers, they use these scientists and professors as sock-puppets to shape the media narrative on food issues, particularly GMOs.
This is a key part of Big Food’s PR strategy. The agrichemical and food industries are spending vast sums of money to convince the public that their food, crops, GMOs, additives and pesticides are safe, desirable and healthy.
U.S. Right to Know has filed state Freedom of Information Acts requests to try to obtain the emails and documents of 43 public university faculty and staff, to learn more about this public relations effort. Thus far, we have received documents in nine of these requests. So, most of the documents are likely still to come. Some may arrive next week, others may perhaps take a year or even more to arrive.
We have requested records from scientists, economists, law professors, extension specialists and communicators. All work in public institutions, funded by the taxpayers. We believe the public deserves to know more about the flow of money and level of coordination between public university scientists and other academics, and the agrichemical and food companies whose interests they promote.
We have a right to know what’s in our food, and how companies attempt to influence our views about it. Yet some find transparency so threatening that they equate consumer campaigns with vile dictatorships – as in a recent Facebook post that featured my picture alongside that of Stalin and Hitler. Others have compared our work to “terrorism” and us to “terrorists.”
Transparency – and investigative reporting about our food – is the core of what we do here are U.S. Right to Know.
We believe in the words of James Madison, who wrote: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Finally, a brief word about University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta. The most important findings in today’s New York Times article are about the PR efforts of Monsanto and the agrichemical industry. But it is worth pointing out that Professor Folta repeatedly denied – falsely – having ties to Monsanto or having accepted funds from Monsanto. For example, Professor Folta has stated:
- He has “no formal connection to Monsanto.”
- “David [Oppenheimer] and I have no research or personal funding from ‘Big Ag’ – only in our dreams.”
- “Certainly Monsanto (and others) have funded work at my university. Not my work.”
- “I have no financial ties to any of the BigAg companies that make transgenic crops, including Monsanto.”
- “I have nothing to do wth MON“
- “I’m an independent scientist. Not Monsanto.”
- “I am one of thousands of independent, public scientists worldwide…”
Professor Folta has also falsely claimed he never used the text written for him by the PR firm Ketchum.
At best, these statements by Professor Folta are misleading, and some of them are untruthful. Yet, as the emails released today reveal, Folta has been in close contact with Monsanto and the industry’s PR firm Ketchum, recently received a $25,000 unrestricted grant from Monsanto, and even wrote to a Monsanto executive, “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.”
Professor Folta aside, it is also important to note that our drive for transparency is not about one or a few people. This is about the extent to which corporations such as Monsanto and their front groups are using our public universities and the scientists and academics who work there as tools to promote their agendas and their profits.
Stay tuned for more details about our investigation…
News articles about our investigation
Horticulture Week: Questions Raised Over Independence of Panel that Found Glyphosate Safe
Huffington Post: Monsanto’s Media Machine Comes to Washington
Interview with Carey Gillam: Peeling Back the Curtain on Monsanto
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Washington Post’s Food Columnist Goes to Bat for Monsanto – Again
Harvard Crimson: Prof Failed To Disclose Connection to Company in Paper
Saskatoon Star Phoenix: Group Questions U of S Prof’s Monsanto Link
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Buckraking on the Food Beat: When Is It a Conflict of Interest?
Commentary about freedom of information and disclosure
Los Angeles Times: In Science, Follow the Money – If You Can
New York Times: Scientists, Give Up Your Emails
Nature Biotechnology: Standing Up for Transparency
U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy. We promote the free market principle of transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – as crucial to building a better, healthier food system.