Critiques of Gates Foundation agricultural interventions in Africa

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a major influencer and funder of agricultural development in Africa, with little accountability or transparency. Leading experts in food security and many groups in Africa and around the world have critiqued the foundation’s push to expand high-cost, high-input, chemical-dependent agriculture in Africa. Critics say this approach is exacerbating hunger, worsening inequality and entrenching corporate power in the world’s hungriest region.

This fact sheet links to reports and news articles describing these concerns. We update it regularly.

Table of contents (drop links) 
Gates Foundation food-related news
Opposition from African groups
Gates Foundation funding for agricultural development
Critiques of the Green Revolution for Africa

GMOs in the Global South
Gates Foundation’s media influence
More Gates Foundation food news
Series of articles by U.S. Right to Know 

What are the main critiques of Gates Foundation’s agricultural program?

The Gates Foundation’s flagship agricultural program, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, works to transition farmers away from traditional seeds and crops to patented seeds, fossil-fuel based fertilizers and other inputs to grow commodity crops for the global market. The foundation says its goal is to “boost the yields and incomes of millions of small farmers in Africa… so they can lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.” The strategy is modeled on the Indian “green revolution” that boosted production of staple crops but also left a legacy of structural inequity and many problems that contributed a massive mobilization of peasant farmers in India last year. 

Critics have said the “green revolution” is an outdated approach that has created more problems than it solved — including environmental degradation, increased pesticide use, reduced diversity of food crops, and increased corporate control over food systems. Several recent research reports provide evidence that the Gates-led agricultural interventions in Africa have failed to help small farmers and may be worsening the hunger and malnutrition crisis there.

“Gates Foundation’s support for the expansion of intensive industrial scale agriculture is deepening the humanitarian crisis.”

Letter from African faith leaders

Against this backdrop, agribusinesses interests and private donors, including the Gates Foundation, are staging what critics describe as power plays to solidify control over global agriculture policies at the UN level. This includes recent proposals to implement a new framework for food systems governance and centralize control over agricultural research centers. The critics, including hundreds of groups that boycotted the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit over concerns that civil society groups were shut out of meaningful participation, argue that it is urgent to reorganize food systems to more diversified, locally controlled systems based on agroecological practices that protect the environment, provide more nutritious crops and address social equity issues.

This is “a high-stakes battle over different visions of what constitutes legitimate science and relevant knowledge for food systems,” says the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, and “part of a broader battle over what food systems should look like and who should govern them.”

Gates Foundation food-related news

What are African groups saying about BMGF funding in Africa? 

Food sovereignty and civil society groups, faith leaders, and farmer, labor and environmental organizations across Africa have raised concerns for many years about Gates Foundation’s agricultural development strategies for Africa, and the foundation’s sway over public spending and government policies. 

“They talk about transforming African agriculture but what they are doing is creating a market for themselves.”

Million Belay, AFSA

In dozens of reports since 2007, the South Africa-based African Centre for Biodiversity has documented numerous problems with the Gates-led “green revolution” for Africa. These include subsidy deals, growing corporate control of the seed sector, expanding use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, escalation to more toxic pesticides as pests develop resistance to genetically modified (GMO) seeds, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and negative impacts on small farmers. The group and many others are calling for a transition to agroecological practices and policies that allow food sovereignty.

African groups have also called out the neocolonial dynamics of Gates Foundation funding for Africa. These critics say the foundation and other private donors, investors, agribusiness corporations and Western governments are pushing a false narrative that Africa’s farmers need to buy patented seeds and agrichemicals developed by Western corporations in order to produce enough food.  They say African farmers and communities should decide how to shape Africa’s food systems. 

Reports and statements from African groups  

Reporting and perspectives on African food systems 

How does Gates Foundation spend its agricultural development funds?

The Gates Foundation has spent nearly $6 billion on agricultural development programs, with a primary focus on transforming African food systems. Several groups have analyzed the foundation’s agricultural development funding. The following themes emerge from that research. 

Funding researchers and groups in the North, not farmers in Africa. A June 2021 analysis of 1,130 Gates Foundation grants for agriculture since 2003 found the grants are “heavily skewed to technologies developed by research centres and corporations in the North for poor farmers in the South, completely ignoring the knowledge, technologies and biodiversity that these farmers already possess,” according to the GRAIN research group. Many of the grants were given to “groups that lobby on behalf of industrial farming and undermine alternatives,” GRAIN wrote. 

Supporting industrial agriculture: As many as 85% of Gates Foundation-funded agricultural research projects for Africa “were limited to supporting industrial agriculture and/or increasing its efficiency via targeted approaches,” according to a 2020 report by IPES-Food. The foundation “looks for quick, tangible returns on investment, and thus favours targeted, technological solutions.” Just 3% of Gates Foundation projects included elements of agroecological redesign.  

The largest recipient of Gates agricultural grants is CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research), the world’s largest global agricultural research network. The Gates Foundation has donated over $1.3 billion to the influential research centers. In a July 2020 letter, IPES-Food raised concerns about Gates Foundation’s involvement in a “coercive” process to centralize control of the CGIAR research network into “One CGIAR” with a centralized board and new agenda setting powers. The reforms on the table “risk exacerbating power imbalances in global agricultural development,” IPES said. 

Expanding markets for commercial seeds and fertilizer: The second largest single recipient of Gates grant funding for agriculture is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with $638 million in grants to date. AGRA’s primary focus is increasing farmers’ access to commercial seeds and fertilizers that AGRA said would boost yields and lift small farmers out of poverty. This “green revolution” technology package of commercial seeds and agrichemicals is further supported by about $1 billion per year in subsidies from African governments, but evidence shows these interventions have not delivered the promised boost in yields or incomes (see “green revolution” section below).  

Removing barriers to agribusiness expansion: The Gates Foundation is among the five top donors (along with the US, UK, Danish, and Dutch governments) of the World Bank’s Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) program that guides policymaking for pro-business reforms in the agriculture sector. The Oakland Institute and GRAIN research group have produced several reports about efforts by the World Bank and its funders to strengthen private property and intellectual property rights, and promote large-scale land acquisitions that benefit private actors. 

Reports on Gates Foundation funding and influence 

Gates Foundation perspectives

Why do groups oppose the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa? 

The Gates Foundation’s flagship program for changing African agriculture is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The group works to encourage farmers to use hybrid seeds, fossil-fuel based fertilizers and agrichemicals to grow staple crops for the global market, with the goal of boosting yields and raising farmer incomes. AGRA promised to double yields and incomes for 30 million farming households by 2020. The deadline has passed (and the language since removed from AGRA’s website) with no comprehensive reporting on progress.

Independent assessments by Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute and African and German groups provide evidence that AGRA has not delivered significant yield or income gains for small farmers while hunger has grown by 30% across AGRA’s target countries. AGRA disagreed with the research but has not released data evaluating its results for over 15 years.

From the start, food policy experts predicted the green revolution for Africa would not solve hunger and poverty, because it ignored structural inequalities and the harsh lessons of the first green revolution in India. Over the past year, farmers in India have launched protests to oppose corporate control of their food systems and deepening inequality. 

Independent reports

AGRA perspectives and reports 

News coverage and critical perspectives

Why are GMOs controversial in the Global South?

Bill Gates has said genetically engineered crops will “end starvation in Africa,” and he invests heavily in GMO research and development. But African governments, civil society and farmer organizations have long resisted GMO crops. They cite many concerns, including corporate control of seed stock, loss of traditional crops and local seed varieties, higher cost of GMO seeds, increased use of herbicides associated with GMO crops, the limitations of GMO crops to perform in complex environments, and doubts the crops will ever live up to the promotional hype. 

“The empirical record of GM crops for poor small farmers in the Global South has not lived up to expectations.”

Brian Dowd-Uribe, USFCA

The two largest introductions of GMO crops for small farmers in the Global South — Bt cotton crops in Burkina Faso and India — have been problematic for small farmers. Burkina Faso abandoned its genetically modified Bt cotton experiment after the seeds failed to deliver the same quality as the homegrown variety. In India, 20 years of data on Bt cotton found no yield increase associated with the crops, and determined that farmers are now spending more on pesticides than before the introduction of Bt due in part to insect resistance. A 2020 study in African Affairs found that nearly 30 years of strategic and well-funded efforts to bring GMOs to Africa have so far yielded very little. 

In South Africa, most of the country’s staple maize food crop is genetically modified to resist glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the  World Health Organization, classifies glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, and many local groups have raised health concerns about the prevalent use of the herbicides. 

Reports and articles about GMOs in the Global South   

Statements from NGOs and scientists 

How does Gates influence media and food narratives?

“News about (Bill) Gates these days is often filtered through the perspectives of the many academics, nonprofits, and think tanks that Gates funds. Sometimes it is delivered to readers by newsrooms with financial ties to the foundation,” reported Tim Schwab in Columbia Journalism Review. He documents more than $250 million in Gates grants to a variety of top news outlets.

“paid Cornell Alliance for Science fellows — under the guise of scientific expertise — launched vicious attacks.”

Fern Holland, Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Cornell Daily Sun

The Gates Foundation also funds many groups that work to shape public views on agriculture. One example is the Cornell Alliance for Science, a communications campaign based at Cornell University, launched with a Gates Foundation grant in 2014 to “depolarize the charged debate” around GMOs.” The group trains global fellows, particularly in Africa, to promote GMOs in their home countries. Cornell Alliance for Science affiliates were also active in opposing pesticide regulations in Hawaii. Gates Foundation has donated $22 million to the group.

Cornell Alliance for Science critiques 

Reporting on Gates’ media influence

More Gates Foundation news  

Reporting by U.S. Right to Know 

Read our series of articles about Bill Gates’ and the Gates Foundation’s plans for our food system, written by Stacy Malkan, managing editor of U.S. Right to Know.

Sign up here for email updates. You can make a tax-deductible donation here to support the U.S. Right to Know investigations.  

 

Junk Food Makers Target Blacks and Latinos, Increasing Risks From COVID

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In the United States, health disparities in nutrition and obesity, often deriving from structural racism, correlated closely with the alarming racial and ethnic disparities related to Covid-19. Structural inequalities across U.S. society contribute to this problem, including unequal access to fresh healthy foods, unequal access to health care, socioeconomic factors and excess exposure to toxic chemicals and unhealthy air.

For more information about structural inequities in our food system, see resources from Duke University’s World Food Policy Center and the Food First Institute for Development and Food Policy.

Another problem is that food companies specifically and disproportionately target communities of color with their marketing for junk food products. In this post we are tracking news coverage and studies about racial disparities in junk food advertising.

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

TV Advertising, Corporate Power, and Latino Health Disparities, American Journal of Preventative Medicine (June 2022)

  • “Overall greater health-adverse and fewer health-beneficial advertisements are broadcasted on Spanish-language than on English-language TV. Unchecked corporate marketing strategies may serve as a commercial determinant of health disparities for Latino populations by Spanish-language TV.”

Is obesity a manifestation of systemic racism? A ten-point strategy for study and intervention, by D.G. Aaron and F.C. Stanford, Journal of Internal Medicine perspectives (2021)

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)

News coverage and perspectives

Is Spanish-Language Television Advertising Bad for Your Health? Columbia University (July 25, 2022)

Junk Food Ads Are Still Targeting Kids of Color: For Black and Latino communities that already have higher rates of diabetes and obesity, fast-food advertising adds another layer to intergenerational health inequities, by Elena Gooray, Vice News (9.16.21)

Racism and obesity are inextricably linked, says a Harvard doctor – and here’s how she thinks that can change, by Arianna MacNeill, Boston.com (4.12.21)

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

Junk food ads disproportionately target black and Hispanic kids: report, by Lisa Rapaport, Reuters (1.17.19)

Black and Hispanic youth are targeted with junk food ads, research shows, by Jessica Ravitz, CNN (1.15.19)

People of color have the highest obesity rates in the US. Food marketing is part of the problem: Interview with Aarti Ivanic by Nadra Little, Vox (9.28.18)

Study: Black children are exposed to junk-food ads way more than white kids are, by Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post (12.15.16)

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

Fast-Food Chains Disproportionately Target Black Children, by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic (11.13.14)

Fast food marketing for children disproportionately affects certain communities, Arizona State University (10.14)

Fast Food Restaurants Are Targeting Black Kids with Their Advertising, by Laura Rotham, Vice (11.17.14) 

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

Genetic Literacy Project: PR Front for Monsanto, Bayer and the Chemical Industry

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Genetic Literacy Project is an influential front group that partners with Bayer and other chemical companies to promote GMO foods and pesticides and argue for deregulation. Bayer paid the Genetic Literacy Project $100,000 from July 2020 to June 2021 for its work “to prevent legislative overreach in genetic engineering,” according to the group’s IRS form 990. Donor’s Trust, the secretive funding vehicle that funds attacks on climate science, is also a donor. 

Prior to 2020, the Genetic Literacy Project claimed not to accept corporate funding, despite emails and internal corporate documents showing how the group assisted pesticide companies with their product defense efforts. We discuss the evidence here, and describe how GLP plays a leading role in efforts to attack and discredit scientists and journalists who raise concerns about chemical industry products.

Origins as Monsanto’s PR firm 

Jon Entine, founder and director of Genetic Literacy Project, is also the founder and principal of ESG MediaMetrics, a public relations firm that had Monsanto as a client in 2011 when the firm registered the GeneticLiteracyProject.org domain.

Entine was also employed at that time by Statistical Assessment Services (STATS), a nonprofit group that journalists have described as a “disinformation campaign” that downplays health harms of toxic products. GLP was developed as a “cross disciplinary program with STATS,” according to web archives. In 2015, GLP moved under the umbrella of a new group, the Science Literacy Project, which inherited STATS tax ID.

STATS was a “major player in the public relations campaign to discredit concerns about bisphenol A,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Its parent organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), was paid by tobacco giant Phillip Morris in the 1990s “to pick apart stories critical of smoking.” Entine was a director of the CMPA in 2014/2015, according to tax forms.

What is the evidence GLP secretly partnered with Monsanto for years?  

The Genetic Literacy Project claims to stand for “fact-based science” even as it frequently attacks scientists and journalists who report on the health harms of toxic chemicals. Although the group claimed for years to be independent of industry, documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and via litigation establish that Monsanto partnered with Entine and GLP on projects to promote and defend GMOs and pesticides. These collaborations were not disclosed.

A 2015 Monsanto PR plan names Genetic Literacy Project among the “industry partners” Monsanto planned to engage in its efforts to “orchestrate outcry” about the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a scientific group that found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen. Monsanto’s goal, according to the PR plan: “protect the reputation” of Roundup. GLP has since posted over 200 articles about IARC, several of them attacking the scientists as frauds and liars who are driven by profit and vanity.

An award-winning Le Monde investigation about the “Monsanto Papers” described Genetic Literacy Project as a “well-known propaganda website” that is “fed by PR people linked to the pesticides and biotechnology industries.” Le Monde reported that GLP played a key role in Monsanto’s efforts “to destroy the United Nations cancer agency by any means possible.”

In a 2017 court filing, plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns described Genetic Literacy Project and the American Council on Science and Health as “organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”

In 2014 and 2015, Genetic Literacy Project partnered with Academics Review, a group that documents show was set up as a front group with the help of Monsanto to defend against industry critics. Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review jointly organized the pesticide industry-funded “Biotech Literacy Project boot camps” that provided “communications skills training” to journalists and scientists to help them promote and lobby for GMOs and pesticides.

GLP led attacks against the WHO’s IARC scientists after they said glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen.  

Pro-GMO papers by professors

In 2014 and 2015, Genetic Literacy Project worked with Monsanto and their PR firm to publish and promote a series of pro-GMO papers written by professors, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. Monsanto assigned and edited the papers, and set Genetic Literacy Project up to publish them. The corporation’s role was not disclosed.

The emails reveal that Monsanto executives chose Genetic Literacy Project as the “the primary outlet” to publish the professors’ papers, and to build a “merchandising plan” with the PR firm CMA to promote the papers. CMA, now renamed Look East, is directed by Charlie Arnot, who also runs the Center for Food Integrity, a nonprofit that receives funding from Monsanto, and also donates to Genetic Literacy Project.

Who paid for Entine’s book about atrazine? 

Syngenta funded ACSH which published Entine’s book defending Syngenta’s pesticide.

Jon Entine is closely tied in with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate front group that received funding from Monsanto and other corporations but did not disclose it.

In 2011, ACSH published Entine’s book “Scared to Death,” which defends atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta. Reporting by Tom Philpott in Mother Jones and the Center for Media and Democracy establishes that Syngenta was funding ACSH at the time, and that ACSH asked Syngenta for extra funding for a project that fits the description of Entine’s book. Syngenta was seeking third-party allies to help the company defend atrazine.

Emails show that ACSH staff asked Syngenta in 2009 for a $100,000 grant, “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years,” to produce a paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” about atrazine. In 2011, ACSH announced Entine’s new book along with a “companion friendly, abbreviated position paper,” both defending atrazine. Entine told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

How does Entine attack scientists and journalists?

A key theme in Entine’s work is attacking scientists and journalists who report critically about the chemical industry, the oil industry or health problems associated with them. Some examples:

  • In Forbes, Entine attacked New Yorker reporter Rachel Aviv in an attempt to discredit Aviv’s reporting on internal Syngenta documents that reveal how the chemical company tried to destroy the reputation of UC Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes. Research by Hayes ties the herbicide atrazine to birth defects in frogs. Entine’s chief source for his attack article was Bruce Chassy,  a professor who was receiving money from Monsanto and helped start a Monsanto front group to attack industry critics.
  • In the Huffington Post, Entine attacked Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt and an expert on corporate disinformation campaigns. Entine described Oreskes as an “intellectual Rottweiler of in-your-face, environmentalism, unduly wary of modern technology.”
  • In the New York Post, Entine accused Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll and journalist Susanne Rust of “smearing Exxon” for reporting that Exxon knew for years that climate change was real but hid the science to keep revenues flowing.
  • In a follow-up attack (since removed from the Huffington Post website), Entine accused Rust of ethics violations for her reporting in an award-winning series on BPA that was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize. Entine did not disclose that her reporting identified his former employer STATS as a major player in industry’s PR efforts.

What is the funding history of GLP and Entine? 

Entine’s funding history is complex and opaque, but tax documents and his own disclosures reveal a pattern of funding from anonymous sources and right-wing foundations that push deregulation and climate science denial, as well as undisclosed funding from the pesticide industry.

Inaccurate, ever-changing “transparency” note

The “financial transparency” note on the Genetic Literacy Project website is inaccurate, changes often and at times contradicts itself.

As of 2020 the group openly accepts corporate contributions. Funders in 2020 include Bayer, an agrichemical company whose products GLP promotes, and Donor’s Trust, the secretive funding vehicle that has been described as the “dark money ATM” of the right and is known for funding climate science denial and white supremacist groups.  

Prior to 2020, GLP claimed it accepted no corporate funding. However, documents show the group partnered with Monsanto on promotional projects and the group’s own disclosures suggest corporate funding. 

In September 2016, GLP’s “disclosure” note claimed to accept no corporate funding, but noted a $27,500 “pass through” from “Academics Review Charitable Association,” which appears not to exist. That group is apparently AcademicsReview.org, a front group that received its funding from a pesticide industry trade group although it claimed to accept no corporate funding. In 2014 and 2015, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review jointly organized the industry-funded Biotech Literacy Project boot camps to promote GMOs and pesticides at top universities.

In 2017 and 2018, Genetic Literacy Project claimed funding from a handful of foundations including the Templeton and Searle foundations. These groups are leading funders of climate science denial efforts. GLP also noted funding from the Center for Food Integrity, a food-industry front group that was receiving money from Monsanto and also partnering with Monsanto and Genetic Literacy Project on PR projects.

In March 2016, GLP made no financial disclosures and Entine tried to distance GLP from his former employer STATS, claiming that STATS provided accounting services only and that the groups weren’t involved with each other’s activities — a claim GLP still makes. But in 2012, GLP said it was “developed as a cross disciplinary program with STATS.”

Ties to climate science deniers

Major financial supporters of Entine’s former employer STATS and his current group Genetic Literacy Project include right-wing foundations – primarily Scaife Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust and Templeton Foundation – that are leading funders of climate science denial, according to a 2013 Drexel University study. For more information see USRTK investigation: Climate Science Denial Network Funds Toxic Chemical Propaganda.

Although the Genetic Literacy Project claims to stand up for science, the group publishes articles from writers who dismiss climate science. For example, climate science skeptic Paul Dreissen, a senior policy advisor for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), writes frequent articles for GLP denying harm from pesticides. 

Center for Media and Public Affairs/George Mason University

For the fiscal year 2014/2015, according to tax records, Entine received $173,100 for his work as “director” at Center for Media and Public Affairs, a group based at George Mason University and founded by GMU Professor Robert Lichter. CMPA was paid by Phillip Morris in the 1990s to deflect concerns about tobacco, according to documents in the UCSF Tobacco Industry Library.

CMPA does not disclose its funders but has received funding from George Mason University Foundation, the leading recipient of donations affiliated with Charles Koch and Koch Industries. GMUF also received $5.3 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund between 2011-13, according to the Guardian. These funds channel money from anonymous donors including corporations to campaigns and academics who push industry interests, as Greenpeace demonstrated in an undercover investigation. Donors Trust is also a donor of Genetic Literacy Project, according to 2020 tax records.

STATS payments and loans

CMPA’s sister group, also founded by Lichter and based at GMU, was Statistical Assessment Services (STATS), a nonprofit group that played a key role in chemical industry PR efforts to defend toxic products, according to reporting in The Intercept, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Atlantic and Consumer Reports.

According to IRS forms:

  • STATS paid Entine $140,600 in 2012/2013 and $152,500 in 2013/2014 as a “research consultant”
  • STATS and Center for Media and Public Affairs both listed Entine as Director in 2014/2015 with compensation of $173,100. Tax records for both groups also listed President Trevor Butterworth for $95,512 and Director Tracey Brown with no compensation. Tracey Brown is director of Sense About Science, a group that also spins science to defend chemical industry interests; Butterworth founded Sense About Science USA in 2014 and merged STATS into that group.
  • Science Literacy Project took over the tax ID of STATS in 2015 and listed Entine as Executive Director with compensation of $188,800.
  • In 2018, ESG MediaMetrics, Entine’s PR firm, reported $176,420 in income.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs has also loaned money to STATS, which “due to inadequate funding” has “not been reimbursed.” George Mason University Foundation, which does not disclose its funding, gave CMPA grants in those years. Tax records show:

What was the Biotech Literacy Project boot camp?

In 2014 and 2015, pesticide corporations spent over $300,000 on two events organized by Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review to “train scientists and journalists to frame the debate over GMOs and the toxicity of glyphosate,” according to tax records and reporting in The Progressive. These “Biotech Literacy Project boot camps,” were held at the University of Florida in 2014 and UC Davis in 2015. The organizers falsely claimed the events were jointly funded by universities, government and industry, but the only traceable source of funding was the pesticide industry.

The boot camps provided “communication skills training” for scientists and journalists to help reframe the food safety and GMO debate, and offered “tools and support resources” to help trainees “effectively engage the media and appear as experts in legislative and local government hearings, and other policy making and related outreach opportunities.”

Boot camp faculty included representatives from the pesticide industry, food industry front groups and trade groups, and pro-GMO academics including University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta, and University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy, both of whom have accepted undisclosed funding from Monsanto to promote the GMOs and pesticides that Monsanto sales rely upon. Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel, who also accepts money from agribusiness groups, was a faculty member at the first boot camp.

Which toxic products does Entine defend? 

GLP Director Jon Entine is a former journalist who portrays himself as an objective authority on science, however, the evidence described in this fact sheet establishes that he is a longtime PR operative with deep ties to the chemical industry and undisclosed industry funding. For many years, Entine has been a prolific defender of polluting industries, writing long emotional articles based on industry arguments: that toxic chemicals and processes are safe and do not need to be regulated, and attacking scientists and journalists who raise concerns about these industries.

Defending neonicotinoids

Growing scientific evidence suggests that neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of pesticides, are a key factor in bee die-offs. The European Union has restricted neonics due to concerns about impact on bees. A February 2020 article in The Intercept by Lee Fang reported on the “sophisticated information war” pesticide companies are waging to keep the chemicals on the market in the U.S. Entine has been a key pro-industry messenger; he has argued that neonics are not key driver of bee deaths (American Enterprise Institute), that “The bee apocalypse was never real,” (American Council on Science and Health) and that neonics may actually help bee health (American Enterprise Institute and Forbes). Entine also attacked a Harvard professor’s study on bee Colony Collapse Disorder (American Enterprise Institute) and accused European politicians of trying to kill bees by restricting neonics (Forbes).

Defending phthalates

Phthalates are a class of chemicals long linked to hormone disruption, reproductive harm, fertility problems and links to childhood obesity, asthma, neurological problems and cardiovascular issues. The U.S. government began restricting the chemicals in children’s toys in 2013 due to health concerns. Entine has defended children’s products containing the chemicals. “Few chemicals on the market today have undergone as much scientific scrutiny as phthalate esters,” Entine wrote (Forbes) — but he did not mention the significant body of scientific evidence compiled over two decades that links phthalate exposures to abnormal reproductive development in baby boys. His messaging included attacks on reporters; Entine accused an NBC reporter of “shoddy journalism” for raising questions about safety (Forbes). And Entine’s PR firm, ESG MediaMetrics, worked for the Vinyl Institute, the trade association for vinyl plastic, which is a key source of exposure to phthalates. Entine did not disclose the industry connection in his Forbes articles.

Defending fracking

Entine defends hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the pumping of high-pressure chemical-laced water into the ground to crack shale and extract natural gas. As in his many other messaging campaigns, Entine blasts science and scientists who raise concerns, framing them as “activists,” while making sweeping and indefensible statements about “scrupulous” science conducted over many years that defend its safety. For example, Entine claimed: “From a scientific perspective, no reason exists to even suspect unknown health or environmental issues will turn up” from fracking (New York Post).

Again, attacks were a key part of the messaging. Entine accused New York Times reporters of misleading children about the potential environmental dangers of fracking (Forbes), attacked two Cornell University scientists for their study suggesting that fracking operations leak methane (Forbes), and attacked the Park Foundation, claiming that it has “almost single-handedly derailed shale-gas development in methane-rich New York State, and put its imprint on public opinion and policy decisions around the country.” (Philanthropy Roundtable)

Defending BPA

Entine writes in defense of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), despite a large body of scientific evidence raising concerns about its endocrine disrupting potential and other health problems associated with it. Canada declared the chemical to be toxic in 2010, and the EU banned BPA in baby bottles in 2011.

Entine attacked university researchers, NGOs and journalists raising concerns about BPA (Forbes), suggested that women who can’t get pregnant should not to blame it on plastics (Forbes), and challenged scientists who linked BPA to heart disease (Forbes).

Defending Nuclear Power

Entine also defends the nuclear power industry; he has claimed that nuclear power plants are environmentally benign and that “nothing as bad as Chernobyl is likely to occur in the West.” He accused Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes of science “denialism,” for, among other things, pointing out the economic and environmental risks of nuclear power.

Who partners with Genetic Literacy Project?

We have compiled a series of fact sheets on front groups and other third party allies the pesticide industry relies on to promote and defend its products. Several of these industry allies are also tied to Jon Entine and the Genetic Literacy Project.

Entine’s fellowships

Entine was an unpaid fellow at the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University (GMU) from 2011-2014.Entine is also a former senior fellow at the UC Davis World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, which does not disclose its donors. He is a former visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a DC think tank funded in part by corporate and dark money contributions.

See also:

Sucralose: Emerging Science Reveals Health Risks

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Sucralose is the most widely used artificial sweetener in the United States. Most commonly sold under the brand name Splenda, the chemical is used in over 6,000 food products. It is often found in “diet” sodas including Diet Coke with Splenda, Diet Pepsi with Splenda, as well as Gatorade’s Propel Water, low-calorie Kool-Aid, Atkins Diet products, and other low-calorie foods and drinks.  

Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and itself contains no calories. Although it has been marketed as a healthy product that can help fend off obesity and diabetes, sucralose consumption has been linked to leukemia, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, liver inflammation, metabolic dysfunction and other illnesses. 

Sucralose backers have also claimed it is poorly absorbed and does not significantly bioaccumulate in the human body. However, a 2018 study found that sucralose metabolizes and bioaccumulates in rats. Based on this recent science, U.S. Right to Know petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate deceptive advertising claims by Tate & Lyle  and Coca-Cola.

Key Facts About Sucralose

  • After more than a decade of regulatory consideration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sucralose for use in 1998 in 15 food categories; a year later, the agency approved it as a general purpose sweetener. It was the fastest shift in FDA’s history from a specified usage to general purpose approval of an artificial sweetener. 
  • Of the over 100 studies FDA reviewed at the time, none involved humans, and only three lasted more than a year. Many of these studies were not even published for public scrutiny. Subsequent studies, including longitudinal ones involving human populations, have raised concerns about the health risks of sucralose. But the FDA has not reevaluated its authorization with the current science. 
  • FDA’s 1998 authorization claims that “sucralose is relatively poorly absorbed” into the body. Recent science casts doubt on that claim (see USRTK petition to FTC). Read more about Splenda’s history of deceptive marketing below. 
  • In a 2008 oral history interview conducted by the FDA with Alan Rulis, former FDA director of the Office of Food Additive Safety, Rulis stated that, “We discovered, way too late in the process, I think, that there was an unresolved issue that had to do with the test animals in some studies showing a more-than expected body-weight-gain decrement while on sucralose dosing.”
  • Food Chemical News also reported that, in 1995, McNeil Nutritionals — a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary and marketer of sucralose as branded Splenda — had planned to submit its product approval application. But, “in the process of completing a six-month clinical study in diabetic patients…[t]hat study raised concerns about the effect of sucralose on blood sugar in those individuals, and McNeil asked the agency to withhold its final decision until additional work could be done.” 

What is Sucralose and Who Owns It?

  • Sucralose is synthesized by chlorinating the sugar sucrose, by substituting three hydroxyl groups with chlorine atoms. Its chemical structure can be seen below.

  • Sucralose was invented by accident in 1975 when a laboratory leader at Queen Elizabeth College told an assistant to “test” the chemical, which he understood at the time as “taste.” After discovering the sweet taste of the compound originally under consideration as an insecticide, the team continued its scientific work. The research team filed for a patent in 1976, and received it in 1984.
  • “Sucralose” is a marketing name Tate & Lyle invented, with no science-based etymology. The compound’s proper chemical name is  trichlorogalatosucrose. Because the word sucralose is similar to sucrose (a naturally occurring sugar) it falsely expresses an easy similarity with a natural sugar.
  • In its first decade on the market, McNeil Nutritionals (then a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) marketed Splenda as “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Several regulatory agencies deemed this to be deceptive advertising.
  • Sucralose is most commonly sold as Splenda. Other brand names include Cukren, Zerocal, Nevella, Candys, Sukrana, Canderel Yellow and SucraPlus

What are the health impacts of sucralose? 

Scientific studies raise the following health concerns:

Leukemia 

A 2016 study from researchers at the Ramazzini Institute published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health examined sucralose consumption in mice. Researchers found “a significant dose-related increased incidence of males bearing malignant tumors and a significant dose-related increased incidence of hematopoietic neoplasias in males,” particularly at doses of 2,000 and 16,000 parts per million. “These findings do not support previous data that sucralose is biologically inert,” the authors concluded. “More studies are necessary to show the safety of sucralose … Considering that millions of people are likely exposed, follow-up studies are urgent.”

Obesity, Diabetes, Weight Gain, Increased Appetite, Metabolic Dysfunction 

A 2014 study in Nature pointed to risks of consuming artificial sweeteners generally, and sucralose spefically, for diabetes patients — a core market for sucralose. The paper concluded that consumption of artificial sweeteners “drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota.” The increase in artificial sweetener consumption, the study notes, “coincides with the dramatic increase in the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Our findings suggest that [artificial sweeteners] may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight.” 

A 2013 review article published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism concludes that sucralose and other artificial sweeteners may cause weight gain. The paper discusses accumulating evidence that consumers of sugar substitutes may be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The paper posits that “consuming sweet-tasting but noncaloric or reduced-calorie food and beverages interferes with learned responses that normally contribute to glucose and energy homeostasis. Because of this interference, frequent consumption of high-intensity sweeteners may have the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.”

A 2013 study published in Diabetes Care found that “the ingestion of sucralose alters the metabolic response to an oral glucose load in obese people who are not regular consumers” of the substance.These findings support the notion that sucralose is not metabolically inert but has physiologic effects.”

A 2016 study published in Cell Metabolism found that “chronic consumption of [sucralose] triggers a conserved neuronal fasting response and increases the motivation to eat.” After chronic exposure to sucralose, “we saw that animals began eating a lot more,” a co-author of the study explained in a press release. “Through systematic investigation of this effect, we found that inside the brain’s reward centres, sweet sensation is integrated with energy content. When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases total calories consumed.”

A 2008 study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A by Duke University researchers found that rats exposed to Splenda at below, equal to, and above FDA-sanctioned median Acceptable Daily Intake levels, for 12 weeks showed  “numerous adverse effects,” including reduced beneficial fecal microflora, increased fecal pH and enhanced expression levels of proteins known to limit the bioavailability of orally administered drugs and nutrients. The rats also experienced weight gain even at consumption levels below the FDA’s recommended Acceptable Daily Intake advisory. 

Insulin Impacts

A 2020 study by Yale researchers in Cell Metabolism found that “consuming seven sucralose-sweetened beverages with, but not without, a carbohydrate over 10 days decreases insulin sensitivity in healthy human participants.” The findings imply that “(1) carbohydrate metabolism is altered in the presence of … sucralose and (2) that this alteration leads to decreases in peripheral and central sensitivity to sugar and sweet taste.” Of particular concern, the authors note, “the metabolic changes we observed followed a very limited exposure.” These findings “raise the possibility that the combination effect may be a major contributor to the rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity. If so, the addition of [low calorie sweeteners] to increase the sweetness of carbohydrate-containing foods should be discouraged and consumption of diet drinks with meals should be counseled against.”

A 2018 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that research subjects who consumed sucralose “showed a significant decrease in insulin sensitivity,” leading the researchers to conclude: “Sucralose may have effects on glucose metabolism.” Lowered insulin sensitivity, sometimes called insulin resistance, can lead to higher blood sugar levels and the development of type 2 diabetes. “Our study provides confirmatory evidence that sucralose has a negative impact on insulin action, even in healthy individuals,” the researchers concluded.

A 2018 study in Nutrition pointed to impacts on insulin secretion and by extension, risk of type 2 diabetes, among healthy sucralose consuming subjects. “Long-term consumption of sucralose can develop insulin resistance and decrease AIR [acute insulin response], which may represent the earliest sign of development of type 2 diabetes mellitus,” researchers wrote. “Our study also demonstrated reduced AIR after a 4-wk ingestion of sucralose. This result may imply that chronic exposure to sucralose leads firstly to increased insulin secretion, and later to reduction of insulin secretion.”  

A 2019 study in the Journal of Immunology Research found that “a 48 mg sucralose sip increases serum insulin and unbalances monocyte subpopulation…in noninsulin-resistant healthy young adults.” Heightened insulin levels, known as hyperinsulinemia, increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The authors wrote, “The apparently innocuous consumption of sucralose should be reexamined in light of these results.”

In 2022, a 10-week human study of sucralose consumption published in Microorganisms, concluded that “sucralose amounts, far lower than the suggested [acceptable daily intake], alter the balance of the gut microbiome, while also being associated with significant elevations in [glucose levels] and serum insulin in response to glucose loads.”

Sucralose in Human Breast Milk and Babies

Sucralose can enter into the breastmilk of breastfeeding mothers, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. The study of 34 breastfeeding women concludes that “sucralose appeared in breast milk two hours following ingestion, with concentrations varying markedly between individuals.” Since the study assessed breast milk after just a single diet soda ingestion, researchers note that concentrations reported “may underestimate true infant exposure via the breast milk.” Future research should determine concentration after repeated exposures, and whether chronic ingestion of artificial sweeteners via breast milk has clinically relevant health consequences including “alteration of taste preferences, gut microbiota, metabolism and weight trajectory” of infants.  

A 2020 study published in Gut Microbes concluded that sucralose consumption in pregnant mice “inhibited intestinal development, induced imbalance of gut microbiota and low-grade inflammation, and further disrupted gut barrier function in [three-week-old] offspring.” The researchers wrote, “These data suggest that excessive sucralose should be taken with caution especially during pregnancy and lactation” and also provide “new insight into a better understanding of the pathogenesis of [nonalcoholic fatty liver disease] in adulthood.”

Bioaccumulation

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health concluded that sucralose could be seen in rat tissue “two weeks after cessation of the 40-day feeding period even though this compound had disappeared from the urine and feces.” These findings “do not support the claims previously submitted to regulatory agencies that sucralose is a stable compound that (1) is not metabolized in vivo, (2) excreted unchanged in the feces, and (3) clears the body within a few days,” concluded the researchers. “Data indicate that it may now be time to revisit the regulatory status of sucralose.”

Formation of Toxic or Carcinogenic Compounds 

In a 2019 study, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) pointed to cancer risks associated with cooking foods containing sucralose at a temperature of 250°F or higher. Cooking at this temperature “may lead to the formation of chlorinated organic compounds with a health-damaging potential, such as polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD), dibenzofurans (PCDF) and chloropropanols,” the study concludes. Consumption of these hazardous substances and toxins could lead to diseases such as cancer, the skin disorder chloracne, as well as liver and kidney damage.

  • ​​Harmful compounds might be formed when foods containing the sweetener sucralose are heated, BfR news release (4.9.19) 

In 2020, the German agency BfR published a review of 19 studies on sucralose in the journal Food Chemistry. The researchers concluded that “sucralose can be degraded at high temperatures, e.g. during cooking or baking of sucralose-containing foods,” and that, “As a consequence potentially toxic chlorinated compounds might be generated.” 

A 2015 study published in Scientific Reports found, “decomposition in form of CO2 along with the formation of hydrogen chloride and other minor compounds” in heated food substances containing sucralose at temperatures of 200°F and above. The study concluded, “These findings not only corroborate the suspected instability of sucralose to high temperatures, but also indicate that even exposed to mild conditions the formation of hazardous polychlorinated compounds is observed.” 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In a 2018 study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, researchers found that, given over a six-week period, the artificial sweetener sucralose worsens gut inflammation in mice with Crohn’s disease. It had no substantive effect on those without the condition. “Our findings suggest that patients with Crohn’s disease should think carefully about consuming Splenda or similar products containing sucralose and maltodextrin,” the study’s lead author said in a press release. 

Colon Cancer 

A 2020 article in Frontiers in Oncology based on research on mice, raised concerns about colon cancer risks associated with sucralose consumption. The study concluded that “sucralose caused significant increases in the number and size of [cancerous colon] tumors. A likely mechanistic explanation would be that inflammation was exacerbated by sucralose.” The study further surmised that a steady stream of sucralose in the diet could lead to “impaired inactivation of digestive protease, damage to the gut barrier, and exacerbated inflammation.”

Liver Inflammation

A 2017 study of mice in Frontiers in Physiology reported, “Sucralose consumption for 6 months altered the gut microbiome composition, fecal metabolites, and pro-inflammatory gene expression in the liver. The alterations induced by sucralose consumption could affect the development of inflammation and further influence other physiological functions in the body.” 

Splenda’s deceptive advertising 

Splenda has a long history of deceptive advertising. In its early years, McNeil Nutritionals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) spent over $200 million marketing Splenda with the misleading slogan “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar,” even though the product contains no natural sugars. The advertising campaign was the target of multiple lawsuits and regulatory reviews across the world. Courts or agencies in France, Australia, and New Zealand ruled the slogan was false and misleading, and banned the advertisements from their respective countries. 

  • The Australia Advertising Claims Board ruled in 2006 that for the “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar” slogan “reasonable members of the public viewing the Advertisement are likely to conclude that, at the very least, a significant proportion of the SPLENDA® product is made from some modified form of sugar.” The Board ruled that the ad “is likely to mislead or deceive viewers” and ordered it discontinued
  • New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Complaints Board refused the same advertisement in a 2005 ruling, on the grounds that it “gave rise to a likelihood of a consumer being confused and misled as a result of the comparison in the advertisement.”
  • In 2007, the Commercial Court of Paris ruled that McNeil violated French consumer protection laws and ordered the company to stop what it concluded was misleading wording in its advertising. The court also ordered McNeil to pay 40,000 Euros in damages to Merisant, which manufactures artificial sweeteners made with aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet).

In the U.S, a similar lawsuit between Merisant and McNeil concluded with an undisclosed settlement. Splenda’s current marketing in the U.S. no longer focuses on sugar, but on claiming health benefits for diabetes patients and people who are trying to lose weight – despite science linking sucralose to obesity, diabetes, weight gain, increased appetite and metabolic dysfunction. 

Splenda’s current advertising campaigns also focus on “debunking” what manufacturers call “junk science” that raises health concerns about sucralose. Marketing campaigns, such as this read between the headlines contest, target dieticians, nutritionists, doctors and nurses asking them to refute the “myths” about health concerns linked to Splenda. The program was run by Ketchum public relations firm, which also has a long history of using deceptive tactics.

Splenda also partners with “science communicators” such as Yvette d’Entremont, aka “SciBabe,” who promotes diet soda and claims to correct misinformation about artificial sweeteners and pesticide products, but does not always disclose she has been paid by Splenda and other companies to promote their products. 

Journalism, opinion, and other studies 

Sucralose might be making you fatter and sickerThe Washington Post, March 10, 2020. 

Relationship between Research Outcomes and Risk of Bias, Study Sponsorship, and Author Financial Conflicts of Interest in Reviews of the Effects of Artificially Sweetened Beverages on Weight Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Reviews. by Daniele Mandrioli , Cristin E Kearns, and Lisa A. Bero. PLOS ONE (9.8.2016).

Killing Us Sweetly: How to Take Industry out of the FDA by Jason Iuliano, Journal of Food Law & Policy (2010).

Life after aspartame, by Pat Thomas, The Ecologist (8.9.2005).

What made Canada become a country with the highest incidence of inflammatory bowel disease: Could sucralose be the culprit?, by Xiaofa Qin, Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (9.9.2011).

Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview Of Biological Issues, by Susan S. Schiffman & Kristina I. Rother, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health (11.12.2013).

The not-so-sweet effects of sucralose on blood sugar control, by M. Yanina Pepino, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (9.11.2018).

Sucralose revisited: Rebuttal of two papers about Splenda safety, by Susan S. Schiffman and Mohamed B.Abou-Donia, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (8.2012).

Researchers uncover how sugar substitutes disrupt liver detoxification, by Experimental Biology (4.5.2022).

Evidence missing in Covid origin investigation: WHO ‘open’ to probe, EcoHealth president on board

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Emily Kopp, investigative reporter at U.S. Right to Know, weighs in on the World Health Organization’s changed position on the lab leak origin theory of COVID-19. See the Hill TV Live interview June 14, 2022.

June 14, 2022.

Hill TV Live interview: Fauci, top virologists privately considered lab leak theory then turned on it, new docs show

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Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know suggest that top virologists may have privately discussed all theories of the pandemic origin in the days after they began outlining an article that dismissed the lab leak theory, reports Hill TV Live.

See the interview with Emily Kopp, investigative reporter for U.S. Right to Know, and Ryan Grim, DC bureau chief at The Intercept. The discussion is based on Kopp’s June 2 report for U.S. Right to Know, FOIA reveals another secret call on COVID’s origin. The details are redacted.

You can follow Kopp’s reporting on our biohazards blog and sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly email updates from the Right to Know investigations.

U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health. We are working globally to expose corporate wrongdoing and government failures that threaten the integrity of our health, our environment and our food system.

Food industry lobby group ILSI rebrands (again) to duck critical news coverage

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One of the world’s most powerful food industry lobby groups is rebranding itself to better serve its food industry funders. This comes after years of academic articles – some of them based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know – and adverse coverage in major news outlets made it harder for the group to do stealth lobbying and public relations work for food companies. 

The International Life Sciences Institute, founded in 1978 by a Coca-Cola executive, is changing its name. It will now call itself just by its acronym, ILSI. The global federation of groups also unveiled a new logo and updated website on May 23, and announced a renewed focus on “scientific integrity.” 

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “ILSI has always claimed to be independently science-based, but if there were ever any doubts, we now know beyond question that ILSI is a classic food industry front-group.” 

“Many investigators have exposed ILSI’s behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts against public health measures that might reduce food product sales,” she said. 

See the evidence, ILSI is a food industry lobby group.

‘Shadowy lobby group’

In an FAQ posted on their website, ILSI claims it “does not lobby or express explicitly positions on legislation” and that its mandatory policy “expressly forbids lobby activities of any kind.” But, as the New York Times reported in 2019, ILSI is a “shadowy lobby group” that “shapes food policies around the world,” often in favor of its corporate funders. The Times also described ILSI as “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of.” 

In China, for example, obesity rates have nearly doubled in the past two decades as junk food has become widely available. Rather than rein in the junk food companies, China’s policies focus on a theme Coca-Cola has long pushed: encouraging people to exercise more. And ILSI was the “main organization” shaping China’s policy, according to research by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist who specializes in China. 

“the most important science making entity for the processed food industry”

“Coke succeeded in redirecting China’s obesity science and policy to emphasize physical activity,” Greenhalgh reported in a 2021 paper. Working through ILSI, a supposedly neutral group, “Coca-Cola influenced China’s science making and policy making during every phase in the policy process, from framing the issues to drafting official policy.” 

As Greenhalgh explained to the Corporate Crime Reporter, ILSI brings together academic, industry and government scientists who say they “provide science that improves human health and safeguards the environment. That’s the public promise of ILSI. But beneath that promise there is a very complicated operation that in effect allows ILSI to be the most important science making entity for the processed food industry.” 

ILSI documents expose lobbying tactics

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know, described in a series of academic papers co-authored by USRTK’s Gary Ruskin, offer further evidence that ILSI influences research and policy for its food industry funders, promotes advocacy-led studies, and deploys other stealth tactics to shape scientific evidence and public opinion about issues important to junk food and soda companies. 

The documents also reveal that “scientific integrity” – the theme of ILSI’s new branding – is an area in which ILSI’s anti-public-health work has been most recently successful, according to a paper published last year. That is also a theme that is directly important to Coca-Cola.

Despite the rebranding, ILSI remains a food industry front-group that is designed to promote the interests of the food industry,” said Gary Sacks, an associate professor and fellow at the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University, whose research focuses on policies for preventing obesity.

And despite ILSI’s claim to have a new focus on ‘integrity,’ ILSI cannot escape the inherent conflict of interest at the heart of their operating model. In particular, the objectives of companies that seek to profit from the sale of unhealthy foods are inherently at odds with public health objectives,” he said. 

Read the academic papers about ILSI co-authored by USRTK.

Pattern of rebranding 

In the view of Mélissa Mialon, an influential food industry scholar and research assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin, the ILSI rebrand is an attempt “to restore their reputation and move away from that criticism they’re facing in recent years.” But even scarier, she said, “is that they’re also creating new organizations like the IAFNS, where it will be even more complicated to trace the links with corporations – even if these are entirely founded by Big Food etc.” 

Announced in 2021, the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS) was formerly known as ILSI North America (ILSI NA). That group describes itself as “a non-profit organization that catalyzes science for the benefit of public health.”

In 2020, the ILSI Research Foundation (ILSI RF) renamed itself the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute, which describes itself as a ”non-profit organization that advances and disseminates science to enable safe and sustainable agri-food systems.” That rebrand took place shortly after the consumer watchdog group Corporate Accountability released a report describing how the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies use ILSI to “cripple progress on nutrition policy across the globe.”  

The rebranding of ILSI global, and its claims to stand for scientific integrity, “mean nothing unless ILSI walks its talk,” said Professor Nestle. “I will be watching what ILSI does with great interest and, alas, a great deal of skepticism.”

Formerly known as ILSI North America, IAFNS says in its FAQ that it left ILSI “to create a brand that better communicates the work we do and our focus on public health and evidence-based science.”

Center for Food Integrity: PR for processed foods, pesticides and GMOs

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The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), formerly the Grow America Project, is an industry-funded 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that conducts research, lobbying and public relations campaigns to “earn consumer trust” for processed food and agrichemical companies, including DowDuPont, Monsanto, Cargill, Costco, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hershey, Kroger and trade associations for meat, dairy and soybeans.

In the five-year period from 2012-2016, CFI spent over $23 million on various marketing and messaging programs to promote industry messaging to build trust in GMO foods, pesticides, food additives and antibiotics in meat. CFI’s 501(c)(3) arm, the Foundation for Food Integrity, funds research to inform messaging attempts to build consumer trust, with a spending budget of $823,167 from 2012-2016. Sponsors in 2012 included Monsanto, CropLife America and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

PR for the industrial food chain 

Board members for the Center for Food Integrity hail from the largest chemical, processed food and drug companies; the board includes executives from Cargill, Corteva Agrisciences (formerly DowDuPont), Chik-fil-A, Merck, McDonald’s, and trade associations for the soy, dairy and sugar industries. The president and founder of CFI, Charlie Arnot, also runs Look East (formerly CMA), a PR company for the food and agrichemical industries that offers services in branding and reputation management.

Terry Fleck, the executive director of CFI for 16 years since its inception, was also executive vice president at Look East. He retired in 2022. In April 2022, CFI appointed a new executive director, Mickie French, a former PR consultant for Coca-Cola,  Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Mars, Nestle, and former executive at Tate & Lyle and FleishmanHillard PR firm. 

“Industry partner” in Monsanto’s attack on IARC cancer panel

An internal Monsanto document identifies the Center for Food Integrity as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, 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.

The Monsanto plan lists four tiers of industry partners to engage in its public relations efforts. CFI is listed as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the International Food Information Council and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

According to the document, these groups were part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” to provide education about glyphosate levels and to describe Monsanto’s preferred studies as “science-based studies versus [the] agenda-driven hypothesis” of the independent cancer research panel.

Look East partnership with Monsanto and Genetic Literacy Project

The Center for Food Integrity partners with Look East, the PR firm founded by its president Charlie Arnot, for project management services, according to tax forms.

Arnot’s PR firm also works with Monsanto, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. In 2014, Monsanto tapped CMA to “merchandize” and promote a series of pro-GMO policy briefs that a Monsanto executive assigned to professors and arranged to publish on the Genetic Literacy Project website — with no disclosure of Monsanto’s behind-the-scenes role, as the Boston Globe reported.

The Genetic Literacy Project, another industry partner group named in Monsanto’s PR plan to discredit IARC, also receives funding from the Center for Food Integrity, according to the GLP’s most recent and often incorrect “transparency page.”

The Genetic LIteracy Project also played a key role in fomenting personal attacks against the scientists who raised cancer concerns about glyphosate.

Long standing front group 

In a 2013 report, the nonprofit Center for Food Safety describes the Center for Food Integrity as a longstanding food and chemical industry front group. “Front groups often have deceptive-sounding names and attempt to create a positive public impression that hides their funders’ economic motives,” states the report by Michele Simon. “Also, most front groups engage mainly in public relations campaigns as opposed to lobbying.” CFI, Simon writes, operates “through various forms of information control and public relations, including conducting consumer surveys, promoting the results and hosting events” that seek to build consumer trust in the industrial processed food chain.

For more information about processed food and chemical industry front groups, see our post Tracking the Pesticide Industry Propaganda Network 

Alison Van Eenennaam: key outside spokesperson and lobbyist for the agrichemical and GMO industries

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Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, a Professor of Cooperative Extension in Animal Biotechnology and Genomics at University of California, Davis, is a leading promoter of genetically engineered animals, crops and the pesticides that accompany them, and an advocate for deregulation.

Dr. Van Eenennaam argues GE animals should not be subject to pre-market safety reviews or labels.

Dr. Van Eenennaam is a former Monsanto employee who opposes requiring safety studies for genetically engineered animals and holds several patents involving genetic engineering. Her lab experiments include using CRISPR, a genetic engineering technique, to eliminate the horns of dairy cows and breed “all-male terminator cattle” to father only male offspring — a project she calls “Boys Only.” A proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require safety and efficacy studies for genetically engineered animals is “insane,” according to Dr. Van Eenennaam.

See also: Wall Street Journal (12.14.18),  Big Tongues and Extra Vertebrae: The Unintended Consequences of Animal Gene Editing 

Although often presented in the media as an independent scientist, Dr. Van Eenennaam coordinates with agrichemical companies and their PR firms on messaging, lobbying and PR activities, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and now posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Library.

She is also a member of the board of directors of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a corporate funded front group that engages in product defense efforts for the largest food and chemical companies. For more information about IFIC see:

  • March 2022 study in Globalization and Health, “Confronting potential food industry ‘front groups’: case study of the international food information Council’s nutrition communications using the UCSF food industry documents archives,” describes how food and chemical industry players view IFIC and the IFIC Foundation as “being central to promoting industry-favourable content in defence of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…”
  • U.S. Right to Know fact sheet: “IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News”

More examples of Van Eenennaam’s collaborations with the agrichemical industry include:

Monsanto edited her remarks for the Intelligence Squared debate 

Emails show that Lee Quarles, Monsanto’s global communication lead, and Tony Zagora, senior vice president and partner of the FleishmanHillard PR firm, edited Dr. Van Eenennaam’s remarks for a December 2014 Intelligence Squared (IQ2) debate where she argued for public acceptance of genetically engineered foods alongside Robb Fraley of Monsanto.

Quarles also connected Dr. Van Eenennaam with higher ups at Monsanto and FleishmanHillard to discuss the core positions she and Fraley should align on, and he arranged for Zagora and the PR agency to provide her with guidance on “approach, tone, delivery and personal presentation. This will help you better understand what are the key things our team should consider as we work to win over the people in the room, as well as all of those consumers in the NPR rebroadcast of the event.”

Some of Monsanto’s edits to Professor Van Eenennaam’s remarks are shown in track changes:

 

Source documents linked here

Former Monsanto Communications Director Jay Byrne and industry PR firm Ketchum provided coaching for media interviews 

In 2012, Dr. Van Eenennaam assisted the industry-funded No on Proposition 37 campaign in California to oppose GMO labeling. Emails show that the “No on 37” campaign staff arranged for Dr. Van Eenennaam to appear on the Dr. Oz Show to speak against labeling, and also arranged for her to receive media and messaging training from Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former head of corporate communications. (Emails also revealed that Jay Byrne worked with Monsanto to set up a front group to attack GMO critics and the organic industry while “keeping Monsanto in the background“.)

In 2014, the agrichemical industry’s lead public relations firm, Ketchum, pitched Dr. Van Eenennaam as a source and helped her prepare for a radio interview to debunk a study that linked genetically engineered animal feed to stomach inflammation. Ketchum provided Dr. Van Eenennaam with talking points from industry allies describing the stomach study as “junk science.”

Appeared at Hill briefing organized by climate science skeptic group 

In September 2012, Dr. Van Eenennaam appeared at a Competitive Enterprise Institute congressional briefing to argue for the deregulation of genetically engineered animals. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is an industry-funded group that promotes climate science skepticism and opposes regulations for the chemical industry. In 2013, donors to the Competitive Enterprises Institute annual fundraiser included Monsanto, Syngenta, FMC Corporation, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Google, as well as oil and tobacco companies and foundations related to Koch Industries. In 2016, CEI’s Director of Energy and Environment Myron Ebell, a prominent climate science skeptic who has said the case for global warming is “silly,” was chosen by the Trump Administration’s to lead the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coordinated lobbying efforts; defends pesticides 

Dr. Van Eenennaam has coordinated lobbying to deregulate genetically engineered crops and animals, and keep them unlabeled. In 2012, she wrote a letter to the Obama Administration on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science public policy committee arguing for approval of the Aqua Bounty genetically engineered salmon without rigorous safety testing or labeling. In 2015, she recruited professors to support deregulating the Simplot Innate 2.0 genetically engineered potato. “Simplot is looking for some comments on their deregulation … the antis are trying to get the comment period extended as usual,” she wrote to the professors.

Dr. Van Eenennaam also defends glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency. For a post on her website, she used pesticide industry sources and infographics to speculate about the market consequences of banning glyphosate, and characterized people raising concerns as the “worried wealthy.” The Monsanto (now Bayer) website promotes Dr. Van Eenennaam as a source to discredit a study that linked glyphosate to liver disease at low doses.

Some of Alison Van Eenennaam’s other industry collaborations 

  • Is a member of “AgBioChatter,” a private email listserve that pro-industry academics, senior staff of agrichemical companies and public relations consultants have used to coordinate messaging and lobbying activities.

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.

2022 study: IFIC pushes food industry product defense

A new study co-authored by U.S. Right to Know in the journal Globalization and Health shows that food and chemical industry players view IFIC and the IFIC Foundation as “being central to promoting industry-favourable content in defence of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…” 

The study quotes Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola executive and founder of ILSI, explaining the close relationship between the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and IFIC: “… IFIC is kind of a sister entity to ILSI. ILSI generates the scientific facts and IFIC communicates them to the media and public…” See also our fact sheet on ILSI, a food industry lobby group.

Based on documents in the USCF chemical industry archive, the study provides evidence that is “more than sufficient to negate IFIC’s portrayal that it is a neutral organization,” the authors wrote. “We argue that IFIC and its Foundation’s communications should be viewed as conducting marketing and public relations for the food industry.”

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 and board members

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.

The IFIC board of directors includes executives from PepsiCo, General Mills and other food companies. Also on the board is Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, a Professor of Cooperative Extension in Animal Biotechnology and Genomics at University of California, Davis, who is a leading promoter of genetically engineered animals, crops and the pesticides that accompany them, and an advocate for deregulation. See our fact sheet on Dr. Van Eenennaam for more examples of food pesticide industry spin.

Promotes GMOs to schoolchildren

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