Top Findings of the U.S. Right To Know Investigations

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Since 2015, U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer and public health watchdog group, has obtained thousands of pages of documents revealing – for the first time – how food and pesticide corporations are working behind the scenes to undermine our nation’s scientific, academic, political and regulatory institutions. Many of these documents are now posted in the free, searchable Chemical Industry Documents Archive hosted by the University of California, San Francisco.

U.S. Right to Know provides documents to researchers and media outlets around the world as a tool for transparency, to protect consumers and public health. For a fuller list of our investigative work and reporting about it, see our investigations page and contact us for more information.

New York Times: Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show, by Eric Lipton

New York Times: New C.D.C. Chief Saw Coca-Cola as Ally in Obesity Fight, by Sheila Kaplan

New York Times: Scientists, Give Up Your Emails, by Paul Thacker

New York Times: Traces of Controversial Herbicide Are Found in Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, by Stephanie Strom

TIME: FDA to Start Testing for Chemicals in Food, by Carey Gillam

BMJ: Coca-Cola’s Influence on Medical and Science Journalists, by Paul Thacker

BMJ: Conflicts of interest compromise US public health agency’s mission, say scientists, by Jeanne Lenzer

BMJ: US public health agency sued over failure to release emails from Coca-Cola, by Martha Rosenberg

Island Press: Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, by Carey Gillam and presentation to European Parliament Joint Committee

Undark: Corporate-Spun Science Should Not Be Guiding Policy, by Carey Gillam

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health: Science organisations and Coca-Cola’s ‘war’ with the public health community: insights from an internal industry document, by Pepita Barlow, Paulo Serôdio Gary Ruskin, Martin McKee, David Stuckler

Journal of Public Health Policy: Case-study of emails exchanged between Coca-Cola and the principal investigators of the ISCOLE, by David Stuckler, Gary Ruskin and Martin McKee

Journal of Public Health Policy: Roundup litigation discovery documents: implications for public health and journal ethics, by Sheldon Krimsky and Carey Gillam

Nature Biotechnology: Standing Up for Transparency, by Stacy Malkan

The Intercept: Trump’s New CDC Chief Championed Partnership with Coca-Cola to Solve Childhood Obesity, by Lee Fang

Los Angeles Times: In Science, Follow the Money If You Can, by Paul Thacker and Curt Furberg

Boston Globe: Harvard Professor Failed to Disclose Monsanto Connection in Paper Touting GMOs, by Laura Krantz

The Guardian: Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Cancer Danger of Weedkiller for Decades, by Carey Gillam

The Guardian: Monsanto says its pesticides are safe. Now, a court wants to see the proof, by Carey Gillam

The Guardian: Carey Gillam’s reporting about glyphosate

The GuardianUN/WHO Panel in Conflict of Interest Row over Glyphosate Cancer Risk, by Arthur Neslen

The Guardian: Before you read another health study, check who’s funding the research, by Alison Moodie

San Francisco Chronicle: Major Brands Reverse Course on Genetically Modified Food Labels, by Tara Duggan

WBEZ: Why Didn’t an Illinois Professor Have to Disclose GMO Funding?, by Monica Eng

San Diego Union TribuneUCSD hires Coke-funded health researcher, by Morgan Cook

Los Angeles Review of Books: Rounding up the Risks of Big Ag; review of Carey Gillam’s “Whitewash” by Elena Conis

Society of Environmental Journalists: First place Rachel Carson Book Award, Carey Gillam’s “Whitewash”

BloombergHow Monsanto Mobilized Academics to Pen Articles Supporting GMOs, by Jack Kaskey

Bloomberg: Emails Show How Food Industry Uses ‘Science’ to Push Soda, by Deena Shanker

CBC: University of Saskatchewan Prof Under Fire for Monsanto Ties, by Jason Warick

CBC: U of S Defends Prof’s Monsanto Ties, But Some Faculty Disagree, by Jason Warick

ABC Australia: Leaked Email Exchange Reveals Food Industry Tactics, by Lexi Metherell

ABC Australia: The Monsanto Papers

Le Monde: Monsanto Papers series, by Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel

The NationDid Monsanto Ignore Evidence Linking its Weed Killer to Cancer? by Rene Ebersole

Mother Jones: These Emails Show Monsanto Leaning on Professors to Fight the GMO PR War, by Tom Philpott

The Progressive: Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media — and Discourages Criticism, by Paul Thacker

Global News: Documents Reveal Canadian Teenager Target of GMO Lobby, by Allison Vuchnich

Critical Public Health: How food companies influence evidence and opinion – straight from the horse’s mouth, by Gary Sacks, Boyd Swinburn, Adrian Cameron and Gary Ruskin

Forbes: The Coca-Cola Network: Soda Giant Mines Connections with Officials and Scientists to Wield Influence, by Rob Waters

STAT: Disney, Fearing a Scandal, Tries to Press Journal to Withdraw Research Paper, by Sheila Kaplan

Environmental Health News: Coca cola war with public health science over obesity, by Gary Ruskin

Environmental Health News: Essay: Monsanto’s ghostwriting and strong-arming threaten sound science — and society, by Sheldon Krimsky

Ralph Nader: Monsanto and its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information

Freedom of the Press Foundation: How corporations suppress disclosure of public records about themselves, by Camille Fassett

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GMO Answers is a Crisis Management PR Tool for GMOs & Pesticides

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Update May 2018: Tax records show that the Council for Biotechnology Information, a chemical industry trade group, paid Ketchum public relations firm more than $11 million from 2013-2016 to to run GMO Answers. See also this related post, “Monsanto Relied on These Partners to Attack Top Cancer Scientists” (5/31/18).

ketchum gmo answers

By Stacy Malkan

GMO Answers is billed as a forum where consumers can get straight answers from independent experts about genetically engineered foods, and some journalists take it seriously as an unbiased source. But the website is a straight-up industry marketing tool to spin GMOs in a positive light.

Evidence that GMO Answers is a crisis-management propaganda tool that lacks credibility:

1) 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?

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.

Examples have since come to light that Ketchum PR scripted some of the GMO answers that were signed by “independent experts.”

2) 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.”

3) 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?

In search of these answers, 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.

Follow the results of the U.S. Right to Know investigation here.