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

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Documents obtained by USRTK offer a rare look into the secrets of food and chemical corporations.

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.

We have provided 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.

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

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

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

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

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: UN/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 Tribune: UCSD hires Coke-funded health researcher, by Morgan Cook

Bloomberg: How Monsanto Mobilized Academics to Pen Articles Supporting GMOs, by Jack Kaskey

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

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

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

Australian Broadcasting Co: Leaked Email Exchange Reveals Food Industry Tactics, by Lexi Metherell

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

The Nation: Did 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

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

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

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GMO Answers is a Marketing and PR Website for GMO Companies

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ketchum gmo answersIt’s 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 GMO Answers website is a straight-up marketing tool to spin GMOs in a positive light. As evidence:

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 an at-least million-dollar 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 increasing pesticides, the site offers a convoluted no, despite peer-reviewed data showing that, yes, in fact, they are. (“Roundup Ready” GMO crops have driven up the use of glyphosate – which was just listed by the World Health Organization as a probable human carcinogen – by hundreds of millions of pounds.)

Questions about safety are answered with unsupported statements such as “every leading health organization in the world stands behind the safety of GMOs.” But we found no mention of the peer-reviewed statement signed by 300 scientists, physicians and academics who say there is “No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety.” Questions about the statement have gone unanswered.

2) As further evidence the site is a spin vehicle, GMO Answers was recognized for excellence in public relations. In 2014, GMO Answers was shortlisted for a prestigious CLIO advertising award for “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 recently 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.