Public Interest Groups to USA Today: Ditch Corporate Front Group Science Columns

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The following letter was sent by more than two dozen health, environmental, labor and public interest groups, and several doctors, to the editors of USA Today expressing concerns that the paper has been publishing science columns by members of the American Council on Science and Health, without identifying that group as a corporate front group with a history of spinning science for corporate benefactors. 

February 9, 2017

Dear Patty Michalski, Editor in Chief, USA Today:

We are writing to express our concern that USA Today continues to publish columns written by members of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate-funded group with a long history of promoting corporate agendas that are at odds with mainstream science. USA Today should not be helping this group promote its false identity as a credible, independent source on science. Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.

These are no idle allegations. Many of the undersigned health, environmental, labor and public interest groups have been tracking ACSH’s work over the years. We have documented instances in which the group has worked to undermine climate change science, and deny the health threats associated with various products, including second-hand smokefrackingpesticides and industrial chemicals – all without being transparent about its corporate backers.

We note that financial documents obtained by Mother Jones show that ACSH has received funding from tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical and oil corporations. Public interest groups have reported that ACSH received funding from the Koch Foundations between 2005-2011, and released internal documents showing that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta in 2009 to write favorably about its product atrazine – a donation that was to be “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years.”

At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of the news media, we believe it is vital for publications such as USA Today to follow the highest standards of journalistic ethics and serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible.

We respectfully ask you to refrain from publishing further columns authored by members of the American Council on Science and Health, or at the very least require that the individuals identify the organization accurately as a corporate-funded advocacy group.

Sincerely,
Alaska Community Action on Toxics
Beyond Toxics
Breast Cancer Action
Breast Cancer Fund
Californians for Pesticide Reform
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Food Safety
Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Clean and Healthy New York
Community Science Institute
Empire State Consumer Project
Farmworker Association of Florida
Friends of the Earth – US
Greenpeace
Healthy Building Network
Health Care Without Harm
Learning Disabilities Association of Maine
Made Safe
Organic Consumers Association
Pesticide Action Network North America
Real Food Media
The 5 Gyres Institute
US Right to Know
Vermont Public Interest Research Group
Women’s Voices for the Earth
Ann Blake, PhD, Environmental & Public Health Consulting
Josh Freeman, MD (Emeritus Chair of Family Medicine, University of Kansas School of Medicine)
Matthew Anderson, MD (Associate Professor, Dept. of Family and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center)
Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP (Adjunct Faculty, School of Community Health, Portland State University; Board of Advisors, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility)

(identification purposes only)

Julie Kelly Cooks Up Propaganda for the Agrichemical Industry

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Connect the dots on the chemical and junk food industries’ PR campaigns to manufacture doubt about science, promote risky products and dismantle environmental health protections. Also in this series: 
Jon Entine: The Chemical Industry’s Master Messenger
Why You Can’t Trust Henry I. Miller
Why You Can’t Trust the American Council on Science and Health
Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry 

Julie Kelly is a food writer and cooking instructor who emerged in 2015 as a fierce advocate for the agrichemical industry, criticizing organic food, GMO labeling and science that raises concerns about pesticides. Her writing on these topics has appeared in the National Review, The Hill, Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. She does not disclose her funding sources.

Julie Kelly’s husband, John Kelly Jr., is a lobbyist for the agribusiness giant ADM, among other corporate clients including Blackstone and CVS; and government clients including DuPage County where Julie Kelly formerly worked as a policy consultant to county board chairman Dan Cronin.

Julie Kelly’s writings since 2015 have followed typical tobacco-industry style PR tactics deployed by the chemical industry — manufacturing doubt about science; attacking academics, reporters and transparency advocates; and calling for deregulation of polluting industries.

Kelly’s work includes:

Casting doubt on the science of climate change in the National Review

Calling on Congress to defund the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, in The Hill.

  • IARC has “been accused of stonewalling conflicts of interest and using shoddy science to promote a politically motivated agenda,” Kelly wrote.
  • IARC has noted publicly that it and its scientists have faced intimidation tactics, including broad subpoenas by Monsanto lawyers, as well as a “pattern of consistent but misleading reports about the IARC Monographs Programme in some sections of the media, beginning after glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Attacking organic agriculture as an “evil empire,” in Forbes. In an article co-written with Henry I. Miller, Kelly argues:

  • “Like the buggy-whip manufacturers who ridiculed and reviled the horseless carriage, the organic industry is on the wrong side of history.”
  • “Organic products are expensive and offer no benefits, but devotion to them has become a kind of cult.”
  • The article contains blatant errors, for example, claiming that University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta “turned over almost 5,000 emails,” in response to pubic records requests, “only one of which showed any connection with Monsanto.” In fact, the New York Times posted 174 pages of Folta’s emails showing many interactions with Monsanto and Ketchum, the agrichemical industry’s PR firm.

Making inaccurate statements about GMOs, claiming they lead to lower pesticide use and create huge advantages for farmers; in fact, GMOs have led to higher overall herbicide use due to herbicide-tolerant GMO crops and farmers have experienced many problems.

Kelly co-authors articles with Henry I. Miller, a Hoover Institution fellow and former FDA official who has a long history of promoting junk science and flawed policy, and manufacturing doubt about the risks of dangerous products such as tobacco, pesticides and nuclear radiation. Together Kelly and Miller have:

  • Argued that organic farms are “an affront to the environment.”
  • Promoted DDT as an effective pesticide that should not have been banned, and argued that “green zealots” and “ignorant ideological activists” could ruin the food supply by pressuring EPA to ban Monsanto’s glyphosate.
  • Described the Trump Administration as likely to usher in an era of “greater governmental transparency and accountability, and a more level playing field” that could be a huge boon to the GMO industry.

The Hoover Institution, which promotes Kelly’s work, has a mission to “limit government intrusion into the lives of individuals.” Its top funder is the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which was identified in a 2013 Drexel University study as among “the largest and most consistent funders of organizations orchestrating climate change denial” and a foundation that promotes “ultra-free-market ideas in many realms.”

Monsanto, EPA Seek to Keep Talks Secret On Glyphosate Cancer Review

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By Carey Gillam

Monsanto Co. and officials within the Environmental Protection Agency are fighting legal efforts aimed at exploring Monsanto’s influence over regulatory assessments of the key chemical in the company’s Roundup herbicide, new federal court filings show.

The revelations are contained in a series of filings made within the last few days in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as part of litigation brought by more than 50 people suing Monsanto. The plaintiffs claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) after exposure to Roundup herbicide, and that Monsanto has spent decades covering up cancer risks linked to the chemical.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the court to lift a seal on documents that detail Monsanto’s interactions with former top EPA brass Jess Rowland regarding the EPA’s safety assessment of glyphosate, which is the key ingredient in Roundup. Monsanto turned the documents over in discovery but marked them “confidential,” a designation plaintiffs’ attorneys say is improper. They also want to depose Rowland. But Monsanto and the EPA object to the requests, court documents show.

The EPA has spent the last few years assessing the health and environmental safety aspects of glyphosate as global controversy over the chemical has mounted. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in March 2015 that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, with a positive association found between glyphosate and NHL. Monsanto has been fighting to refute that classification.

Rowland has been key in Monsanto’s efforts to rebut the IARC finding because until last year he was a deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, managing the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides like glyphosate. And, importantly, he chaired the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) that issued an internal report in October 2015 contracting IARC’s findings. That 87-page report, signed by Rowland, determined that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The EPA finding has been highly valued by Monsanto, helping bolster the company’s defense against the Roundup liability lawsuits, and helping shore up market support for a product that brings in billions of dollars in revenues to the company annually. The EPA’s stamp of approval for the safety of glyphosate over the last few decades has also been key to the success of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, glyphosate-tolerant crops, which have been popular with farmers.

But the handling of the CARC report raised questions when it was posted to a public EPA website on April 29, 2016 and kept on the site for only three days before being pulled down. The agency said the report was not final and that it should not have been posted, but Monsanto touted the report as a public affirmation of its safety claims for glyphosate. The company also brought a copy of the report to a May court hearing in the Roundup litigation as a counter point to the IARC cancer classification. Shortly after the CARC report was removed from the EPA website, Rowland left his 26-year career at the EPA.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have asked to depose Rowland to learn about that situation and other dealings with Monsanto. But, along with Monsanto’s objection to releasing the documents that relate to its conversations with Rowland, the EPA has specifically refused the deposition request, saying it would “not clearly be in the interests of EPA” to allow attorneys to question Rowland about the cancer review and interactions with Monsanto.

Monsanto has so far turned over six million pages of documents through the court-ordered discovery process, but has designated roughly 85 percent of the information as “confidential,” meaning plaintiffs’ attorneys must black out information from those documents in any court filings that could be accessed by reporters or other members of the public. That designation is improper for many of the documents, especially ones dealing with the company’s interactions with, and influence attempts over, EPA officials, plaintiffs’ lawyers argue. 

The lawyers say that the documents obtained through discovery show that “Monsanto has been confident all along that EPA would continue to support glyphosate, whatever happened and no matter who held otherwise.” According to the court filings by plaintiffs’ attorneys, the documents show “it is clear that Monsanto enjoyed considerable influence within the EPA’s OPP, and was close with Mr. Rowland… The documentary evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Rowland’s primary goal was to serve the interests of Monsanto.”

The EPA is a taxpayer-funded, public agency and its dealings with Monsanto should be subject to public scrutiny, particularly given the widespread use of glyphosate herbicide products and the ongoing international debate over the safety of the chemical, they claim.

“The health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens is at stake,” states a Jan. 16 plaintiffs’ filing. “Decisions affecting the public health should not be based on secret conversations between Monsanto and EPA officials. If Monsanto wants to advocate on behalf of glyphosate to EPA employees, they should have to do it publicly, so that concerned citizens have equal opportunity to advocate for their health and the health of their families. This issue is too important to allow Monsanto to improperly influence the EPA, and then hide such communication behind an improper ‘confidential’ designation.”

“The health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens is at stake. Decisions affecting the public health should not be based on secret conversations between Monsanto and EPA officials.”

Monsanto is adamant that its documents not be made public, arguing that releasing them would be “premature and improper.” Allowing public dissemination “of a few select internal corporate documents taken out of context… would be prejudicial to Monsanto and could cause reputational harm,” the company’s attorneys wrote in their response.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys say at least four specific documents they have obtained are clearly in the public interest and “illuminate that one of Monsanto’s chief business strategies is its secret and untoward influence on EPA.” The documents include both internal memos and email chains, according to descriptions of the documents.

“Since Monsanto’s communications with the EPA remain secret, these known lobbying efforts are only the tip of the iceberg of Monsanto’s collusion with the EPA. Monsanto’s bad acts in violating U.S. regulations through secret communications with the EPA should not by rewarded by allowing them to keep these communications secret by merely stamping them ‘Confidential,’” the plaintiffs’ attorney state in the filings. “These documents summarize communications with EPA which are not elsewhere memorialized; they are not trade secrets and the public has a compelling interest in disclosure.”

Monsanto argues otherwise, saying the four documents at issue “contain sensitive, non-public commercial information, relate to a motion seeking to obtain discovery from a non-party, and bear only a tangential, at best, connection to the questions at issue in this litigation; hence, any public interest “is minimal.’”

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing the Roundup litigation, is expected to rule on the matters within the next few days.

In a separate case, Monsanto and California environmental regulators face off Jan. 27 over plans by state regulators to list glyphosate as a carcinogen. The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said it would add glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens after the IARC classification. Monsanto has sued to prevent the listing. The upcoming hearing takes up OEHHA’s motion to dismiss Monsanto’s lawsuit.

Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist and research director for U.S. Right to Know, a non-profit consumer education group. This article first appeared in the Huffington Post. 

New Research: GMO Insect Resistance Failing; Corn Crop in Jeopardy

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By Carey Gillam 

New research adds to evidence that the effectiveness of popular genetically engineered traits used to protect corn and cotton from insects is failing, putting U.S. corn production potential in jeopardy, and spurring a need for increased insecticide use.

The study, authored by a trio of independent researchers, documents resistance in a major crop pest called corn earworm, and adds to warnings that the popular GMO insect-resistant technology known as Bt, after the soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, has lost its luster. It is noteworthy as the first long-term, in-field assessment of transgenic Bt corn’s effectiveness against one of the most damaging pests of sweet corn, field corn, cotton and many other high-value crops. Before publishing their findings, which cover 20 years of observations, the researchers presented them to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as to the corporations that developed and market the traits, said Galen Dively, a University of Maryland entomologist and lead researcher on the study.

Crops engineered with Bt genes express specific proteins known as (Cry proteins) that make the crops toxic to specific insects – the plants effectively provide their own insecticide – reducing the need for chemical applications. In 2015, more than 80 percent of the U.S. corn crop carried at least one Bt trait. Much of the corn now planted is engineered with multiple Bt Cry proteins, but the new research indicates that the insect (called earworm in corn but bollworm in cotton) is now able to survive multiple genetically engineered traits in a pyramided variety. Other research has shown wide failure of traits supposed to protect against the western corn rootworm as well, leaving farmers facing big and potentially costly problems as resistance builds, according to the researchers.

“With widespread use of genetically engineered crops, the targeted insects developing resistance to these protein is a major threat to the sustainability of the Bt technology,” researcher Dilip Venugopal wrote in a summary of the group’s findings. “Increasing damages by corn earworm to Bt field corn are reported already in North Carolina and Georgia, and corn earworm could become a major pest. We predict that corn earworm resistance to the Cry toxins is likely to increase, and spread. Therefore, the risk of damage to corn production across a large portion of U.S. is high.” Venugopal is a science and technology policy fellow working with a division of the EPA.

The research adds to evidence that after 20 years of use of crops engineered to tolerate herbicides and resist certain harmful insects, both technologies are losing effectiveness. The two most widely used types of GMO traits are glyphosate-tolerance, developed in soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and other crops; and the Bt insect-resistant trait. But at least 70 million acres of U.S. farmland have become infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds since the GMO crops were introduced. As well, signs of mounting insect resistance to the Bt technology have been raising concerns across the farm belt for the last several years. Last summer, scientists published research documenting increasing western corn rootworm resistance to the Bt proteins, and widespread corn damage was reported by farmers. Farmers are using more herbicides to try to control resistant weeds, and returning to insecticide use to combat the resistant pests, agricultural experts say.

Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, said the Dively work is a “very important study,” that does not bode well for future crop health. And University of Minnesota Extension Entomologist William Hutchinson said the study demonstrates a need for better monitoring of resistance in traits that still work. As the study showed, there is still very good effectiveness with varieties that contain both Vip3A+Cry1Ab, he pointed out.

One key misstep has been reliance on the “refuge-in-a-bag” (RIB) system that allowed farmers to avoid setting aside part of their fields as areas free of the Bt trait, a practice proven to discourage resistance. With the RIB system, however, researchers have found that farmers actually encouraged resistance by spreading uneven low doses of the Bt toxin to feeding insects throughout their fields, which helped build up resistance in the insects over time. The companies behind the Bt traits have encouraged refuge-in-a-bag. Seed giant Monsanto Co., which made $5.8 billion in sales of corn seeds and traits last year, has touted refuge-in-a-bag as fast and convenient for farmers, allowing them to plant the specialized seed “fence row to fence row.

The EPA shoulders a good deal of the blame for the problem, according to the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which criticized the agency last year for its handling of the resistance issues. Among other missteps, the agency has been too reliant on the seed and chemical industry to self-report the resistance issues, and has not provided farmers or researchers with a direct means to report resistance incidents to the regulators, according to the OIG.

The EPA also is too secretive with the information it does get from the seed companies, keeping compliance reports and monitoring data from the public. “Transparency is an EPA core value,” the OIG wrote. “The EPA has both information and the means to enhance transparency regarding its regulatory oversight of genetically engineered crops such as Bt corn.”

Trusting the industry to self-report is a particular problem because there is evidence the industry would rather not do so. An Iowa case of insect resistance found in 2009 was not reported as it should have been, for instance, the OIG said. The EPA has been working to correct the deficiencies laid out by the OIG by mid-2017.

The EPA said it is “conducting an analysis of this study and other information related to corn earworm resistance and will determine if improvements to the current resistance management strategies are warranted.” The EPA said as part of that process, it will hold a public meeting with a panel of scientific advisers later this year.

But it may well be too little too late. Time-tested agricultural practices such as crop rotation and a mix of other strategies are essential to combating resistance issues. Relying on one type of genetically engineered technology season after season is bound to fail eventually, according to agricultural experts.

“There’s nothing they can do about it,” said Dively. “There is pretty strong evidence it’s going to get worse,” said Dively.

Serious scrutiny needed as EPA seeks input on cancer ties to Monsanto herbicide

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By Carey Gillam

The glyphosate geeks are gathering in Washington this week. After a two-month delay, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding four days of meetings aimed at examining the evidence that does or does not tie the world’s most widely used herbicide — glyphosate — to cancer.

Scientists, activists and agricultural industry leaders are all expected to show up to either defend or attack the chemical that is currently at the center of international controversy. More than 250,000 public comments have been filed with the EPA ahead of the Dec. 13-16 meetings, and the agency is girding for more than 10 hours of personally delivered public comments before a specially appointed scientific advisory panel gets down to work.

The panel assignment: To offer advice on how the EPA should evaluate and interpret relevant data and how it all should translate into a EPA “carcinogen risk” classification for glyphosate.

The exercise is academic by design, but powerful economic forces are hard at work hoping to influence the outcome. Glyphosate is the billion-dollar-baby, the chief ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide as well as in hundreds of other herbicides sold around the world. It’s also the lynchpin to Monsanto’s top-selling, glyphosate-tolerant, genetically engineered crops.

An official regulatory nod to cancer concerns could be devastating to Monsanto’s bottom line, not to mention it’s planned $66 billion mergerwith Bayer AG, as well as to other agrichemical companies that sell glyphosate products. Monsanto is also facing more than three dozen lawsuits over glyphosate cancer concerns and needs EPA backing to defend against the court actions.

The questions about glyphosate and health issues are not new. Numerous scientific studies over multiple decades have raised concerns about harmful glyphosate impacts. Monsanto has always countered with its own studies and league of supportive scientists who say glyphosate is not carcinogenic and is one of the safest pesticides ever brought to market.

Last year the argument got more heated after a team of international cancer scientists working with the World Health Organization (WHO) said that there was sufficient evidence in the body of research to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. That news was particularly worrisome to consumers because glyphosate use is so pervasive that government researchers have documented the chemical as “widespread in the environment,”  found even in common foods like honey and oatmeal. It’s even found in urine samples of farmers and city dwellers alike.

The controversy has delayed re-authorization decisions not only in the United States, but also in Europe. Several European countries, including Italy and France, have called for an outright ban on glyphosate after glyphosate residues have been found in numerous foods there. Residues found in bread products prompted a “Not in Our Bread” campaign in Britain.

Numerous scientific studies over multiple decades have raised concerns about harmful glyphosate impacts.

But despite the consumer angst on both sides of the Atlantic, the EPA has already made it clear it largely agrees with Monsanto’s message that the international cancer scientists are wrong. The agency issued a report in September laying out the reasons it proposes to classify glyphosate as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

To get to that finding, the agency had to inappropriately discount the results of numerous human and animal studies showing evidence of ties to cancer, according to many scientists who are asking the EPA to reconsider its position.

“There are strong arguments for a classification of “Likely to be carcinogenic to humans” because there are multiple positive results in animals…  and positive epidemiologic studies strengthened by other lines of evidence (DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells and possibly exposed humans),” Maarten Bosland, professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote in comments submitted to the agency.

Bosland is one of more than 90 scientists who issued a detailed report identifying the research that ties glyphosate to cancer. They say available human evidence shows an association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma; while significant carcinogenic effects are seen in laboratory animals for rare kidney and other types of tumors.

History has given us numerous examples of chemicals that are declared safe for decades only to be proven dangerous after extended arguments like the one we’re now seeing over glyphosate. It’s been common practice for the corporate players who profit off chemical agents to fight tooth and nail for their continued use even as study after study builds a case of sometimes devastating environmental and human health costs. And it’s been equally common for weak-kneed regulators to do as industry bids.

That appears to be the path EPA has followed with glyphosate. Ever since the agency announced last July that it would hold these meetings, the agrichemical industry’s trade group CropLife America has been working to make sure that the EPA repudiates the cancer concerns. CropLife first suggested the EPA scrap the meetings altogether, arguing there was no “scientific justification” for a review. The association then outlined criteria for the EPA to use in selecting scientists who might serve on the panel. And then after the panel was in place, CropLife told the EPA it should remove epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante. CropLife considered him biased against the industry. The EPA responded by removing Infante as CropLife asked, and then refusing to explain its decision to the public, issuing a ‘no comment” to those who inquired about Infante’s removal.

Infante, who has served as an expert consultant in epidemiology for the EPA and several world bodies, says allegations of bias are invalid, and he still plans to attend but in a different capacity. After the EPA kicked him off the advisory panel, the agency agreed to grant him a few minutes to address the panel during the public comment part of the agenda. He is slated to speak Thursday morning.

In another hint at industry favoritism, earlier this year, the EPA “inadvertently” publicly posted an internal glyphosate assessment on its website that made a case for the safety of glyphosate. The document was up long enough for Monsanto to issue a press release gleefully tout the documents’ findings and providing a link to a copy of the document before the agency pulled it down, explaining it wasn’t final.

The agency’s actions have left environmental and consumer activists disheartened and doubtful the EPA will listen to any serious independent scrutiny of glyphosate’s safety.

“Their track record is awful,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “We don’t want to throw in the towel entirely. We want to try to hold them to their mission. But there is clearly evidence of industry influence. They aren’t doing anything to inspire confidence that they’re taking a serious look at this.”

Consumers rely on the EPA to prioritize their interests over corporate interests, and the EPA should not forget that, according to the public comment filed by Pamela Koch, executive director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“We urge the EPA to apply the precautionary principle in this review…” Koch wrote. “We believe that caring for the public health is of the upmost importance and need regulations that protect farm workers, workers who apply glyphosate in non-agricultural settings, as well as the general public.”

This article originally appeared in The Hill

Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, formerly with Reuters, who directs research for U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer education group focused on food safety and policy matters. Follow @CareyGillam on Twitter 

Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry

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In a November exposé for The Intercept, “How Self-Appointed Guardians of ‘Sound Science’ Tip the Scales Toward Industry,” Liza Gross details the tobacco ties and industry connections of Sense About Science, a group trying to shape science media coverage that opened a US office in 2014.

“Sense About Science claims to champion transparency” but “does not always disclose when its sources on controversial matters are scientists with ties to the industries under examination,” Gross wrote.

She advised reporters to be wary: “When journalists rightly ask who sponsors research into the risks of, say, asbestos, or synthetic chemicals, they’d be well advised to question the evidence Sense About Science presents in these debates as well.”

This fact sheet provides background about Sense About Science USA, its director Trevor Butterworth, and the ties both have to industry propaganda efforts.

Defending chemicals and junk food

Sense About Science was founded in 2002 in the United Kingdom by Dick Taverne, an English politician and businessman, as a lobby effort to “put science at the heart of public discussion,” according to its website.

The US arm, Sense About Science USA, launched in Brooklyn in 2014 under the directorship of Trevor Butterworth, a writer with a long history of spinning science to the benefit of the chemical and food industries.

Over his career, Butterworth has published many arguments for deregulation and attempts to refute concerns about chemicals and food products – for example he has defended phthalates, BPA, vinyl plastic, fracking, lead in lipstick, formaldehyde in baby soaps, corn syrup, sugary sodas and artificial sweeteners.

Butterworth’s articles share a common theme: attacking and trying to discredit science, scientists, journalists and consumer groups that raise concerns about products important to the chemical and junk food industries.

From 2003 to 2014, Butterworth was editor at Statistical Assessment Services (STATS), a nonprofit group at George Mason University that says it educates journalists about statistical studies. Prior to that and as early as 1997, Butterworth was a fellow with STATS sister organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA).

Both groups, which filed joint tax returns for many years, have been vague about their funding. CMPA is known to have accepted money from the tobacco industry in the 1990s. The bulk of funding for STATS appears to have come from a small group of anti-regulatory foundations that have also funded climate change denier groups.

Butterworth is also a visiting fellow at Cornell University Alliance for Science, a group funded by the Gates Foundation to promote GMOs, where he runs a workshop to teach his brand of media relations to students and young scientists. He is also a contributor to Forbes and Newsweek and writes book reviews for the Wall Street Journal.

Many journalists have quoted Butterworth as an independent source, identifying him as a journalist or representative of the media outlets he writes for without mentioning STATS or questioning his funding sources, or have described STATS as a “nonpartisan” group.

Chemical Industry Public Relations Writer

Butterworth played a key role in the chemical industry’s propaganda campaign to discredit health concerns about the chemical bisphenol A (BPA).

In a 2009 investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about chemical industry lobbying, journalists Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust described Butterworth as an example of “chemical industry public relations writers” who do not explain their allegiances.

They described the stealth role he played in industry’s “unprecedented public relations blitz that uses many of the same tactics – and people – the tobacco industry used in its decades-long fight against regulation”:

“The most impassioned defense of BPA on the blogs comes from Trevor Butterworth… He regularly combs the Internet for stories about BPA and offers comments without revealing his ties to industry.”

In companion article, Kissinger and Rust described STATS as “a major player in the public relations campaign to discredit concerns” about BPA. Although the group, “claims to be an independent media watchdog,” they wrote:

“a review of its finances and its Web site shows that STATS is funded by public policy organizations that promote deregulation. The Journal Sentinel found documents that show that its parent organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, was paid in the 1990s by Philip Morris, the tobacco company, to pick apart stories critical of smoking.”

Kissinger and Rust noted that Butterworth’s 27,000-word STATS report criticizing media coverage of BPA – which was widely featured on plastic industry websites – “echoed the approach used in the tobacco analysis.”

“Friend” of Coke

In 2014, a Coca-Cola executive described Butterworth as “our friend” to members of a Coke-funded front group, and pitched him as a person who could help fulfill their “need for good scientific journalists,” according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

The email exchanges involved Rhona Applebaum, then-chief science and health officer for Coca-Cola, and the leaders of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), which was exposed by The New York Times and Associated Press as a Coca-Cola front group that worked closely with Coke executives to shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks. Applebaum resigned her position at Coke and GEBN closed down after the scandal broke in 2015.

In a March 2014 email, Applebaum forwarded the GEBN leaders a Harvard Business Review article by Butterworth that attempts to discredit research linking sugar to weight gain, and described him as “our friend.”

In a November 2014 email chain, Applebaum and the GEBN leaders discussed the need to recruit scientific institutions and get more scientists “on the circuit.” Applebaum recommended “the need for good scientific journalists as part of GEBN who focus on the evidence. Presenting for consideration Trevor Butterworth. Need that type of cross-fertilization.”

GEBN vice president Steven Blair wrote, “I agree with Rhona about Trevor. I am pretty sure he is on my list of potential members.” Applebaum replied, “He’s ready and able.”

Ally of Many Industry Groups

Butterworth’s extensive writings defending chemicals, sugar and sugar substitutes have attracted the praise of many industry groups over the years.

Trade groups that have promoted Butterworth’s work include the American Beverage Association, the American Chemistry Council, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, the International Bottled Water Association, the International Sweeteners Association, the Plastics Industry Trade Association, the cosmetics industry trade association, the chemical industry’s policy website, the Competitive Enterprises Institute, the Cato Institute and the Center for Consumer Freedom.

The American Council on Science and Health, an industry front group that frequently promotes Butterworth’s work, has described him as “a master junk science debunker” and also “our friend.”

Butterworth is also listed as a friend of National Press Foundation. The chair of Sense About Science USA, Heather Dahl, is “immediate past chair” of the National Press Foundation, and sits on NPF’s executive committee.

Sucralose Echo Chamber

Butterworth is a prominent defender of artificial sweeteners whose safety is questionable. In 2011, Butterworth spoke at the International Sweeteners Association Conference and was featured in their press release titled, “Experts Recommend Low-Calorie Sweeteners such as Sucralose to Help Manage Weight.”

Identified as a journalist who regularly contributes to the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, Butterworth said about sucralose, “The weight of considered scientific evidence, the result of careful, independent, expert scrutiny, again and again shows that there is no evidence of a risk to health.”

As an example of how the industry echo chamber works to spin reporters: In 2012, Butterworth wrote an article for Forbes attacking a study that raised concerns about sucralose by Dr. Morando Soffritti, director of the Ramazzini Institute, which he described as “something of a joke.”

In a 2016 press release, in response to another Soffritti study, the food industry front group International Food Information Council featured Butterworth’s 2012 piece and attack quotes, and they were picked up by reporters at the The IndependentThe Daily MailThe Telegraph and Deseret News, all of whom identified Butterworth as a source from Forbes.

A Google search for the Ramazzini Institute turns up Butterworth’s 2012 Forbes hit piece as the first item.

Funded by Climate Change Denier Dark Money Network

While STATS claims to be nonpartisan, the bulk of funding has come from a handful of conservative, anti-regulatory foundations that have played a key role in funding organizations that try to discredit climate science.

According to The Intercept investigation:

“Between 1998 and 2014, STATS received $4.5 million, 81 percent of its donations, from the Searle Freedom Trust, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, Donors Trust (a fund largely sustained by Charles Koch), and other right-wing foundations. Searle, which describes its mission as promoting ‘economic liberties,’ gave STATS $959,000 between 2010 and 2014.

Anti-regulatory foundations, including these, spent over half a billion dollars between 2003 and 2010 to ‘manipulate and mislead the public over the nature of climate science and the threat posed by climate change,’ according to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle.”

In the press release about his study, Brulle identified the Scaife and Searle foundations as among “the largest and most consistent funders of organizations orchestrating climate change denial” and foundations that “promote ultra-free-market ideas in many realms.”

The Scaife Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust have been key funders of STATS, with Scaife providing nearly all funding for the group between 2005 to 2007, according to a Greenpeace investigation of STATS funding, and Searle stepping up with almost a million dollars in funding between 2010 and 2014.

The President and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust, Kimberly Dennis, is also chairman of the board of directors of Donors Trust, the group Mother Jones called the “dark-money ATM of the conservative movement,” and a leading funder of climate change denier and skeptic organizations. Under Dennis’s leadership, the Searle Foundation and Donors Trust sent a collective $290,000 to STATS in 2010, Greenpeace reported.

Koch Industries / George Mason University Foundation

Charles Koch, CEO of the petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries, gave over $100 million to 361 college campuses from 2005 to 2014, according to a Greenpeace analysis of IRS filings. The George Mason University Foundation, which received $45.5 million, was by far the largest beneficiary of this largesse.

Students at GMU raised concerns about Koch funding in a 2014 letter to the GMU president, noting that the university has been “criticized as being a subsidiary of Koch Industries.” In response to a public records request for information about Koch funding, the students “were told that all financial donations are funneled through the GMU Foundation, which does not have to respond to our FOIA request as a distinct private entity.”

The GMU Foundation funded STATS sister organization CMPA $220,990 in 2012, and $75,670 in 2013, according to tax records. In those years CMPA also helped finance STATS. In 2012, STATS reported a $203,611 loan from CMPA that “due to inadequate funding” has “not been reimbursed.” In 2013, STATS reported a loan from CMPA for $163,914.

Tax records for 2014 show no loans between the groups or donations from GMU Foundation. CMPA’s 2014 tax filing shows compensation of $97,512 for Butterworth and $173,100 for Jon Entine, a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to the chemical industry, who runs the Genetic Literacy Project, an agrichemical industry front group.

Wholly Independent?

STATS now shares a website with Sense About Science USA, and provides this note about funding:

“STATS.org is run by Sense About Science USA; it is funded grants from the Searle Freedom Trust and a donation from the American Statistical Association. Sense About Science USA is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and donations from members of the public. Sense About Science USA does not accept industry funding or support. Sense About Science USA is wholly independent of any university, society, or other organization.”

The website conveys a sense of grassroots support, noting that its campaign calling for the registration of clinical drug trials has drawn 30,000 donors. “We don’t have fancy offices. Sense About Science USA is in the back of a bakery and cafe. We put our money into doing, and every little bit helps.”

Tobacco Ties

Both STATS and Sense About Science have roots in the tobacco industry PR wars.

STATS and CMPA were founded by Robert Lichter, PhD, a former Fox news commentator and professor of communications at GMU. Phillip Morris contracted with CMPA and Lichter during the 1990s, according to documents from the Tobacco Institute made available by the UCSF tobacco industry documents library.

In 1994, Phillip Morris sought CMPA’s help dealing with the “recent onslaught of attacks on the tobacco industry” in the media, according to an internal memo proposing strategies to “refocus the media’s attention on the need for objectivity.”

In an email dated February 8, 1999, Phillip Morris vice president Vic Han referred to CMPA as “a media watchdog group that we have contributed to over the last several years,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The founder of Sense About Science, Dick Taverne, also appears in the UCSF tobacco industry files. As Liza Gross explains in The Intercept:

“According to internal documents released in litigation by cigarette manufacturers, Taverne’s consulting company, PRIMA Europe, helped British American Tobacco improve relations with its investors and beat European regulations on cigarettes in the 1990s. Taverne himself worked on the investors project: In an undated memo, PRIMA assured the tobacco company that ‘the work would be done personally by Dick Taverne,’ because he was well placed to interview industry opinion leaders and ‘would seek to ensure that industry’s needs are foremost in people’s minds.’

During the same decade, Taverne sat on the board of the British branch of the powerhouse public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, which claimed Philip Morris as a client. The idea for a “sound science” group, made up of a network of scientists who would speak out against regulations that industrial spokespeople lacked the credibility to challenge, was a pitch Burson-Marsteller made to Philip Morris in a 1994 memorandum.”

Taverne stepped down as chairman of Sense About Science in 2012. Sense About Science USA launched in 2014 in Brooklyn under the direction of Butterworth. The two groups are described as sister organizations with “close ties and similar aims.”

Exposing ‘Bogus Science’ Through the Living Marxism Network 

Lord Taverne founded Sense About Science in 2002 to “expose bogus science,” according to his memoir. As Liza Gross explained in The Intercept, early sponsors of the group included some of Taverne’s former business clients and companies in which he owned stock.

As its first projects, Sense About Science organized a letter from 114 scientists lobbying the British government to “contradict false claims” about GMOs, and conducted a survey highlighting the problem of vandalism against GMO crops.

In 2000, Taverne helped create the “Code of Practice: Guidelines on Science and Health Communication,” a manifesto from the Social Institute Research Center and the Royal Institution on the procedures journalists and scientists should use to avoid unjustified “scare stories” in the media.

The Guidelines were the foundational document for Sense About Science and its sister organization, the Science Media Centre, a group that has been called “science’s PR agency.” Partly funded by corporations, the Science Media Centre often promotes the views of scientists who downplay risk about controversial technologies and chemicals, and its earliest work involved defending GMOs using stealth tactics.

As writers George Monbiot, Zac Goldsmith, Jonathan Matthews and others have documented, both Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre originated from and are directed by a network of people connected to the Revolutionary Communist Party, which later morphed into Living Marxism, LM magazine, Spiked Magazine and the Institute of Ideas, which promote an idealized vision of technology, extreme free-market views and disdain for environmentalists.

As Monbiot wrote in 2003, “the scientific establishment, always politically naive, appears unwittingly to have permitted its interests to be represented to the public by the members of a bizarre and cultish political network.”

Further reading:

 The Intercept: How Self-Appointed Guardians of ‘Sound Science’ Tip the Scales Toward Industry

The Atlantic: How Lobbyists are Spinning Weak Science to Defend BPA

Columbia Journalism Review: BPA, Health and Nuance: STATS report criticizes media coverage but has its own faults

Consumer Reports: Industry Reacts to Consumer Reports BPA Report

CJR: Meet the man who wants to help journalists with numbers

USRTK: Jon Entine: The Chemical Industry’s Master Messenger

The Ecologist: Why is Cornell University Hosting a GMO Propaganda Campaign?

More on funders:

Washington Post: Scaife: Funding Father of the Right

Drexel University: Not Just the Koch Brothers: New Drexel Study Reveals Funders Behind the Climate Change Denial Effort

DeSmog Blog: Scaife Family Foundations

DeSmog Blog: Charles G. Koch; Richard Mellon Sciafe; Searle Freedom Trust; Donors Trust: Study Details Dark Money Flowing to Climate Science Denial

Associated Press: George Mason University Becomes a Favorite of Charles Koch

Huffington Post: To Charles Koch, Professors are Lobbyists

FDA Suspends Testing for Glyphosate Residues in Food

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By Carey Gillam

Government testing for residues of an herbicide that has been linked to cancer has been put on hold, slowing the Food and Drug Administration’s first-ever endeavor to get a handle on just how much of the controversial chemical is making its way into U.S. foods.

The FDA, the nation’s chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a “special assignment” earlier this year to analyze certain foods for residues of the weed killer called glyphosate after the agency was criticized  by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide line.

Glyphosate is under particular scrutiny now after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts last year declared the chemical a probable human carcinogen. Several private groups and nonprofits have been doing their own testing, and have been finding glyphosate residues in varying levels in a range of foods, raising consumer concerns about the pesticide’s presence in the American diet.

The FDA’s residue testing for glyphosate was combined with a broader herbicides analysis program the FDA set in motion in February of this year. But the glyphosate testing has been particularly challenging for the FDA. The agency was finally forced to put the glyphosate residue testing part of the work plan on hold amid confusion, disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency’s multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources. Equipment issues have also been a problem, with some labs citing a need for more sensitive instruments, sources within FDA said.

FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the testing suspension and said the agency is not sure when it will resume.

“As testing for glyphosate will expand to several locations, we are currently working to ensure that the methods are validated for use in these labs. As soon as the validation is completed, testing for glyphosate will resume,” she said. “We cannot speculate on timing at this point.”

Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also been analyzing foods for 2,4-D and other “acid herbicides,” documents obtained from the FDA show. The category of acid herbicides includes five of the top 10 active ingredients used in homes and gardens. Usage of 2,4-D is expected to triple in the coming year, according to the FDA.

The FDA work detail calls for the examination of roughly 1,340 food samples, 82 percent of which are to be domestic and 18 percent imported. The foods are to be collected from warehouse and retail stores only, and are to include a variety of cereal grains, vegetables and non-flavored, whole milk and eggs. Documents obtained from the agency through Freedom of Information requests show the agency has been testing corn and soybeanswheat, barley, sugar beets, rice, and even samples of yellow popcorn and “organic white popcorn.” 

McSeveney said glyphosate residues were only being analyzed in soy, corn, milk and eggs and the popcorn samples, while the other foods are being tested for residues of other herbicides.

Earlier this year, one of the agency’s senior chemists also analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported his results to the agency. Some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. The United States has no legal tolerance for glyphosate in honey, though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said recently it may set one because of the FDA findings. The results for honey and oatmeal are not considered to be part of the official assignment, however, according to McSeveney.

With the testing on hold, it is not clear when the agency might have final results on the glyphosate residue analysis. McSeveney said preliminary results showed no violations of legal tolerance levels allowed for glyphosate in the foods tested. She did not provide details on what, if any, levels of residue were found. Tolerance levels are set by the EPA for a variety of pesticides expected to be found in foods. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producer.

Monsanto said earlier this year that no data has ever indicated residue levels of more than a fraction of allowable levels, and it is confident FDA testing will reaffirm the safety of its herbicide.

Though FDA annually tests domestic and imported foods for residues of other pesticides, it never tested for glyphosate before. It has not routinely tested for 2,4-D either, a fact also criticized by the GAO. The FDA testing for 2,4-D residues comes as the use of 2,4-D with food crops is expected to start rising due to the commercialization of new formulated herbicide products that combine glyphosate and 2,4-D. Safety questions have been raised about the combination. But the EPA gave a green light on Nov. 1 to a Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. The new products are intended to counter widespread weed resistance to glyphosate, and be used with new types of genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops.

The agrichemical industry asserts that residues of glyphosate, 2,4-D and the array of other chemicals used in modern-day agriculture do not pose a danger to human health, but the lack of testing to determine actual residue levels of some of the most-used chemicals, like glyphosate and 2,4-D, has been troubling to many consumer groups.

Getting solid data on glyphosate’s presence in the American food supply is more important than ever now as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on future use of the herbicide. The FDA work covers only a few foods, but is a long-needed, good first step. Consumers can only hope the testing resumes soon.

The article was first published in the Huffington Post

CDC SPIDER: Scientists complain of corporate influence at health agency

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By Carey Gillam

Concerns about the inner workings of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been mounting in recent months amid disclosures of cozy corporate alliances. Now a group of more than a dozen senior scientists have reportedly lodged an ethics complaint alleging the federal agency is being influenced by corporate and political interests in ways that short-change taxpayers.

A group calling itself CDC Scientists Preserving Integrity, Diligence and Ethics in Research, or CDC SPIDER, put a list of complaints in writing in a letter to the CDC Chief of Staff and provided a copy of the letter to the public watchdog organization U.S. Right to Know (USRTK). The members of the group have elected to file the complaint anonymously for fear of retribution.

“It appears that our mission is being influenced and shaped by outside parties and rogue interests… and Congressional intent for our agency is being circumvented by some of our leaders. What concerns us most, is that it is becoming the norm and not the rare exception,” the letter states. “These questionable and unethical practices threaten to undermine our credibility and reputation as a trusted leader in public health.”

The complaint cites among other things a “cover up” of the poor performance of a women’s health program called the Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Woman Across the Nation, or WISEWOMAN. The program provides standard preventive services to help 40- to 64-year-old women reduce their risks for heart disease, and promote healthy lifestyles. CDC currently funds 21 WISEWOMAN programs through states and tribal organizations. The complaint alleges there was a coordinated effort within the CDC to misrepresent data given to Congress so that it appeared the program was involving more women than it actually was.

“Definitions were changed and data ‘cooked’ to make the results look better than they were,” the complaint states. “An ‘internal review’ that involved staff across CDC occurred and its findings were essentially suppressed so media and/or Congressional staff would not become aware of the problems.”
The letter mentions that Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, who has been a proponent of the program, has made inquiries to CDC regarding the data. A spokesman for her office, confirmed as much.

The complaint also alleges that staff resources that are supposed to be dedicated to domestic programs for Americans are instead being directed to work on global health and research issues.

And the complaint cites as “troubling” the ties between soft drink giant Coca-Cola Co., an advocacy group backed by Coca-Cola, and two high-ranking CDC officials – Dr. Barbara Bowman who directed the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention until retiring in June, and Dr. Michael Pratt, senior Advisor for Global Health in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) at the CDC.

Bowman, retired after revelations of what the complaint called an “irregular” relationship with Coca-Cola and the nonprofit corporate interest group set up by Coca-Cola called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Email communications obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by USRTK revealed that in her CDC role, Bowman had been communicating regularly with – and offering guidance to – a leading Coca-Cola advocate seeking to influence world health authorities on sugar and beverage policy matters.

Emails also suggested that Pratt has a history of promoting and helping lead research funded by Coca-Cola while being employed by the CDC. Pratt also has been working closely with ILSI, which advocates for the agenda of beverage and food industries, emails obtained through FOIA showed. Several research papers co-written by Pratt were at least partly funded by Coca-Cola, and Pratt has received industry funding to attend industry-sponsored events and conferences.

Last month, Pratt took a position as Director of the University of California San Diego Institute for Public Health. Next month, ILSI is partnering with the UCSD to hold a forum related to “energy balance behavior,” planned for November 30 to December 1 of this year. One of the moderators is another CDC scientist, Janet Fulton, Chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch. Pratt is on annual leave from the CDC during his stint in San Diego, according to the CDC.

The forum fits into the messaging of “energy balance” that Coca-Cola has been pushing. Consumption of sugar-laden foods and beverages is not to blame for obesity or other health problems; a lack of exercise is the primary culprit, the theory goes.

Experts in the nutrition arena have said that the relationships are troubling because the mission of the CDC is protecting public health, and yet certain CDC officials appear to be close with an industry that, studies say, is linked to about 180,000 deaths per year worldwide, including 25,000 in the United States. The CDC is supposed to be addressing rising obesity rates among children, not advancing beverage industry interests.

CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben would not address what the agency might be doing, if anything, in response to the SPIDER complaint, but she said the agency makes use of a “full range of federal ethics statutes, regulations, and policies” that apply to all federal employees.”

“CDC takes seriously its responsibility to comply with the ethics rules, inform employees about them, and take steps to make it right any time we learn that employees aren’t in compliance,” Harben said. “We provide regular training to and communicate with staff on how to comply with ethics requirements and avoid violations.”

The SPIDER group complaint ends with a plea for CDC management to address the allegations; to “do the right thing.”

Let’s hope someone is listening.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post

EPA Bows to Chemical Industry in Delay of Glyphosate Cancer Review

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By Carey Gillam

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This might have been a tough week for Monsanto Co. The Environmental Protection Agency was slated to hold four days of public meetings focused on essentially one question: Is glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and the lynchpin to Monsanto’s fortunes, as safe as Monsanto has spent 40 years telling us it is?

But oddly, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meetings, called to look at potential glyphosate ties to cancer, were “postponed“ just four days before they were to begin Oct. 18, after intense lobbying by the agrichemical industry. The industry first fought to keep the meetings from being held at all, and argued that if they were held, several leading international experts should be excluded from participating, including “any person who has publicly expressed an opinion regarding the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.”

As the meetings drew near, CropLife America, which represents the interests of Monsanto and other agribusinesses, specifically took issue with at least two scientists chosen for the panel, alleging the experts might be unfavorably biased against industry interests. On Oct. 12, the group sent a letter to the EPA calling for Dr. Kenneth Portier of the American Cancer Society to be more deeply scrutinized for any “pre-formed conclusions” about glyphosate.

More notably, CropLife called for leading epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante to be completely disqualified from panel participation: “EPA should replace Dr. Infante with an epidemiologist without such patent bias,” CropLife told EPA. The chemical industry group said Infante was unlikely to give industry-sponsored research studies the credibility the industry believes they deserve. CropLife said Infante has testified in the past for plaintiffs in chemical exposure cases against Monsanto. Croplife also argued that because Infante was the “only epidemiologist on the glyphosate SAP” he would have enhanced influence in the evaluation of epidemiological data about glyphosate and cancer.

The CropLife letter was dated last Wednesday, and by Friday the EPA announced it was looking for additional epidemiology expertise to ensure “robust representation from that discipline.” EPA also said one panelist had voluntarily departed, though the agency refused to say who that panelist was.

Challenging Infante’s role is a gutsy move. After all, Infante spent 24 years working for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration helping determine cancer risks to workers during the development of standards toxic substances, including asbestos, arsenic, and formaldehyde. His resume includes a stint at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health where he conducted epidemiological studies related to carcinogens, and he has served as an expert consultant in epidemiology for several world bodies, including the EPA and the World Trade Organization.

According to sources close to the situation, Infante remains a panelist as of this week, but there is no certainty when the meetings might be rescheduled, and what the panel membership might look like when they are rescheduled. The EPA has refused to discuss who remains on the panel and who does not at this point, and some onlookers said the EPA was clearly bowing to agrichemical industry interests.

“This is outrageous. The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren’t good enough for these panels.”

“This is outrageous. The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren’t good enough for these panels,” said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union. “If the EPA wants to add extra epidemiologists that is great but why didn’t they do it before? They are doing this because of pressure from industry.”

The industry clearly has much at stake, as does the public. Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Monsanto’s branded Roundup herbicides as well as herbicides marketed by numerous agrichemical companies around the world. It is also the key to what has been 20 years of sales of genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto. The future sales of both the chemical and the crops are being jeopardized by the mounting concerns that glyphosate can cause cancer and other illnesses or disease. Scientists around the world have been raising red flags for years over worrisome research findings, and last year the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said glyphosate was aprobable human carcinogen. More than three dozen lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by people claiming Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and both European and U.S. regulators are evaluating the chemical for continued use.

Since the IARC classification, Monsanto has asked the EPA to back industry assurances that glyphosate is safe, and so far, the EPA has done exactly that, issuing a series of reports and memos that dovetail with Monsanto’s position. Monsanto also has sought to bolster arguments for glyphosate’s safety by pointing to supportive research papers published in late September in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. Monsanto hired the group that arranged for the panel, and most of the 16 scientists involved are former Monsanto employees or Monsanto consultants. At least one, Gary Williams, has also consulted for Monsanto on litigation matters involving glyphosate. Despite all those affiliations, the research is touted as “independent.”

It seems more than a little hypocritical that those scientists are presented as credible by the industry, but scientists like Infante and Portier are said to be unfit to advise EPA because of suspected bias. Like Infante, Portier has a long track record as an independent scientist. He is vice president of the Statistics & Evaluation Center at the American Cancer Society. He has participated in over 60 other SAP meetings and has served on expert and advisory panels for the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization Food and Agriculture Organization.

Portier also would not comment about the industry concerns about him, the postponement or changes to the makeup of the SAP, other than to say that as of today, he remains on the panel.

EPA said it is “working to reschedule as soon as possible.” But the delay and the maneuvering by industry to influence panel participation does little bolster consumer confidence in an objective outcome.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

GMO 2.0 Foods Coming Your Way: Will They Be Labeled?

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By Stacy Malkan

Silenced genes, edited genes, algae engineered to produce compounds that taste like food: new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) made with these experimental techniques are making their way to your dinner plate. It’s the next wave of genetic engineering, or GMOs 2.0.

Will we know if they’re in our food?

Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist, Consumers Union

Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist, Consumers Union

The new GMO labeling law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama has been widely panned by consumer groups because it allows companies to use QR codes or 800 numbers in place of plain English on labels.

But even worse news for our right to know what’s in our food: vague wording in the new law opens the door for industry pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to exempt many – possibly even most – GMOs from labeling at all.

To learn more about GMOs 2.0 and whether these foods will be labeled, I spoke with Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

Q: GMOs have been in our food for over 20 years but they have recently been changing. Can you describe what’s new?

MH: What’s new is they are using different methods to cut and change specific gene sequences. There are two basic types: gene silencing techniques such as RNA interference (RNAi) that can turn particular genes off; and gene editing techniques such as CRISPR, TALEN or zinc fingered nucleuses used to cut DNA in order to make small genetic changes or insert genetic material.

These methods are more precise than the old methods, but there can still be off-target and unintended effects. When you alter the genetics of living things they don’t always behave as you expect. This is why it’s crucial to thoroughly study health and environmental impacts, but these studies aren’t required.

Also, just because the techniques are different doesn’t mean the traits will be. The old method of genetic engineering was used mostly to make plants resist herbicides, and increase sales of herbicides. The new gene editing techniques will probably be used in much the same way, but there are some new twists.

Q: What GMO 2.0 foods are on the market now? 

Non-browning GMO apples are growing in fields now and may be in stores next year. A GMO potato is in stores now but we don’t know where. The potato was engineered with RNAi to not turn brown on exposure to air and to produce lower levels of acrylamide (a carcinogen) when fried or baked.

Canola genetically engineered with CRISPR to tolerate herbicides may already be in canola oils. Synthetic biology vanilla flavor and stevia are also in products – these were produced using genetically engineered yeast – and they may even be marketed as “natural.”

Companies are not telling consumers these products are GMO; instead they are using terms like “fermentation derived” to describe ingredients made with synthetic biology. When you see that term on products, or a “non-browning” apple or potato, assume that means genetically engineered.

Congress just passed a GMO labeling law, but the language is written in a way that could be interpreted to exempt many GMO foods from labeling. Can you explain the problem? 

The first problem is that the law says genetically engineered DNA must be present. That means the law exempts highly processed foods such as high fructose corn syrup, GMO beet sugar, purified oils and some engineered artificial flavors and spices because the identifiable engineered DNA is degraded or removed. Whole classes of soft drinks won’t be labeled even if they contain high levels of genetically engineered corn syrup. Nothing can be done about that now.

The second problem we can do something about. The law exempts foods if the genetic modification could otherwise be achieved via conventional breeding or found in nature. It all comes down to how the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “modification.” It could be defined in a way that includes nothing, though hopefully that won’t happen because there would be such an uproar.

Modification should be defined as specific genetic sequences that are altered. If USDA defines it that way, these new GMO 2.0 techniques should be covered. But that is going to be a huge fight and it could end up that a lot of GMO foods fall through the cracks and don’t have to be labeled.

On the plus side, USDA has decided that meat, poultry and eggs can be labeled as non-GMO if they come from animals that are not fed with genetically engineered foods, and they leave it up to an independent third-party standard. We need to make sure that standard is created in an open transparent manner and consistent with international standards.

The next step is that consumer groups need to flood the USDA with comments. USDA is accepting public comments until Oct. 23 and Consumers Union will be posting our comments soon to help inform others of the issues at stake.

Is genetic engineering the future of our food? 

No I don’t think so. When you look at the millennial generation, there is a sea change in how people view food. Previously people asked if it was cheap. Now there is a huge interest in how food is produced and where it comes from. People are trying to get food as fresh and natural as possible. They want food grown more sustainably, more locally and in less industrialized conditions.

This is why we see so many companies announcing they are getting rid of antibioticsartificial colors and ingredientsGMOs and other foods produced in industrialized conditions. That’s why these new GMO technologies may not have a great future; most of them are designed for industrial food systems.

There is global agreement in the World Agriculture Report that industrial agriculture and genetic engineering are not the answer for the future of food. The answer is ecologically rational farming systems.

Biotechnology by its very nature is focusing on one or a few genes or specific traits whereas truly ecological agriculture is focused on whole systems. That’s the direction consumers want and where we need to go for health and sustainability.

But ecological agriculture is not something that corporations can easily monetize, and not something they can patent and own. Companies are pushing GMOs because of the profit margin.

What, in your view, is the responsible path forward for genetic engineering?

Along with hundreds of other scientists and academics, I signed the statement “No scientific consensus on GMO safety,” which describes the problems with current regulatory and scientific methods. Our view is that decisions about whether to continue or expand genetically engineered crops and foods should be supported by strong scientific evidence of the long-term safety for human and animal health and the environment, which is obtained in a manner that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent and transparent.

Given the uncertain state of labeling, what can people do to avoid genetically engineered foods? 

Choose organic food or products certified by the Non GMO Project, which has verified tens of thousands of foods that don’t contain GMOs or synthetic biology ingredients.