Following a Columbia Journalism Review article on whether science journalists should accept money from corporate interests, and whether there is adequate disclosure of sources’ corporate ties and conflicts of interest, U.S. Right to Know reviewed recent articles to assess how often journalists and columnists quote academic sources without stating that they are funded by the agrichemical giant Monsanto, which produces pesticides and GMOs.
Our review found 27 articles quoting (or authored by) university professors after they received Monsanto funding, but without disclosing that funding.
This is a collapse of journalistic standards. When reporters quote sources about food issues such as GMOs or organic food, readers deserve to know if the sources have been funded by Monsanto or have other conflicts of interest.
The principal effect of failing to reveal these conflicts of interest is to unfairly enhance the credibility of Monsanto-funded academics, and their support of GMOs and criticism of organic food, while detracting from the credibility of consumer advocates.
Our review found that many top media outlets quoted either University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta or University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy without disclosing that the professors received funding from Monsanto. According to documents published by the New York Times, Professor Folta received Monsanto funding in August 2014, and Professor Chassy in October 2011, if not before.
Many of these journalistic failures occurred at influential news outlets: newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune; science publications such as Nature, Science Insider and Discover; magazines such as the New Yorker, Wired and The Atlantic; as well as broadcast outlets like ABC and NPR.
Following is a list of news articles quoting (or authored by) Professors Folta and Chassy — after they received their Monsanto funding – but failing to disclose that they had received the Monsanto funding.
- New York Times: Taking on the Food Industry, One Blog Post at a Time. By Courtney Rubin, March 13, 2015. (Also ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.)
- New York Times: Foes of Modified Corn Find Support in a Study. By Andrew Pollack, September 19, 2012.
- Washington Post: Kraft Mac & Cheese Just Got Duller. You Can Thank (Or Blame) ‘The Food Babe.’ By Michael E. Miller, April 21, 2015. (Also ran in the Chicago Tribune.)
- Washington Post: Proof He’s the Science Guy: Bill Nye Is Changing His Mind About GMOs. By Puneet Kollipara, March 3, 2015.
- Nature: GM-Crop Opponents Expand Probe Into Ties Between Scientists and Industry. By Keith Kloor, August 6, 2015.
- NPR: Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out. By Maria Godoy, February 10, 2015.
- New Yorker: The Operator. By Michael Specter, February 4, 2013.
- The Atlantic: The Food Babe: Enemy of Chemicals. By James Hamblin, February 11, 2015.
- Wired: Anti-GMO Activist Seeks to Expose Scientists Emails with Big Ag. By Alan Levinovitz, February 23, 2015.
- ABC News: Scientists Developing Hypo-Allergenic Apples. By Gillian Mohney, March 22, 2013.
- Science Insider: Agricultural Researchers Rattled by Demands for Documents from Group Opposed to GM Foods. By Keith Kloor, February 11, 2015.
- Columbia Journalism Review: Why Scientists Often Hate Records Requests. By Anna Clark, February 25, 2015.
- Discover: Open Letter to Bill Nye from a Plant Scientist. By Keith Kloor, November 10, 2014.
- Discover: How to Balance Transparency with Academic Freedom? By Keith Kloor, February 27, 2015.
- Discover: Anti-GMO Group Seeks Emails from University Scientists. By Keith Kloor, February 11, 2015.
- Forbes: Zombie Retracted Séralini GMO Maize Rat Study Republished To Hostile Scientist Reactions. By Jon Entine, June 24, 2014.
- Forbes: Did The New Yorker Botch Puff Piece On Frog Scientist Tyrone Hayes, Turning Rogue into Beleaguered Hero? By Jon Entine, March 10, 2014.
- Forbes: You Can Put Lipstick On A Pig (Study), But It Still Stinks. By Bruce M. Chassy and Henry I. Miller, July 17, 2013.
- Forbes: Anti-GMO Scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, Activist Jeffrey Smith Withdraw from Food Biotech Debate. By Jon Entine, May 29, 2013.
- Forbes: Malpractice On Dr. Oz: Pop Health Expert Hosts Anti-GM Food Rant; Scientists Push Back. By Jon Entine, October 19, 2012.
- Forbes: Scientists Smell a Rat In Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study. By Henry I. Miller and Bruce Chassy, September 25, 2012.
- Forbes: The Science of Things That Aren’t So. By Bruce Chassy and Henry I. Miller, February 22, 2012.
- Des Moines Register: Consumers Are Misled About Organic Safety. By John Block, October 10, 2014.
- Gainesville Sun: Genetically Modified Foods Face Hurdles. By Jeff Schweers, June 29, 2014.
- Peoria Journal Star: Hybrid Crops That Used to Offer Resistance to Rootworm No Match for Mother Nature. By Steve Tarter, June 21, 2014.
- Gawker: The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of Shit. By Yvette d’Entremont, April 6, 2015.
- Louis Post-Dispatch: California Labeling Fight May Raise Food Prices for All of Us. By David Nicklaus, August 19, 2012.
This is merely one example of two professors who were not identified as received funding from Monsanto, and yet these two professors received major traction in the media as “independent” experts on GMOs and organics. The only reason the professors admitted to receiving Monsanto funding was due to emails uncovered by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by U.S. Right to Know, a consumer group.
How often does it happen that journalists present other academics funded by food or agrichemical companies as “independent” sources and without disclosing their corporate funding?
One remedy for this problem is that when journalists write about food, that they carefully ask their sources whether they have any conflicts of interest, where they get their funding from, and whether they receive any funding from food or agrichemical companies like Monsanto, or their PR front groups.
That, however, may not be enough. Professor Kevin Folta received Monsanto funding, yet repeatedly denied ties to or funding from Monsanto. Reporters – and readers — should be aware that such deceit by Monsanto-funded academics has recently occurred, and be on their guard against it.