Coronavirus Food News Tracker: Best articles on the pandemic and our food system

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U.S. Right to Know is tracking important food-related news about the coronavirus pandemic in this post — including data on obesity and other food-related diseases, risks to farmworkers and food workers, food supply and security issues, the role of factory farming in pandemics like the coronavirus and food systems analysis. To receive weekly updates about our food system and breaking news from the U.S. Right to Know investigations, please sign up for our newsletter.

See also our reporting and related post tracking studies and reporting on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on blacks and Latinos, and how junk food manufacturers specifically and disproportionately target communities of color.

Most recent articles

Obesity and Coronavirus

Eating Ultra-processed Food Increases Likelihood of Dying from Coronavirus

Inequalities In Our Food System 

Related post: Junk Food Manufacturers Have Targeted Communities of Color, Increasing the Risks from COVID-19

Risks Facing Farmworkers and Food Workers

Food Supply and Security  

On the Role of Factory Farming and Agriculture in Pandemics Like Covid-19

Toxic Chemicals and Coronavirus

Food System Analysis

Food Safety

Junk Food Resurgence

Please send us stories you think are important to include. You can email them to stacy@usrtk.org. If you want to receive weekly updates from U.S. Right to Know, please sign up for our newsletter here. You can donate here to help support our food industry investigations.

International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a Food Industry Lobby Group

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The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit organization based in Washington DC, with 17 affiliated chapters around the world. ILSI describes itself as a group that conducts “science for the public good” and “improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment.” However, investigations by academics, journalists and public interest researchers show that ILSI is a lobby group that protects the interests of the food industry, not public health.

Recent news:

  • A May 2020 study in Public Health Nutrition adds more evidence that ILSI is a food industry front group. Based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records requests, the study uncovered “a pattern of activity in which ILSI sought to exploit the credibility of scientists and academics to bolster industry positions and promote industry-devised content in its meetings, journal, and other activities.”

  • An April 2020 report from the nonprofit Corporate Accountability report examines how food and beverage corporations have leveraged ILSI to infiltrate the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and cripple progress on nutrition policy around the globe. See coverage in The BMJ, Food and soft drink industry has too much influence over US dietary guidelines, report says (4.24.20) 

  • New York Times investigation by Andrew Jacobs reveals that a trustee of the industry-funded nonprofit ILSI advised the Indian government against going ahead with warning labels on unhealthy foods. The Times described ILSI as a “shadowy industry group” and “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of.” (9.16.19)

  • The Times cited a study in Globalization and Health co-authored by Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know reporting that ILSI operates as a lobby arm for its food and pesticide industry funders (June 2019)

  • The New York Times revealed the undisclosed ILSI ties of Bradley C. Johnston, a co-author of five recent studies claiming red and processed meat don’t pose significant health problems. Johnston used similar methods in an ILSI-funded study to claim sugar is not a problem. (10.4.19)

  • Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, ILSI: true colors revealed (10.3.19)

ILSI ties to Coca-Cola 

ILSI was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola who worked for Coke from 1969-2001. Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI. Michael Ernest Knowles, Coca-Cola’s VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs from 2008–2013, was president of ILSI from 2009-2011. In 2015, ILSI’s president was Rhona Applebaum, who retired from her job as Coca-Cola’s chief health and science officer (and from ILSI) in 2015 after the New York Times and Associated Press reported that Coke funded the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to help shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks.  

Corporate funding 

ILSI is funded by its corporate members and company supporters, including leading food and chemical companies. ILSI acknowledges receiving funding from industry but does not publicly disclose who donates or how much they contribute. Our research reveals:

  • Corporate contributions to ILSI Global amounting to $2.4 million in 2012. This included $528,500 from CropLife International, a $500,000 contribution from Monsanto and $163,500 from Coca-Cola.
  • A draft 2013 ILSI tax return shows ILSI received $337,000 from Coca-Cola and more than $100,000 each from Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrisciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Bayer CropScience and BASF.
  • A draft 2016 ILSI North America tax return shows a $317,827 contribution from PepsiCo, contributions greater than $200,000 from Mars, Coca-Cola, and Mondelez, and contributions greater than $100,000 from General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, Kraft, Dr. Pepper, Snapple Group, Starbucks Coffee, Cargill, Uniliver and Campbell Soup.  

Emails show how ILSI seeks to influence policy to promote industry views 

A May 2020 study in Public Health Nutrition adds evidence that ILSI is a food industry front group. The study, based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records requests, reveals how ILSI promotes the interests of the food and agrichemical industries, including ILSI’s role in defending controversial food ingredients and suppressing views that are unfavorable to industry; that corporations such as Coca-Cola can earmark contributions to ILSI for specific programs; and, how ILSI uses academics for their authority but allows industry hidden influence in their publications.

The study also reveals new details about which companies fund ILSI and its branches, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions documented from leading junk food, soda and chemical companies.

A June 2019 paper in Globalization and Health provides several examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. The study is based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records laws.  

The researchers concluded: “ILSI seeks to influence individuals, positions, and policy, both nationally and internationally, and its corporate members deploy it as a tool to promote their interests globally. Our analysis of ILSI serves as a caution to those involved in global health governance to be wary of putatively independent research groups, and to practice due diligence before relying upon their funded studies and/or engaging in relationship with such groups.”   

ILSI undermined obesity fight in China

In January 2019, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh revealed ILSI’s powerful influence on the Chinese government on issues related to obesity. The papers document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Read the papers:

ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing.

Professor Geenhalgh’s papers document how Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants “helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related diseases” by operating through ILSI to cultivate key Chinese officials “in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the west,” the New York Times reported.  

Additional academic research from U.S. Right to Know about ILSI 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has over 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI.  

ILSI sugar study “right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook”

Public health experts denounced an ILSI-funded sugar study published in a prominent medical journal in 2016 that was a “scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar,” reported Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times. The ILSI-funded study argued that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.  

The Times story quoted Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, on the ILSI study: “This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” Nestle said. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.” 

Tobacco companies used ILSI to thwart policy 

A July 2000 report by an independent committee of the World Health Organization outlined a number of ways in which the tobacco industry attempted to undermine WHO tobacco control efforts, including using scientific groups to influence WHO’s decision-making and to manipulate scientific debate surrounding the health effects of tobacco. ILSI played a key role in these efforts, according to a case study on ILSI that accompanied the report. Findings indicate that ILSI was used by certain tobacco companies to thwart tobacco control policies. Senior office bearers in ILSI were directly involved in these actions,” according to the case study. See: 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has more than 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI

ILSI leaders helped defend glyphosate as chairs of key panel 

In May 2016, ILSI came under scrutiny after revelations that the vice president of ILSI Europe, Professor Alan Boobis, was also chairman of a UN panel that found Monsanto’s chemical glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer risk through diet. The co-chair of the UN Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), Professor Angelo Moretto, was a board member of ILSI’s Health and Environment Services Institute. Neither of the JMPR chairs declared their ILSI leadership roles as conflicts of interest, despite the significant financial contributions ILSI has received from Monsanto and the pesticide industry trade group. See: 

ILSI’s cozy ties at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  

In June 2016, U.S. Right to Know reported that Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of a CDC division charged with preventing heart disease and stroke, tried to help ILSI’s founder Alex Malaspina influence World Health Organization officials to back off policies to reduce sugar consumption. Bowman suggested people and groups for Malaspina to talk to, and solicited his comments on some CDC summaries of reports, the emails show. (Bowman stepped down after our first article was published reporting on these ties.)

This January 2019 study in the Milbank Quarterly describes key emails of Malaspina cozying up to Dr. Bowman. For more reporting on this topic, see: 

ILSI influence on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

report by the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability documents how ILSI has major influence on U.S. dietary guidelines via its infiltration of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.  The report examines the pervasive political interference of food and beverage transnationals like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and PepsiCo, and how these corporations have leveraged the International Life Sciences Institute to cripple progress on nutrition policy across the globe.

ILSI influence in India 

The New York Times reported on ILSI’s influence in India in its article titled, “A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World.”

ILSI has close ties to some Indian government officials and, as in China, the nonprofit has pushed similar messaging and policy proposals as Coca-Cola – downplaying the role of sugar and diet as a cause of obesity, and promoting increased physical activity as the solution, according to the India Resource Center. 

Members of ILSI India’s board of trustees include Coca-Cola India’s director of regulatory affairs and representatives from Nestlé and Ajinomoto, a food additive company, along with government officials who serve on scientific panels that are tasked with deciding about food safety issues.  

Longstanding concerns about ILSI 

ILSI insists it is not an industry lobby group, but concerns and complaints are longstanding about the group’s pro-industry stances and conflicts of interest among the organization’s leaders. See, for example:

Untangle food industry influences, Nature Medicine (2019)

Food agency denies conflict-of-interest claim. But accusations of industry ties may taint European body’s reputation, Nature (2010)

Big Food Vs. Tim Noakes: The Final Crusade, Keep Fitness Legal, by Russ Greene (1.5.17) 

Real Food on Trial, by Dr. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros (Columbus Publishing 2019). The book describes “the unprecedented prosecution and persecution of Professor Tim Noakes, a distinguished scientist and medical doctor, in a multimillion rand case that stretched over more than four years. All for a single tweet giving his opinion on nutrition.”

Questions for the Bayer Shareholder Meeting: by Carey Gillam

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Earlier this year, our colleague Carey Gillam was offered a speaking slot by a Bayer shareholders’ group at the company’s annual meeting in Bonn, Germany. Due to Covid-19, the in-person meeting has been canceled and the Bayer shareholders convened in a virtual meeting on April 28 at 10:00 Central European Summer Time (CEST). In lieu of attending the event, of Ms. Gillam was invited to submit a video and written comments, which we have posted here.

For more reporting on the Bayer shareholder meeting and updates on litigation involving the company, see Gillam’s Monsanto Roundup and Dicamba Trial Tracker.

Questions for Bayer
Submitted by Carey Gillam
April 28, 2020

Hello, My name is Carey Gillam, I am a journalist and author who has spent 22 years researching and writing about the agriculture industry and the business practices and products of Monsanto, which Bayer bought in June of 2018.

I wrote a book about the company and the rise of its Roundup herbicide business built around the chemical glyphosate, and I have catalogued and reported on the internal Monsanto documents that show Monsanto spent decades hiding information about the health risks of its products from consumers and regulators. 

The internal documents also show that my journalism work threatened Monsanto so much that it implemented a plan to try to discredit and silence me. Other internal Monsanto documents show the company similarly worked for years to discredit scientists and many other people who sought to share information about the risks of Roundup.  Some of this harassment continued after Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018. 

Truthful information clearly has been a threat to Monsanto and to Bayer. 

It is time for that to change. As Bayer moves ahead with its ongoing business activities in the current year, Bayer must assure consumers and investors that it will not allow Monsanto’s deceptive practices to continue. 

  • Will Bayer pledge to stop directly and indirectly engaging in harassment of reporters and scientists starting immediately? 
  • Will Bayer pledge to stop funding and collaborating with front groups that have a history of harassing journalists and scientists with false propaganda? These groups include the American Council on Science and Health and Genetic Literacy Project.

There is substantial evidence that in addition to the health risks posed by Roundup, the wide-spread use of glyphosate-based herbicides over the top of genetically engineered crops has done significant damage to soil quality, pollinators, and the health of the environment generally. This overuse has also made glyphosate a significantly less effective herbicide.  

  • Will Bayer pledge that any new herbicides brought to market are done so with full transparency and truthfulness about the risks to human and environmental health?  

The story of Monsanto’s misdeeds is known around the world. Bayer can and must act to change that storyline and end the deceptive and damaging conduct Monsanto engaged in for decades. 

And most importantly, as the world faces a growing population it also faces growing threats in the form of disease, climate change, and water, air and food sources contaminated with toxins. 

Bayer has an opportunity now to use its wealth and scientific expertise to protect and advance public and environmental health, not add to the damage for the mere pursuit of profit.  

I urge Bayer to seize the opportunity.  

Thank you.
Carey Gillam
Journalist, author and public interest researcher 

Junk Food Makers Target Blacks, Latinos and Communities of Color, Increasing Risks From COVID-19

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In the United States, the novel coronavirus appears to be infecting, hospitalizing and killing black people and Latinos at alarmingly high rates, with data from several states illustrating this pattern. There are many reasons for this. Structural inequalities across U.S. society contribute to this problem, including unequal access to fresh healthy foods, specific targeting of communities of color by manufacturers of junk food, unequal access to health care, more workers in essential jobs who cannot stay home and excess exposure to toxic chemicals and unhealthy air.

In this post, we are tracking studies and news articles about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on black Americans, Latinos and communities of color, and how junk food manufacturers specifically and disproportionately target communities of color. For recent reporting on the connections between food-related diseases and the coronavirus, impacts on farmworkers and food workers, and other vital food system issues related to the pandemic, see our Coronavirus Food News Tracker.

See also, What does junk food have to do with COVID-19 deaths? by Carey Gillam, Environmental Health News (4.28.20)

Data on the disproportionate targeting of junk food advertising and marketing to communities of color

Increasing disparities in unhealthy food advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black youth, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; Council on Black Health (January 2019)

Television food advertising viewed by preschoolers, children and adolescents: contributors to differences in exposure for black and white youth in the United States, Rudd Center of Food Policy and Obesity (May 2016)

Food advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black youth: Contributing to health disparities, Rudd Center for Food Policy, AACORN, Salud America! (August 2015)

Limit junk-food ads that contribute to childhood obesity, Statement by the American Medical Association (2018)

Health equity & junk food marketing: talking about targeting kids of color, Berkeley Media Studies Group (2017)

Television food advertising viewed by preschoolers, children and adolescents: contributors to differences in exposure for black and white youth in the United States, Pediatric Obesity (2016)

To Choose (Not) to Eat Healthy: Social Norms, Self‐affirmation, and Food Choice, by Aarti Ivanic, Psychology and Marketing (July 2016)

Disparities in Obesity-Related Outdoor Advertising by Neighborhood Income and Race, Journal of Urban Health (2015)

Child-Directed Marketing Inside and on the Exterior of Fast Food Restaurants, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2014)

Racial/Ethnic and Income Disparities in Child and Adolescent Exposure to Food and Beverage Television Ads across U.S. Media Markets, Health Place (2014)

Impact of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption on Black Americans’ Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(2011)

The Context for Choice: Health Implications of Targeted Food and Beverage Marketing to African Americans, American Journal of Public Health (2008)

Fast Food: Oppression through Poor NutritionCalifornia Law Review (2007)

The Health Impact of Targeted Marketing: An Interview with Sonya Grier, Corporations and Health Watch (2010)

Related 

Targeted Marketing Of Junk Food To Ethnic Minority Youth: Fighting Back With Legal Advocacy And Community Engagement, ChangeLab Solutions (2012)

Exposé on how McDonald’s and Burger King targeted African Americans in the 1970s, by Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic (6.7.15)

Glyphosate Fact Sheet: Cancer and Other Health Concerns

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Glyphosate, a synthetic herbicide patented in 1974 by the Monsanto Company and now manufactured and sold by many companies in hundreds of products, has been associated with cancer and other health concerns. Glyphosate is best known as the active ingredient in Roundup-branded herbicides, and the herbicide used with “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Herbicide tolerance is the most prevalent GMO trait engineered into food crops, with some 90% of corn and 94% of soybeans in the U.S. engineered to tolerate herbicides, according to USDA data. A 2017 study found that Americans’ exposure to glyphosate increased approximately 500 percent since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced in the U.S in 1996. Here are some key facts about glyphosate:

Most Widely Used Pesticide

According to a February 2016 study, glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide: “In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use.” Findings include:

  • Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974.
  • Worldwide 9.4 million tons of the chemical has been sprayed on fields – enough to spray nearly half a pound of Roundup on every cultivated acre of land in the world.
  • Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced.

Statements from scientists and health care providers 

Cancer concerns

The scientific literature and regulatory conclusions regarding glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides show a mix of findings, making the safety of the herbicide a hotly debated subject. 

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after reviewing years of published and peer-reviewed scientific studies. The team of international scientists found there was a particular association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

U.S. agencies: At the time of the IARC classification, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was conducting a registration review. The EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) issued a report in September 2016 concluding that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” at doses relevant to human health. In December 2016, the EPA convened a Scientific Advisory Panel to review the report; members were divided in their assessment of EPA’s work, with some finding the EPA erred in how it evaluated certain research. Additionally, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development determined that EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs had not followed proper protocols in its evaluation of glyphosate, and said the evidence could be deemed to support a “likely” carcinogenic or “suggestive” evidence of carcinogenicity classification. Nevertheless the EPA issued a draft report on glyphosate in December 2017 continuing to hold that the chemical is not likely to be carcinogenic. In April 2019, the EPA reaffirmed its position that glyphosate poses no risk to public health. But earlier that same month, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reported that there are links between glyphosate and cancer. According to the draft report from ATSDR, “numerous studies reported risk ratios greater than one for associations between glyphosate exposure and risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma.” 

European Union: The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency have said glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. A March 2017 report by environmental and consumer groups argued that regulators relied improperly on research that was directed and manipulated by the chemical industry. A 2019 study found that Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment report on glyphosate, which found no cancer risk, included sections of text that had been plagiarized from Monsanto studies.  In February 2020, reports surfaced that 24 scientific studies submitted to the German regulators to prove the safety of glyphosate came from a large German laboratory that has been accused of fraud and other wrongdoing.

WHO/FAO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues determined in 2016 that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet, but this finding was tarnished by conflict of interest concerns after it came to light that the chair and co-chair of the group also held leadership positions with the International Life Sciences Institute, a group funded in part by Monsanto and one of its lobbying organizations.

California OEHHA: On March 28, 2017, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment confirmed it would add glyphosate to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto sued to block the action but the case was dismissed. In a separate case, the court found that California could not require cancer warnings for products containing glyphosate. On June 12, 2018, a U.S. District Court denied the California Attorney General’s request for the court to reconsider the decision. The court found that California could only require commercial speech that disclosed “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” and the science surrounding glyphosate carcinogenicity was not proven.

Agricultural Health Study: A long-running U.S. government-backed prospective cohort study of farm families in Iowa and North Carolina has not found any connections between glyphosate use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but the researchers reported that “among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users…” The most recent published update to the study was made public in late 2017.

Recent studies report cancer links and concerns about validity of EPA classification: 

Cancer lawsuits

More than 42,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto Company (now Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and that Monsanto covered up the risks. As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has had to turn over millions of pages of internal records. We are posting these Monsanto Papers as they become available. For news and tips about the ongoing legislation, see Carey Gillam’s Roundup Trial Tracker. The first three trials ended in large awards to plaintiffs for liability and damages, with juries ruling that Monsanto’s weed killer was a substantial contributing factor in causing them to develop NHL. Bayer is appealing the rulings. 

Monsanto influence in research: In March 2017, the federal court judge unsealed some internal Monsanto documents that raised new questions about Monsanto’s influence on the EPA process and about the research regulators rely on. The documents suggest that Monsanto’s long-standing claims about the safety of glyphosate and Roundup do not necessarily rely on sound science as the company asserts, but on efforts to manipulate the science

More information about scientific interference:

Endocrine disruption and other health concerns

Some research suggests that glyphosate may be an endocrine disruptor. It has also been linked to liver disease, birth defects and reproductive problems in laboratory animals; and may kill beneficial gut bacteria and damage the DNA in human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. A 2019 study in a Nature journal reported increases in obesity, reproductive and kidney diseases, and other problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. See the study and Washington State University press release.

Recent studies have shown adverse biological effects from low-dose exposures to glyphosate at levels to which people are routinely exposed.

  • A 2017 study associated chronic, very low-level glyphosate exposures to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. According to the researchers, the results “imply that chronic consumption of extremely low levels of a GBH formulation (Roundup), at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations, are associated with marked alterations of the liver proteome and metabolome,” the biomarkers for NAFLD.
  • A birth cohort study in Indiana published in 2017 – the first study of glyphosate exposure in US pregnant women using urine specimens as a direct measure of exposure – found detectable levels of glyphosate in more than 90% of the pregnant women tested and found the levels were significantly correlated with shortened pregnancy lengths.
  • A 2018 ecological and population study conducted in Argentina found high concentrations of glyphosate in the soil and dust in agricultural areas that also reported higher rates of spontaneous abortion and congenital abnormalities in children, suggesting a link between environmental exposure to glyphosate and reproductive problems. No other relevant sources of pollution were identified.
  • A 2018 rat study conducted by the Ramazzini Institute reported that low-dose exposures to Roundup at levels considered safe significantly altered the gut microbiota in some of the rat pups. Another 2018 study reported that higher levels of glyphosate administered to mice disrupted the gut microbiota and caused anxiety and depression-like behaviors.
  • A 2018 rat study by Argentinian researchers linked low-level perinatal glyphosate exposures to impaired female reproductive performance and congenital anomalies in the next generation of offspring.

Glyphosate has also been linked by recent studies to harmful impacts on bees and monarch butterflies.

Sri Lankan scientists awarded AAAS freedom award for kidney disease research

The AAAS has awarded two Sri Lankan scientists, Drs. Channa Jayasumana and Sarath Gunatilake, the 2019 Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility for their work to “investigate a possible connection between glyphosate and chronic kidney disease under challenging circumstances.” The scientists have reported that glyphosate plays a key role in transporting heavy metals to the kidneys of those drinking contaminated water, leading to high rates of chronic kidney disease in farming communities. See papers in  SpringerPlus (2015), BMC Nephrology (2015), Environmental Health (2015), International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2014). The AAAS award had been under review since February amidst a fierce opposition campaign by pesticide industry allies to undermine the work of the scientists

Desiccation: another source of dietary exposures 

Some farmers use glyphosate on non-GMO crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and lentils to dry down the crop ahead of harvest in order to accelerate the harvest. This practice, known as desiccation, may be a significant source of dietary exposure to glyphosate.

Glyphosate in food: U.S. drags its feet on testing

The USDA quietly dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate in 2017. Internal agency documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show the agency had planned to start testing over 300 samples of corn syrup for glyphosate in April 2017. But the agency killed the project before it started. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began a limited testing program in 2016, but the effort was fraught with controversy and internal difficulties and the program was suspended in September 2016. Both agencies have programs that annually test foods for pesticide residues but both have routinely skipped testing for glyphosate.

Before the suspension, one FDA chemist found alarming levels of glyphosate in many samples of U.S. honey, levels that were technically illegal because there have been no allowable levels established for honey by the EPA. Here is a recap of news about glyphosate found in food:

Pesticides in our food: Where’s the safety data?

USDA data from 2016 shows detectable pesticide levels in 85% of more than 10,000 foods sampled, everything from mushrooms to grapes to green beans. The government says there are little to no health risks, but some scientists say there is little to no data to back up that claim. See “Chemicals on our food: When “safe” may not really be safe: Scientific scrutiny of pesticide residue in food grows; regulatory protections questioned,” by Carey Gillam (11/2018).

10 Revelations from the U.S. Right to Know Investigations

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Please support our food investigations by making a tax-deductible donation today. 

Internal Monsanto documents released in 2019 provide a rare look inside pesticide and food companies that try to discredit public interest groups and journalists. The documents (posted here) show that Monsanto and its new owner, Bayer, were especially worried about U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit research group that began investigating the food industry in 2015. According to one Monsanto document, “USRTK’s plan will impact the entire industry” and “has the potential to be extremely damaging.” See coverage in the Guardian, “Revealed: how Monsanto’s ‘intelligence center’ targeted journalists and activists.”

Since our launch in 2015, U.S. Right to Know has obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of internal corporate and regulatory documents that reveal how food and pesticide corporations work behind the scenes to manipulate science, academia and policy to increase their profits at the expense of public health and the environment. Our work has contributed to three New York Times investigations, eight academic papers about corporate influence over our food system, and worldwide news coverage documenting how a handful of junk food and pesticide companies use a variety of unethical and unfair tactics to prop up an unhealthy, unsustainable food system. Here are some of our top findings so far.

1. Monsanto funded “independent” academics to promote and lobby for pesticide products

U.S. Right to Know has documented numerous examples of how pesticide companies rely heavily on publicly funded academics to assist with their PR and lobbying. A September 2015 front-page New York Times article revealed that Monsanto enlisted academics, and paid them secretly, to oppose GMO labeling laws. WBEZ later reported on one example; how a University of Illinois professor received tens of thousands of dollars from Monsanto to promote and lobby for GMOs and pesticides, and his university received millions; none of those funds were disclosed to the public.  

Documents reported in the Boston Globe, Bloomberg and Mother Jones describe how Monsanto assigned, scripted and promoted pro-GMO papers from professors at Harvard, Cornell and other universities — papers published with no mention of Monsanto’s role. At the University of Saskatchewan, Monsanto coached a professor and edited his academic articles, according to documents reported by the CBC.  At the request of the pesticide industry’s PR firm, a University of Florida professor produced a video that aimed to discredit a Canadian teenager who criticized GMOs, according to documents reported by Global News. 

See our Pesticide Industry Propaganda Tracker for fact sheets based on documents from our investigation. Many USRTK documents are also posted in the USCF Food and Chemical Industry Libraries.

2. The nonprofit science group ILSI is a lobby group for food and pesticide companies 

In September 2019, the New York Times reported on the “shadowy industry group” International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) that is shaping food policy around the world. The Times article cites a 2019 study co-authored by Gary Ruskin of USRTK reporting how ILSI operates as a lobby group that promotes the interest of its food and pesticide industry funders. See coverage of our study in the BMJ and The Guardian, and read more about the organization the Times described as “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of” in our ILSI fact sheet.

In 2017, Ruskin co-authored a journal article reporting on emails showing food industry leaders discussing how they “have to use external organizations” when dealing with controversies over the health risks of their products. The emails show senior leaders in the food industry advocating for a coordinated approach to influencing scientific evidence, expert opinion and regulators across the world. See Bloomberg coverage, “Emails show how the food industry uses ‘science’ to push soda.”

The USRTK investigation also spurred a 2016 story in The Guardian reporting that the leaders of a Joint FAO/WHO panel that cleared glyphosate of cancer concerns also held leadership positions at ILSI, which received large donations from the pesticide industry. 

3. Breaking news about the Monsanto Roundup and Dicamba trials 

U.S. Right to Know frequently breaks news about the Roundup cancer trials via Carey Gillam’s Roundup and Dicamba Trial Tracker, which provides a first look at discovery documents, interviews and news tips about the trials. More than 42,000 people have filed suit against the Monsanto Company (now owned by Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has turned over millions of pages of its internal records. USRTK is posting many of these documents and court records free of charge on our Monsanto Papers pages.

Dozens of farmers around the United States are also now suing the former Monsanto Co. and conglomerate BASF in an effort to hold the companies accountable for millions of acres of crop damage the farmers claim is due to widespread illegal use of the weed killing chemical dicamba. In 2020, we also began posting the Dicamba Papers: Key documents and analysis from the trials.

4. Top CDC officials collaborated with Coca-Cola to shape the obesity debate, and advised Coca-Cola on how to stop WHO from cracking down on added sugars

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know led to another front-page New York Times story in 2017 reporting that the newly appointed director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Brenda Fitzgerald, saw Coca-Cola as an ally on obesity issues (Fitzgerald has since resigned). 

USRTK was also first to report in 2016 that another high-ranking CDC official had cozy ties to Coke, and tried to assist the company in steering the World Health Organization away from its efforts to discourage consumption of added sugars; see reporting by Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know. Our work also contributed to a study in the Milbank Quarterly co-authored by Gary Ruskin detailing conversations between the CDC and Coca-Cola executives. Two articles in the BMJ based on USRTK documents, and articles in the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Diego Union Tribune, Forbes, CNN, Politico and The Intercept provide more details about Coke’s influence at the U.S. public health agency that is supposed to help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and other diseases.   

5. The U.S. FDA found glyphosate residues in honey, infant cereals, and other common foods, and then stopped testing for the chemical   

FDA did not release the information, so USRTK did.

Carey Gillam broke news in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and USRTK about internal government documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests showing that the U.S. FDA conducted tests that found the weed-killer glyphosate in an array of commonly consumed foods including granola, crackers, infant cereal and in very high levels in honey.  The FDA did not release the information, so USRTK did. The government then suspended its testing program for glyphosate residues in food, Gillam reported.

FDA did resume testing and in late 2018 and issued a report that showed very limited testing and reported no worrisome levels of glyphosate. The report did not include any of the information USRTK turned up through FOIAs.

6. Pesticide companies secretly funded an academic group that attacked the organic industry 

A group calling itself Academics Review made headlines in 2014 with a report attacking the organic industry as a marketing scam. The group claimed it was run by independent academics, and accepted no corporate contributions; however, documents obtained by USRTK and reported in the Huffington Post revealed the group was set up with the help of Monsanto to be an industry-funded front group that could discredit critics of GMOs and pesticides.

Tax records show that Academics Review received most of its funding from the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), a trade group funded by the world’s largest pesticide companies.

7. Universities hosted conferences funded by the pesticide industry to train scientists and journalists how to promote GMOs and pesticides 

Pesticide-industry funded “boot camps” held at the University of Florida and the University of California, Davis brought together scientists, journalists and industry PR allies to discuss how to “connect emotionally with skeptical parents” in their messaging to promote GMOs and pesticides, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. 

Two industry front groups, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, organized the messaging-training events, and claimed the funding came from government, academic and industry sources; however, according to reporting in The Progressive, non-industry sources denied funding the events and the only traceable source of funds was the pesticide industry trade group CBI, which spent more than $300,000 on the two conferences. 

8. Coca-Cola secretly tried to influence medical and science journalists

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and reported in the BMJ show how Coca-Cola funded journalism conferences at a U.S. university in an attempt to create favorable press coverage of sugar-sweetened drinks. When challenged about funding of the series of conferences, the academics involved weren’t truthful about industry involvement. 

9. Coca Cola saw itself at “war” with the public health community over obesity 

Another journal article co-authored by USRTK’s Gary Ruskin in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health revealed how Coca-Cola saw itself at “war” with the “public health community.” The emails also reveal the company’s thoughts on how to deal with issues surrounding obesity and responsibility for this public health crisis; for more see Ruskin’s article in Environmental Health News and more journal articles co-authored by USRTK on our Academic Work page. 

10. Dozens of academics and other industry allies coordinate their messaging with agrichemical companies and their PR operatives

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know reveal never-before-reported facts about the front groups, academics, and other third party allies the pesticide and food companies rely on to promote their public relations and lobbying agendas. USRTK provides detailed fact sheets about more than two dozen leading third party allies who appear to be independent, but work closely with companies and their PR firms on coordinated pro-industry messages. See our fact sheet, Tracking the Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Network. 

Help us keep the USRTK investigations cooking! You can now contribute to our investigations through Patreon and PayPal. Please sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates about our findings and join us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more discussion about our food system.

Independent Women’s Forum: Koch-Funded Group Defends Pesticide, Oil, Tobacco Industries

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The Independent Women’s Forum is a nonprofit organization that partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations. Funded largely by right-wing foundations that push climate science denial, IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. In 2018, the group also defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the face of sexual assault allegations, and described Kavanaugh as a “champion of women.

See: “Meet the ‘Feminists’ Doing the Koch Brothers’ Dirty Work,” by Joan Walsh, The Nation 

With a budget of roughly $2 million a year, the Independent Women ‘s Forum now says it works for policies that “enhance freedom.” Its programs include lobbying and advocating for the deregulation of toxic products, and deflecting blame for health and environmental harms away from polluting corporations and toward personal responsibility. In 2017, the group’s annual gala in Washington DC, which celebrated IWF board member Kellyanne Conway as a champion of women, was sponsored by chemical and tobacco companies.

Read more about the gala and its sponsors in HuffPost, “The Politics of Infertility and Cancer,” by Stacy Malkan. 

Funding by right wing billionaires and corporations

Most of the known donors of the Independent Women’s Forum are men, as Lisa Graves reported for the Center for Media and Democracy. IWF has received over $15 million from right-wing foundations that promote deregulation and corporate free rein, according to data collected by Greenpeace USA. IWF’s leading contributors, with more than $5 million in donations, are Donors Trust and Donors Capital Funds, the secretive “dark money” funds connected with oil moguls Charles and David Koch. These funds channel money from anonymous donors, including corporations, to third-party groups that lobby for corporate interests.

IWF’s top funder: dark money from undisclosed donors

Koch family foundations have directly contributed more than $844,115 and other top funders include the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Randolph Foundation (an offshoot of the Richardson Foundation), and Searle Freedom Trust — all leading funders of climate-science denial efforts and campaigns to defend pesticides and keep them unregulated. 

ExxonMobil and Philip Morris have also funded IWF, and the tobacco firm named IWF in a list of “potential third party references” and “those who respect our views.” Rush Limbaugh donated at least a quarter of a million dollars to IWF, which “defends him whenever he launches into a sexist tirade,” according to an article by Eli Clifton in The Nation.

IWF leaders

Heather Richardson Higgins, Chair of the IWF Board and CEO of the Independent Women’s Voice, the lobby arm of IWF, has held senior positions in numerous right-wing foundations, including the Randolph Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Philanthropy Roundtable.

Kellyanne Conway, White House advisor and former Trump campaign manager, is an IWF board member. Directors Emeritae include Lynne V.Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney and Kimberly O.Dennis, president of the board of directors of Donors Trust and president and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust.

Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, left Koch Industries to become president of IWF in 2001 and she later served as Vice Chairman of IWF’s Board of Directors. She has a long history of promoting dirty energy and pushing for deregulation of polluting industries.

IWF’s agenda closely follows the lobbying and messaging agenda of tobacco, oil and chemical industry interests. Following are some examples:

Denies climate science

A 2019 tweet and article from the Independent Women’s Forum praises President Trump’s “pragmatism” in not acting to curb climate change. 

Greenpeace describes IWF as a “Koch Industries Climate Denial Group” that “has spread misinformation on climate science and touts the work of climate deniers.” 

Jane Mayer reported in The New Yorker in 2010: “The (Koch) brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.”

Opposes teaching climate science in schools

The Denver Post reported in 2010 that IWF “thinks global warming is ‘junk science’ and that teaching it is unnecessarily scaring schoolchildren.” Through a campaign called “Balanced Education for Everyone,” IWF opposed climate science education in schools, which the group described as “alarmist global warming indoctrination.”

IWF President Carrie Lucas writes about the “growing skepticism about climate change” and argues “the public could pay dearly for the hysteria.”

Partners with Monsanto

In an April 21, 2016 proposal to Monsanto, IWF asked Monsanto to contribute $43,300 for “Super Women of Science” events designed to undercut political support for Proposition 65, a California law that prohibits companies from discharging hazardous chemicals in waterways and requires them to notify consumers about toxic chemical exposures. The proposed events were part of IWF’s “Culture of Alarmism” project that was created “to debunk media hype about the risks Americans face from the products we use, the foods we eat and the environment surrounding our families.” 

In February 2017, Monsanto partnered with IWF on an event titled “Food and Fear: How to Find Facts in Today’s Culture of Alarmism,” and an IWF podcast that month discussed “How Monsanto is Vilified by Activists.”

IWF pushes the talking points of Monsanto and the chemical industry: promoting GMOs and pesticides, attacking the organic industry and moms who choose organic food, and opposing transparency in food labels. Examples include:

  • Vermont’s GMO labeling law is stupid. (The Spectator)
  • Sinister GMO labeling will cause grocery costs to skyrocket. (IWF)
  • Anti-GMO hype is the real threat to the well being of families. (National Review)
  • Reasonable moms need to push back on the mom shaming and guilt tripping organic food narrative. (IWF podcast)
  • GMO critics are cruel, vain, elite and seek to deny those in need. (New York Post)

The “Culture of Alarmism” project, since renamed the “Project for Progress and Innovation,” is run by Julie Gunlock, who writes frequent blogs arguing against public health protections and defending corporations. She has described “FDA’s refusal to promote e-cigarettes” as “a public health crisis.” 

Argues ‘Philips Morris PR’

In August 2017, IWF lobbied FDA to approve Philip Morris’ IQOS e-cigarettes, arguing that women need the products for various biological reasons to help them quit smoking regular cigarettes.

“Clearly, the FDA doesn’t intend to punish women, simply for their gender. Yet, that’s precisely what’s going to happen if women are limited to smoking cessation products that biologically cannot provide them with the help they need to quit traditional cigarettes,” IWF wrote.

In response to the IWF letter, Stanton Glantz, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said: “This is standard Philip Morris PR. There is no independent confirmation that IQOS are safer than cigarettes or that they help people quit smoking.”

Champions corporate-friendly “food freedom”

IWF attacks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as “government nannies,” for example describing the agency as “food Marxists” and “completely out of control” for issuing voluntary guidance to food manufacturers to cut sodium levels.

A June 2017 IWF event tried to stoke fears about public health guidance

In 2012, IWF launched a “Women for Food Freedom” project to “push back on the nanny state and encourage personal responsibility” for food choices. The agenda included opposing “food regulations, soda and snack food taxes, junk science and food and home-product scares, misinformation about obesity and hunger, and other federal food programs, including school lunches.”

On obesity, IWF tries to shift attention away from corporate accountability and toward personal choices. In this interview with Thom Hartmann, IWF’s Julie Gunlock argues that corporations are not to blame for America’s obesity problem but rather “people are making bad choices and I think parents are completely checking out.” The solution, she said, is for parents to cook more, especially poor parents since they have a worse problem with obesity.

Attacks moms for trying to reduce pesticide exposures

IWF pushes industry messaging, using covert tactics, in attempt to ostracize moms who are concerned about pesticides; a prime example is this 2014 New York Post article, “Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia” by Naomi Schafer Riley. Under the guise of complaining about “mom shaming,” Riley – who is an IWF fellow but did not disclose that to readers – attempts to shame and blame moms who choose organic food. Riley’s article was sourced entirely by industry front groups and sources that she falsely presented as independent, including Academics Review, a Monsanto front group; the Alliance for Food and Farming and Julie Gunlock of the IWF’s “Culture of Alarmism Project,” who was also not identified in the article as an employee of IWF. For more on this topic, see the “Assault on Organic: Ignoring science to make the case for chemical farming” (FAIR, 2014).

Partners with chemical industry front groups

IWF partners with other corporate front groups such as the American Council on Science and Health, a leading defender of toxic chemicals that has been funded by Monsanto and Syngenta, as well as other chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco corporations and industry groups.

  • In a February 2017 IWF podcast, ACSH and IWF “debunked Rachel Carson’s alarmism on toxic chemicals”
  • ACSH was “fully behind” IWF’s “culture of alarmism letter” opposing efforts to remove hazardous chemicals from consumer products.
  • IWF events attacking moms who are concerned about toxic chemicals, such as this “hazmat parenting” event, featured ACSH’s Josh Bloom and chemical industry public relations writer Trevor Butterworth.

For further reading:

The Intercept,”Koch Brothers Operatives Fill Top White House Positions,” by Lee Fang (4/4/2017)

The Nation,“Meet the ‘Feminists’ Doing the Koch Brothers’ Dirty Work,” by Joan Walsh (8/18/2016)

Center for Media and Democracy, “Most Known Donors of the Independent Women’s Forum are Men,” by Lisa Graves (8/24/2016)

Center for Media and Democracy, “Confirmation: the Not-so-Independent Women’s Forum was Born in Defense of Clarence Thomas and the Far Right,” by Lisa Graves and Calvin Sloan (4/21/2016)

Slate,“Confirmation Bias: How ‘Women for Judge Thomas’ turned into a conservative powerhouse,” by Barbara Spindel (4/7/2016)

Truthout, “Independent Women’s Forum Uses Misleading Branding to Push Right Wing Agenda,” by Lisa Graves, Calvin Sloan and Kim Haddow (8/19/2016)

Inside Philanthropy,“The Money Behind the Conservative Women’s Groups Still Fighting the Culture War,”by Philip Rojc (9/13/2016)

The Nation,”Guess Which Women’s Group Rush Limbaugh has Donated Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to? Hint: it’s the one that defends him whenever he launches into a sexist tirade,” by Eli Clifton (6/12/2014)

The New Yorker,”The Koch Brothers Covert Operations,” by Jane Mayer (8/30/2010)

Oxford University Press, “Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics,” by Ronnee Schreiber (2008)

Inside Philanthropy,”Look Who’s Funding This Top Conservative Women’s Group,” by Joan Shipps  (11/26/2014)

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Conservative Women are Right for Media Mainstream; Media Have Finally Found Some Women to Love,” by Laura Flanders (3/1/1996)

originally posted October 6, 2018 and updated in February 2020

IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News

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Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and other sources shine light on the inner workings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group funded by large food and agrichemical companies, and its nonprofit “public education arm” the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC groups conduct research and training programs, produce marketing materials and coordinate other industry groups to communicate industry spin about food safety and nutrition. Messaging includes promoting and defending sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides and genetically engineered foods.

Spinning pesticide cancer report for Monsanto 

As one example of how IFIC partners with corporations to promote agrichemical products and deflect cancer concerns, this internal Monsanto document identifies IFIC as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research team, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to “protect the reputation” of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, IARC judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

Monsanto listed IFIC as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Center for Food Integrity.

How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.

The groups were identified as part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert the food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” for the glyphosate cancer report.

Blogs later posted on the IFIC website illustrate the group’s patronizing “don’t worry, trust us” messaging to women.  Entries include, “8 crazy ways they’re trying to scare you about fruits and vegetables,” “Cutting through the clutter on glyphosate,” and “Before we freak out, let’s ask the experts … the real experts.”

Corporate funders  

IFIC spent over $22 million in the five-year period from 2013-2017, while the IFIC Foundation spent over $5 million in those five years, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Corporations and industry groups that support IFIC, according to public disclosures, include the American Beverage Association, American Meat Science Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DowDuPont, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Perdue Farms and PepsiCo.

Draft tax records for the IFIC Foundation, obtained via state records requests, list the corporations that funded the group in 2011, 2013 or both: Grocery Manufacturers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The US Department of Agriculture gave IFIC Foundation $177,480 of taxpayer money in 2013 to produce a “communicator’s guide” for promoting genetically engineered foods.

IFIC also solicits money from corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of corporate board members asks for $10,000 contributions to update the “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes previous financial supporters: Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.

Promotes GMOs to school children  

IFIC coordinated 130 groups via the Alliance to Feed the Future on messaging efforts to “improve understanding” about genetically engineered foods. Members include the American Council on Science and Health, the Calorie Control Council, the Center for Food Integrity and The Nature Conservancy.

The Alliance to Feed the Future provided free educational curricula to teach students to promote genetically engineered foods, including “The Science of Feeding the World” for K-8 teachers and “Bringing Biotechnology to Life” for grades 7-10.

The inner workings of IFIC’s PR services 

A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes to spin bad news and defend the products of its corporate sponsors.

Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists  

  • May 5, 2014 email from Matt Raymond, senior director of communications, alerted IFIC leadership and “media dialogue group” to “high profile stories in which IFIC is currently involved” to help spin negative news coverage, including responding to the movie Fed Up. He noted they had connected a New York Times reporter with “Dr. John Sievenpiper, our noted expert in the field of sugars.” Sievenpiper “is among a small group of Canadian academic scientists who have received hundreds of thousands in funding from soft-drink makers, packaged-food trade associations and the sugar industry, turning out studies and opinion articles that often coincide with those businesses’ interests,” according to the National Post.
  • Emails from 2010 and 2012 suggest that IFIC relies on a small group of industry-connected scientists to confront studies that raise concerns about GMOs. In both emails, Bruce Chassy, a University of Illinois professor who received undisclosed funds from Monsanto to promote and defend GMOs, advises IFIC on how to respond to studies raising concerns about GMOs.

DuPont executive suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports

  • In a February 3, 2013 email, IFIC staff alerted its “media relations group” that Consumer Reports reported concerns about the safety and environmental impact of GMOs. Doyle Karr, DuPont’s director of biotechnology policy and vice president of the board of Center for Food Integrity, forwarded the email to a scientist with a query for response ideas, and suggested confronting Consumer Reports with this stealth tactic: “Maybe create a letter to the editor signed by 1,000 scientists who have no affiliation with the biotech seed companies stating that they take issue with (Consumer Reports’) statements on the safety and environmental impact. ??”

Other PR services IFIC provides to industry

  • Disseminates misleading industry talking points: April 25, 2012 mail to the 130 members of the Alliance to Feed the Future “on behalf of Alliance member Grocery Manufacturers Association” claimed that the California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods “would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of grocery products in California unless they contain special labels.”
  • Confronts books critical of processed foods: February 20, 2013 email describes IFIC’s strategy to spin two books critical of the food industry, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, and “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner. Plans included writing book reviews, disseminating talking points and “exploring additional options to enhance engagement in the digital media measured by the extent of coverage.” In a February 22, 2013 email, an IFIC executive reached out to three academics — Roger Clemens of the University of Southern California, Mario Ferruzzi of Purdue University and Joanne Slavin of University of Minnesota — to ask them to be available for media interviews about the books. The email provided the academics with summaries of the two books and IFIC’s talking points defending processed foods. “We will appreciate you sharing any specific talking points about specific science issues that are raised in the books,” states the email from Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC’s senior vice president of nutrition and food safety.
  • Research and surveys to support industry positions; one example is a 2012 survey that found 76% of consumers “can’t think of anything additional they would like to see on the label” that was used by industry groups to oppose GMO labeling.
  • “Don’t worry, trust us” marketing brochures, such as this one explaining that food additives and colors are nothing to worry about. The chemicals and dyes “have played an important role in reducing serious nutritional deficiencies among consumers,” according to the IFIC Foundation brochure that was “prepared under a partnering agreement with the US Food and Drug Administration.”

originally posted May 31, 2018 and updated in February 2020

What would you say to Bayer at its annual shareholder meeting?

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UPDATE: Thanks to all who contributed to our travel fund to send our colleague Carey Gillam to Bonn, Germany, to attend the Bayer shareholder meeting April 28. We reached our fundraising goal in five days with more than two-dozen donors including a generous contribution of frequent flier miles. Stay tuned for Carey’s reporting from Bonn.

Our colleague Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know, has been offered a speaking slot by a Bayer shareholder’s group at the company’s upcoming annual meeting in Bonn, Germany. The April 28 meeting is expected to be widely covered by global media and will be watched closely by investors, policy makers and other corporate leaders.

Can you help us get Carey to Bonn? U.S. Right to Know is making a special funding request to cover transportation and lodging for this unexpected trip that we don’t have in our budget. If you can contribute, any amount helps. You can make a tax-deductible donation here: https://usrtk.org/donate

And please send us your thoughts on what we should tell Bayer! You can email Carey directly at carey@usrtk.org or post comments on Facebook here.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive breaking news from the U.S. Right to Know investigations.

Follow Carey’s reporting on the Roundup litigation in the Monsanto Roundup Trial Tracker

Gift Ideas: Best 2019 Books and Movies About Our Food System 

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If you like to give friends and family the gift of knowledge about our food, we’re here with recommendations for 2019 books and movies that illuminate the issues close to our hearts. At U.S. Right to Know, we believe that transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – is crucial to building a healthier food system for our children, our families and our world. Kudos to the journalists and filmmakers who are exposing how powerful food and chemical industry interests impact our health and the environment. 

Here are our recommendations for best-of-the-year food books and movies. You can also receive a signed copy of the award-winning 2017 book by our colleague, Carey Gillam, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, for a monthly sustainer donation to U.S. Right to Know through Patreon, or you can donate directly to USRTK here.  

Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food
By Timothy A. Wise, The New Press

“likely to kick up a storm in agriculture and development circles”

Scholar Timothy A. Wise,  shows the world already has the tools to feed itself, without expanding industrial agriculture or adopting genetically modified seeds. Reporting from Africa, Mexico, India, and the United States, Wise details how agribusiness and its philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests, and argues that policies promoted by the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are failing to deliver productivity and income improvements for small-scale farmers in Africa. Wise also takes readers to remote villages to see how farmers are rebuilding soils with ecologically sound practices without chemicals or imported hybrid or genetically engineered seeds.  

“Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on fertilizer and hybrid seed subsidies by Kenya and other African countries over the past few years have gone down the drain, a new book argues,” writes Julius Segei in Kenya’s largest independent newspaper, the The Daily Nation. “The scholar’s verdict that there is little evidence of any green revolution coming to Africa more than 10 years after AGRA is likely to kick up a storm in agriculture and development circles.”

The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception
By David Michaels, Oxford University Press (available January 2020)

David Michaels’ new book offers an insider’s look at how corporations manufacture doubt in science: bogus studies, congressional testimonies, think-tank policy documents, and more. He provides new details of high-profile cases involving car manufacturing, professional sports, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Michaels, the former Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama, writes that the anti-science policies of the Trump Administration are not new, but rather the outcome of decades-long campaigns by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries to stop regulation of deadly products. “This book is written to get you angry enough to want to learn how to defend yourselves, your communities, and our vulnerable planet,” writes consumer advocate Ralph Nader. “Let it grip you toward detection and defiance.” 

Dark Waters, feature film in theaters now, starring Mark Ruffalo, (link to trailer)

Dark Waters was adapted from this 2016 New York Times article by Nathaniel Rich

A tenacious attorney, Rob Billott, uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world’s largest corporations. As the film shows, DuPont was aware of the dangers of its Teflon ingredients for many years. While trying to expose the truth, Bilot soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.

In these kinds of movies, “you know going in that you’re going to see a story about how bad things are thanks to corporate influence over government as well as the economy,” writes movie critic Roger Ebert, “but the extent of the corruption is still shocking, highlighting the implicit question: why fight, if the bad guys have already won? The answer, of course, is that you should fight because it’s the right thing to do.” Dark Waters is “an effective outrage machine,” writes Michael O’Sullivan in Washington Post, but the movie “doesn’t aspire to be something it’s not. Like Bilott himself, it gets the job done, not by showboating, but by laying out the facts.” 

Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World
By Bettina Elias Siegel, Oxford University Press

Bettina Elias Siegel, a leading voice on children’s food, critically examines how America’s food culture exploits children and misleads parents. Siegel exposes predatory food-industry techniques for marketing directly to children and convincing parents that highly-processed products are “healthy.” She provides extensive coverage of America’s school-food program — including why, even after Obama-era reforms, school meals are still so often dominated by processed foods, many of them bearing popular junk-food trademarks. “This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field,” writes Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “It should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies — right now.”

Modified: A food lover’s journey into GMOs
By Aube Giroux, feature length documentary now available for purchase or rent online

In this beautiful, moving, award-winning documentary, filmmaker Aube Giroux and her mother embark on a personal investigative journey to find out why GMOs are not labeled on food products in the United States and Canada, despite being labeled in 64 countries around the world. Interweaving the personal and the political, the film is anchored around the filmmaker’s relationship to her mom, a gardener and food activist who battled cancer during the film’s production. Fueled by their shared love of food, the mother-daughter team discovers the extent to which the agribusiness industry controls our food policies, and makes a strong case for a more transparent and sustainable food system. The winner of four Audience Favorite Awards and the 2019 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for best documentary, Modified is “beautiful beyond words … compelling and compassionate,” writes the journalist Joan Baxter.

Et le monde devint silencieux: Comment l’agrochimie a détruit les insectes
And The World Became Silent: How Agrochemistry Destroyed Insects
by Stéphane Foucart, Editions du Seuil (in French)

Investigative journalist Stéphane Foucart details how the agrichemical industry orchestrated “the greatest ecological disaster of the early twenty-first century” – the collapse of insect populations. Although pesticide companies claim the disappearance of insects is a mystery due to multiple factors, Foucart reports that the dominant cause is the massive use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and shows how it was made possible by an industry that faked public debate by manipulating science, regulation and expertise. The book shows how the industry exploited science to the point of “making us forget that insecticides … kill insects,” writes Annabelle Martella in La Croix (review in French).

Foucart won the 2018 European Press Prize for investigative reporting, along with Stéphane Horel, for their Monsanto Papers (translated into English here) articles about how Monsanto manipulated science, influenced the regulatory process and orchestrated stealth PR campaigns to defend its Roundup herbicides. 

Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry
By Julie Guthman, University of California Press

Julie Guthman tells the story of how strawberries – the sixth highest-grossing crop in California which produces 88 percent of the nation’s favorite berry – came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants, and how that reliance reverberated throughout the rest of the fruit’s production system. The particular conditions of plants, soils, chemicals, climate, and laboring bodies that once made strawberry production so lucrative in the Golden State have now changed and become a set of related threats that jeopardize the future of the industry. “The strawberry industry’s predicament is just one example of how our strategy of dominating ecological systems and focusing on increased output at all cost is short-sighted, with diminishing returns,” writes Emily Monosson in a Science magazine review. “Recent efforts to work with, rather than against, natural systems suggest a path forward.”

GMOs Decoded: A Skeptic’s View of Genetically Modified Foods
By Sheldon Krimsky, MIT Press

Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky examines health and safety concerns, environmental issues, implications for world hunger, and lack of scientific consensus on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He explores the viewpoints of a range of GMO skeptics, from public advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations to scientists with differing views on risk and environmental impact. Publishers Weekly calls Krimsky’s book a “fair-minded, informative primer” that “lays out opposing ‘claims and counterclaims,’ demystifies the science, and shows where there is consensus, honest disagreement, or unresolved uncertainty.” NYU Professor Marion Nestle describes the book as “a gift to anyone confused” about GMOs.

And two more excellent food books from 2018

Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save Our Food Supply
By Mark Schapiro, Skyhorse Publishing

Journalist Mark Schapiro reports on the high-stakes battle underway for control of the world’s seeds, as climate volatility threatens the security of our food supply. Schapiro investigates what it means that more than half the world’s commercial seeds are owned by three multinational chemical companies, and brings to light what the corporate stranglehold is doing to our daily diet – from the explosion of genetically modified foods, to the rapid disappearance of plant varieties, to the elimination of independent farmers who have long been the bedrock of our food supply. The book also documents colorful and surprising stories from the global movement that is defying these companies, and offering alternatives capable of surviving the accelerating climatic changes. “Seeds of Resistance is a wake-up call,” writes Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard. “With vivid and memorable stories, Mark Schapiro tells us how seeds are at the frontlines of our epic battle for healthy food.”

Formerly Known as Food: How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture
By Kristin Lawless, St. Martin’s Press

If you think buying organic from Whole Foods is protecting you, you’re wrong. Our food—even what we’re told is good for us—has changed for the worse in the past 100 years, its nutritional content deteriorating due to industrial farming and its composition altered due to the addition of thousands of chemicals from pesticides to packaging. We simply no longer know what we’re eating. In Formerly Known as Food, Kristin Lawless argues that, because of the degradation of our diet, our bodies are literally changing from the inside out. The billion-dollar food industry is reshaping our food preferences, altering our brains, changing the composition of our microbiota, and even affecting the expression of our genes.

“In this revelatory survey of the dangers of the industrial food system, Lawless offers crucial tools for navigating it safely,” writes the author Naomi Klein. “The best ones have nothing to do with shopping advice: she asks us to think holistically about food, why it can’t be separated from other struggles for justice, and what it means to demand transformative change.”