GMO Answers is billed as a forum where consumers can get straight answers from independent experts about genetically engineered foods and pesticides. Some journalists have taken it seriously as an unbiased source. But the evidence shows that GMO Answer is an industry funded marketing tool to spin GMOs in a positive light.
Who funds and runs GMO Answers?
GMO Answers is run by Ketchum public relations firm and is funded by CropLife International, the trade group representing the largest pesticide companies. GMO Answers was previously funded by the pesticide industry-funded group Council for Biotechnology Information, which closed in 2019.
Pesticide companies paid Ketchum more than $14 million to run GMO Answers from 2014-2018, according to tax records posted here.
What is the evidence that GMO Answers is an industry spin job?
GMO Answers was created as a vehicle to sway public opinion in favor of GMOs. Soon after Monsanto and its allies beat back the 2012 ballot initiative to label GMOs in California, Monsanto announced plans to launch a new public relations campaign to reshape the reputation of GMOs. They hired the public relations firm FleishmanHillard (owned by Omnicom) for a seven-figure campaign.
As part of the effort, the PR firm Ketchum (also owned by Omnicom) was hired by the Council for Biotechnology Information – funded by Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta – to create GMOAnswers.com. The site promised to clear up confusion and dispel mistrust about GMOs using the unedited voices of so-called “independent experts.” But how independent are those experts? Examples have come to light that Ketchum PR scripted some of the GMO answers that were signed by “independent experts.”
Monsanto PR documents also name GMO Answers as a key industry industry partner in the company’s effort to defend Roundup herbicides and oppose transparency of industry partnerships with academics and universities.
Carefully crafted talking points
The website hews to carefully crafted talking points that tell a positive story about GMOs while downplaying or ignoring the health and environmental risks. For example, when asked if GMOs are driving up the use of pesticides, the site offers a convoluted no, despite peer-reviewed data showing that, yes, in fact, they are.
“Roundup Ready” GMO crops have increased use of glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen, by hundreds of millions of pounds. A new GMO/pesticide scheme involving dicamba has led to the destruction of soybean crops across the U.S., and the FDA is bracing this year for triple the use of 2, 4-D, an older toxic herbicide, due to new GMO crops that are engineered to resist it. All of this is nothing to worry about, according to GMO Answers.
Questions about safety are answered with false statements such as “every leading health organization in the world stands behind the safety of GMOs.” We found no mention of the statement signed by 300 scientists, physicians and academics who say there is “no scientific consensus on GMO safety, ” and we received no answers to questions we posted about the statement.
Shortlisted for crisis management PR award
As further evidence the site is a spin vehicle: In 2014, GMO Answers was shortlisted for a CLIO advertising award in the category of “Public Relations: Crisis Management & Issue Management.”
And the PR firm that created GMO Answers boasted about its influence on journalists. In a video posted to the CLIO website, Ketchum bragged that GMO Answers “nearly doubled positive media coverage of GMOs.” The video was removed after U.S. Right to Know called attention to it, but we saved it here.
Why reporters would trust a marketing vehicle designed by Ketchum as a reliable source is difficult to understand. Ketchum, which until 2016 was the PR firm for Russia, has been implicated in espionage efforts against nonprofits concerned about GMOs.Not exactly a history that lends itself to dispelling mistrust.
Given that GMO Answers is a marketing tool created and funded by companies that sell GMOs, we think it’s fair game to ask: Are the “independent experts” who lend credibility to the website – several of whom work for public universities and are paid by taxpayers – truly independent and working in the public interest? Or are they working in league with corporations and public relations firms to help sell the public a spin story?
Searching for answers
To shine light on this industry-funded public relations effort, U.S. Right to Know submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the correspondence of publicly funded professors who write for GMOAnswers.com or worked on other GMO promotion efforts.The FOIA’s are narrow requests that cover no personal or academic information, but rather seek to understand the connections between the professors, the agrichemical companies that sell GMOs, their trade associations and the PR and lobbying firms that have been hired to promote GMOs and fight labeling so we’re kept in the dark about what we’re eating.
For more details about how pesticide and seed companies run their disinformation operations, see our 2022 report, Merchants of Poison: How Monsanto Sold the World on a Toxic Pesticide.
See our Pesticide Industry Propaganda Tracker for more information about key players in chemical industry public relations efforts.
You can help expand the Right to Know investigations by making a tax-deductible donation today.