Update: This blog has been updated to include a running list of news stories and commentary generated by our ongoing investigation.
U.S. Right to Know is conducting an investigation into the collusion between Big Food, its front groups, and university faculty and staff to deliver industry PR to the public. That investigation is ongoing. Thus far, it has been fruitful, as today’s New York Times article shows.
The Times article links to emails obtained via state Freedom of Information Act requests filed by U.S. Right to Know. These emails reveal how Monsanto and its partners use so-called “independent” third-party scientists and professors to deliver their PR messaging. Since the companies themselves are not credible messengers, they use these scientists and professors as sock-puppets to shape the media narrative on food issues, particularly GMOs.
This is a key part of Big Food’s PR strategy. The agrichemical and food industries are spending vast sums of money to convince the public that their food, crops, GMOs, additives and pesticides are safe, desirable and healthy.
U.S. Right to Know has filed state Freedom of Information Acts requests to try to obtain the emails and documents of 43 public university faculty and staff, to learn more about this public relations effort. Thus far, we have received documents in nine of these requests. So, most of the documents are likely still to come. Some may arrive next week, others may perhaps take a year or even more to arrive.
We have requested records from scientists, economists, law professors, extension specialists and communicators. All work in public institutions, funded by the taxpayers. We believe the public deserves to know more about the flow of money and level of coordination between public university scientists and other academics, and the agrichemical and food companies whose interests they promote.
We have a right to know what’s in our food, and how companies attempt to influence our views about it. Yet some find transparency so threatening that they equate consumer campaigns with vile dictatorships – as in a recent Facebook post that featured my picture alongside that of Stalin and Hitler. Others have compared our work to “terrorism” and us to “terrorists.”
Transparency – and investigative reporting about our food – is the core of what we do here are U.S. Right to Know.
We believe in the words of James Madison, who wrote: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Finally, a brief word about University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta. The most important findings in today’s New York Times article are about the PR efforts of Monsanto and the agrichemical industry. But it is worth pointing out that Professor Folta repeatedly denied – falsely – having ties to Monsanto or having accepted funds from Monsanto. For example, Professor Folta has stated:
Professor Folta has also falsely claimed he never used the text written for him by the PR firm Ketchum.
At best, these statements by Professor Folta are misleading, and some of them are untruthful. Yet, as the emails released today reveal, Folta has been in close contact with Monsanto and the industry’s PR firm Ketchum, recently received a $25,000 unrestricted grant from Monsanto, and even wrote to a Monsanto executive, “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.” (Also see our Feb. 2015 letter to Professor Folta about our FOIA requests.)
Professor Folta aside, it is also important to note that our drive for transparency is not about one or a few people. This is about the extent to which corporations such as Monsanto and their front groups are using our public universities and the scientists and academics who work there as tools to promote their agendas and their profits.
See our investigations page for up-to-date details on our findings
News articles about our investigation
CBC News: University of Saskatchewan Defends Professor’s Monsanto Ties, But Some Faculty Disagree
CBC News: University of Saskatchewan Prof Under Fire for Monsanto Ties
BMJ: Coca-Cola’s secret influence on medical and science journalists
USRTK press release: BMJ reveals secret industry funding of reporting, based on USRTK documents
Huffington Post: Moms Exposed to Monsanto Weed Killer Means Bad Outcomes for Babies
Huffington Post: USDA Drops Plans to Test for Monsanto Weed Killer in Food
USRTK fact sheet: Glyphosate: Health Concerns About the Most Widely Used Pesticide
USRTK: MDL Monsanto Glyphosate Cancer Case Key Documents and Analysis
Huffington Post: Monsanto Weed Killer Deserves Deeper Scrutiny as Scientific Manipulation Revealed
The Ecologist: ‘Pro Science’ GMO, Chemical Pushers Funded by Climate Science Deniers
USRTK: Public Interests Groups to USA Today: Ditch Columns by Corporate Front Group ACSH
USRTK: Julie Kelly Cooks Up Propaganda for the Agrichemical Industry
Huffington Post: Monsanto’s Mind Meld; Spin Machine in High Gear
USRTK: Questions about Monsanto, EPA Collusion Raised in Cancer Lawsuits
USRTK: Monsanto and EPA Want to Keep Talks Secret on Glyphosate Cancer Review
The Hill: Serious Scrutiny Needed a EPA Seeks Input on Cancer Ties to Monsanto Herbicide
USRTK: New Research: GMO Bt Crops Failing
USRTK: Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry
USRTK: New Data on Pesticides in Food Raises Safety Questions
USRTK: FDA Suspends Testing for Glyphosate in Food
Huffington Post: More Bad News for Honey as US Seeks to Get Handle on Glyphosate Residues in Food
Huffington Post: IARC Scientists Defend Glyphosate Cancer Link; Surprised by Industry Assault
BMJ: Conflicts of interest compromise US public health agency’s mission, say scientists
USRTK: Top Scientists at CDC Complain of Corporate Influence, Unethical Practices
Huffington Post: EPA Bows to Chemical Industry Pressure in Glyphosate Review
USRTK: Upcoming EPA Meetings On Glyphosate Drawing Scrutiny
USRTK: FDA Tests Confirm Oatmeal, Baby Food Contain Monsanto Weedkiller
Huffington Post: FDA Finds Monsanto’s Weed Killer in U.S. Honey
Davis Enterprise: Watchdog Group Sues UCD Over Public Records Request
Sacramento News & Review: Watchdog Group Alleges that Five UCD Professors Were Paid to Shill for GMOs
Sacramento Bee: Watchdog Group Sues to Force UC Davis to Turn Over Public Records
Politico: UC Davis Sued as Part of Industry Influence Probe
The Hill: What is Going On at the CDC? Health Agency Needs Scrutiny
Huffington Post: More Coca-Cola Ties Seen Inside US Centers for Disease Control
Huffington Post: CDC Official Exits After Coca-Cola Connections Come to Light
Huffington Post: Beverage Industry Finds Friend Inside U.S. Health Agency
US RTK: ILSI Wields Stealthy Influence for the Food and Agrichemical Industries
Huffington Post: Monsanto Fingerprints Found All Over Attack on Organic Food
Guardian: UN/WHO Panel in Conflict of Interest Row over Glyphosate Cancer Risk
Die Zeit: Glyphosat: Möglicher Interessenskonflikt bei Pflanzenschutzmittel-Bewertung
Horticulture Week: Questions Raised Over Independence of Panel that Found Glyphosate Safe
ARD: Experten werfen Fachgremium Wirtschaftsnähe vor
US RTK: Conflicts of Interest Concerns Cloud Glyphosate Review
STAT News: Disney, Fearing a Scandal, Tries to Press Journal to Withdraw Research Paper
Inverse: Disney Parks Food Study Shows the Problems with Corporate Science, Not Hot Dogs
Marion Nestle: The strange story of my accepted but yet-to-be published commentary on Disney-funded study gets stranger
WBEZ: Why Didn’t an Illinois Professor Have to Disclose GMO Funding
US RTK: Following an Email Trail: How a Public University Professor Collaborated on a Corporate PR Campaign
Huffington Post: Monsanto’s Media Machine Comes to Washington
Interview with Carey Gillam: Peeling Back the Curtain on Monsanto
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Washington Post’s Food Columnist Goes to Bat for Monsanto – Again
New York Times: Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show
Boston Globe: Harvard Professor Failed to Disclose Monsanto Connection in Paper Touting GMOs
Mother Jones: These Emails Show Monsanto Leaning on Professors to Fight the GMO PR War
Bloomberg: How Monsanto Mobilized Academics to Pen Articles Supporting GMOs
Global News: Documents Reveal Canadian Teenager Target of GMO Lobby
BuzzFeed: Seed Money: True Confessions of a GMO Promoter
Alternet: How Monsanto Solicited Academics to Bolster Their Pro-GMO Propaganda
Harvard Crimson: Prof Failed To Disclose Connection to Company in Paper
Saskatoon Star Phoenix: Group Questions U of S Prof’s Monsanto Link
The Intercept: Jeb Bush Campaign Manager Helped Big Pharma Beat Back Anti-Meth Lab Legislation
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Buckraking on the Food Beat: When Is It a Conflict of Interest?
Commentary about freedom of information and disclosure
The Hill: How Freedom Falls: Broken FOIA Far From Healing as US Agencies Cheat Public
Los Angeles Times: In Science, Follow the Money – If You Can
New York Times: Scientists, Give Up Your Emails
Nature Biotechnology: Standing Up for Transparency
Ralph Nader: Monsanto and its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Seedy Business: What Big Food Is Hiding With Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs
An Open Letter to Professor Kevin Folta on FOIA Requests
Background on Ketchum, the PR firm that runs GMO Answers
GMO Answers is a Marketing and PR Website for GMO Companies
Spinning Food: How Food Industry Front Groups and Covert Communications Are Shaping the Story of Food
USRTK Short Report: Journalists Failed to Disclose Sources’ Funding From Monsanto
Background on Jon Entine: The Chemical Industry’s Master Messenger
U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy. We promote the free market principle of transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – as crucial to building a better, healthier food system.