Alison Van Eenennaam: key outside spokesperson and lobbyist for the pesticide 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 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.”

According to Dr. Van Eenennaam, a proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require safety and efficacy studies for genetically engineered animals is “insane.”

Read more on the topic of livestock “editing” in the Wall Street Journal, Big Tongues and Extra Vertebrae: The Unintended Consequences of Animal Gene Editing (12.14.18)

The media has described Dr. Van Eenennaam an independent scientist, however, she coordinates closely with pesticide companies and their PR firms on messaging, lobbying and PR activities, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Library.

Dr. Van Eenennaam is also a member of the board of directors of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a corporate-funded front group that defends ultra processed foods, pesticides and other products important to their food and chemical company funders. For more information, see our fact sheet about IFIC and a March 2022 study we co-authored in Globalization and Health. The study describes how food and chemical industry players view IFIC and the IFIC Foundation as “being central to promoting industry-favorable content in defense of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…”

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” to “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 and industry PR firm 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. They also arranged for her to receive media and messaging training from Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former head of corporate communications. (Emails we obtained also reveal that Jay Byrne worked with Monsanto to set up a front group to attack 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 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. Donors to a Competitive Enterprises Institute fundraiser in 2013 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, the Trump Administration chose CEI’s Director of Energy and Environment Myron Ebell to lead its transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Bell is a prominent climate science skeptic who has said the case for global warming is “silly.”

Coordinated lobbying efforts; defends pesticides

Dr. Van Eenennaam has coordinated lobbying to deregulate genetically engineered crops and animals, and keep GMO foods unlabeled. In 2012, she wrote to the Obama Administration on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science public policy committee arguing that the AquaBounty GMO salmon should be approved without rigorous safety testing or labeling. In 2015, she recruited professors to support deregulating the Simplot Innate 2.0 GMO potato: “the antis are trying to get the comment period extended as usual,” she wrote to the professors, referring to critics of unregulated genetically engineered foods.

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 she characterized critics as the “worried wealthy.”

Monsanto promoted 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

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