Biology Fortified Inc., known as “Biofortified,” is a nonprofit organization that works closely with the agrichemical industry and its collaborators on public relations and lobbying campaigns to defend genetically engineered foods and pesticides, and attack industry critics.
Board members and bloggers are key agrichemical industry allies
Current and former board members and blog authors listed on Biofortified’s “meet our experts” page have close ties to the agrichemical industry and industry front group efforts.
- Current board member David Tribe, a geneticist at University of Melbourne, co-founded Academics Review, a Monsanto front group that claimed to be independent while receiving industry funds. Internal documents describe how Academics Review was set up with the help of Monsanto to attack industry critics. Tribe has been a Biofortified board member since the group’s launch in 2012.
- Biofortified co-founder and former board member Pamela Ronald, a geneticist at UC Davis, is also a former board member of the Science Literacy Project, the umbrella organization of Jon Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project, a key chemical industry front group. Ronald has received industry money to promote genetically engineered crops; see $10,000 invoice to Bayer and $3,000 invoice to Monsanto for speaking fees.
- Former Biofortified board member Kevin Folta, a plant scientist at the University of Florida, aids agrichemical industry PR efforts and has also received industry funds. [Update: Biofortified announced on 8/29/2018 they cut ties with Folta over conflict of interest disclosure issues.]
- Biofortified blog author Steve Savage, an agrichemical industry consultant and former DuPont employee, promoted inaccurate information about pesticide residues in organic food, according to a May 2018 column in the Washington Post
- Biofortified blog author Joe Ballenger has been a Monsanto contractor.
- Biofortified blog author Andrew Kniss was offered an “unrestricted gift” by Monsanto.
Following are examples of industry-aligned lobbying and public relations efforts involving Biofortified and its leaders.
“Biofortified boys” lobby squad defends pesticides
In 2013, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA) — a trade group representing DowDuPont, Monsanto and the Hartung Brothers — organized a lobbying trip to Kauai for industry allies to oppose a community ordinance that would have improved public disclosure of pesticide use and required pesticide buffer zones around schools, hospitals and other public areas. According to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know, the HCIA executive director referred to four supporters who were invited on the lobby trip as the “Biofortified boys.” They were:
- Karl Haro von Mogel, Biofortified science director
- Steve Savage, Biofortified blog author and agrichemical industry consultant
- Kevin Folta, Biofortified board member and professor at University of Florida
- Jon Entine, director of Genetic Literacy Project, a Monsanto partner group
Emails show that Renee Kester, lead organizer of the HCIA lobby project, emailed the four men on July 11, 2013 (page 10) to thank them “for all of the support you have given us over here in Hawaii with regard to our recent legislative battles” and to set up a call to discuss their availability to attend an upcoming legislative hearing. Alicia Muluafiti, executive director of HCIA, then emailed the group (page 9) about the need to craft out short term and longer term strategies “using the Biofortified boys”:
- New York Times, “A Florida Professor Works with the Biotech Industry: A Trip to Hawaii to Testify, Paid by Industry” (page 23) (9/5/2015)
- GM Watch, “How the ‘Biofortified Boys’ defended the pesticide industry’s secrets in Hawaii” (9/27/2015)
Biofortified listed as “industry partner” in Monsanto PR doc
This internal Monsanto document identifies Biofortified as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, an IARC expert panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.
The Monsanto PR document identified four tiers of industry partners the corporation planned to engage in its “preparedness plan” for the IARC cancer report. Biofortified is listed in “Tier 2,” along with Academics Review, AgBioChatter academics, Genetic Literacy Project and Sense About Science. These groups are are often cited as independent sources, but as the Monsanto plan and other examples suggest, they work behind the scenes with the agrichemical industry to protect corporate interests. (Update: In October 2018, Biofortified posted a statement from Monsanto saying the company does not fund or partner with them.)
Opposed transparency and state FOIA requests
Biofortified co-sponsored, along with the Cornell Alliance for Science, a March 2015 petition opposing the use of state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to investigate links between publicly funded academics and the agrichemical industry.
Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state FOIA requests have since revealed numerous examples of academics working in covert ways with agrichemical companies and their PR firms to aid industry’s lobbying and messaging agenda — for example, the documents describing the origins of the front group Academics Review, and those that discussed the “Biofortified boys” lobby trip to Hawaii. Many of the emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know are now posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Library, USRTK Agrichemical Collection. The documents have generated worldwide media coverage about transparency in the food industry and the health and environmental risks of pesticides and GMOs.
Biofortified’s industry-aligned attacks on critics
Biofortified founding board member David Tribe co-founded Academics Review, a front group set up with the help of Monsanto to attack industry critics, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. In one email, Jay Byrne, a former director of corporate communications for Monsanto, discussed a target list of industry critics he was developing for Monsanto.
March Against Myths about Modification (MAMyths), a project of Biofortified, also targeted some of the groups and individuals named on Byrne’s target list – for example, the group participated in a protest against Vandana Shiva and reportedly led a failed attempt to derail an event featuring Vani Hari, the “Food Babe,” sponsored by the Center for Food Safety.
MAMyths co-founder Kavin Senapathy had several articles deleted by Forbes after the New York Times revealed that her co-author, Henry Miller, published a column in Forbes that was ghostwritten by Monsanto. Miller was also identified as a partner in Monsanto’s public relations plan to attack the IARC cancer panel.
Senapathy is co-author of a 2015 book about Hari, “The Fear Babe,” which features a forward written by former Biofortified board member Kevin Folta, in which he describes the food movement as a “well financed terrorist faction.”
Senapathy and Haro von Mogel also appear in the GMO propaganda film Food Evolution.
GENERA Database is a list of studies to “show people how much research has been conducted on genetically engineered crops,” according to the FAQ on the Biofortified website. The list was first started by David Tribe, who also co-founded the Monsanto front group Academics Review. Early promotion for GENERA misleadingly claimed to show “more than 600 peer-reviewed reports in the scientific literature which document the general safety and nutritional wholesomeness of GM foods and feeds.” Many of those studies did not address safety issues. The inaccurate promotional language was later removed, along with about a third of the studies.