Jon Entine and Genetic Literacy Project Spin Chemical Industry PR

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Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, is a central player in Monsanto and the agrichemical industry’s public relations efforts to promote genetically engineered foods and pesticides and discredit critics. Entine portrays himself as a science journalist and an objective authority on issues important to the chemical industry. But the evidence shows that he is actually a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to the chemical industry, including undisclosed industry funding. His work features the defense of GMOs, pesticides, industrial chemicals, the oil industry, fracking and nuclear power.

Ties to Monsanto

Entine’s former PR firm promised to “address an unfilled frustration voiced by corporations.”

Entine founded ESG MediaMetrics, a communications firm whose clients included Monsanto and the Vinyl Institute.

A Le Monde investigation into Monsanto’s “war on science” in June 2017 describes the Genetic Literacy Project as “a propaganda site” and a key player in Monsanto’s communication and lobbying networks.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a May 2017 brief that:

“Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the “Genetic Literacy Project” and the “American Council on Science and Health,” organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.

The evidence suggests that Genetic Literacy Project and Entine work closely with the agrichemical industry in hidden collaborations, and sometimes in ways that involve undisclosed funding.

According to emails obtained by US Right to Know, GLP published a series of pro-GMO papers written by professors that were assigned and promoted by Monsanto, with no disclosure of the corporation’s role:

  • The Boston Globe reported, Monsanto suggested the topic and headline for a professor’s paper “then connected the professor with a marketing company to pump it out over the Internet as part of Monsanto’s strategy to win over the public and lawmakers.”
  • In a September 2014 email, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to a professor with “proposed edits on your brief on the costs of regulations,” and told him “the primary outlet” for publishing the papers and “building a merchandising plan” with the public relations firm CMA would be Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project.

In 2014 and 2015, Genetic Literacy Project partnered with a Monsanto-backed groupAcademics Review, to sponsor the Biotechnology Literacy Project “Boot Camps,” a series of conferences designed to teach scientists how to “best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public.” Reporters were told the funding for the 2015 BLP Boot Camp at UC Davis came from UC Davis, USDA, state money, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) — in fact, the industry group appears to have provided all the funding, as Paul Thacker reported in 2017.  (See section on Entine’s funding for more.)

Entine was also linked to three pro-GMO journalists – Keith Kloor, Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel and New York Times reporter Amy Harmon – in FOIA documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

In a December 2013 email, Entine offered to take the lead on setting up a conference call with Monsanto and PR surrogates to discuss a documentary film idea.

Ties to Syngenta

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate front group funded in part by the agrichemical company Syngenta, published Entine’s 2011 book, “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health.” The book defends atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta.

A 2012 Mother Jones article about Entine describes the circumstances leading up to the publication of the book. The article, by Tom Philpott, is based in part on internal company documents, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describing Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.

Entine says he had “no idea” that the pesticide company Syngenta was funding his book’s publisher ACSH.

In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.

ACSH’s announcement for Entine’s book:

“The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper … authored by Jon Entine, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and highly regarded science journalist … ACSH compiled this resource book and position to educate legislators, industry, media, consumers and parents on the actual risks of chemical exposure and use in everyday products.”

Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

Attacks on Syngenta Critics  

In a 2014 New Yorker article, based on internal Syngenta documents, Rachel Aviv revealed how Syngenta’s public relations team plotted to “discredit” UC Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes, whose research suggests that the herbicide atrazine is associated with birth defects. In emails, Syngenta employees discussed a psychological profile of Hayes and searched for ways to “exploit Hayes’ faults/problems.”

A month later, Entine wrote an attack piece in Forbes describing Aviv’s story as a “botch puff piece” and calling Hayes “almost completely discredited.” Entine’s primary source was a “summary analysis” by University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy, posted on Academics Review. Academics Review, which also partners with Entine to promote GMOs,  claimed to be an independent group started by independent scientists, but emails obtained by USRTK establish that Academics Review was set up with the help of Monsanto as a front group to attack people and groups who raise concerns about GMOs and pesticides.

The Murky Funding Trail to Entine and the Genetic Literacy Project

Entine’s funding history is complex and opaque, but tax documents and his own disclosures reveal a pattern of funding from anonymous sources and right-wing foundations that push deregulation and climate science denial, as well as undisclosed funding from the biotechnology industry.

Inaccurate, ever-changing “transparency” note 

The “financial transparency” note on the Genetic Literacy Project website is inaccurate, changes often and at times contradicts itself.

As of July 18, 2017,  the funding note claimed Genetic Literacy Project was housed under a nonprofit called Science Literacy Project, and received funding from the Templeton, Searle and Winkler foundations and the Center for Food Integrity (a food industry front-group with ties to Monsanto).

Three months earlier, in March 2017, GLP disclosed a $5,000 “pass through” for the Biotech Literacy Boot Camp from “Academics Review Charitable Association,” which appears not to exist. That group is apparently AcademicsReview.org, a front group closely affiliated with Monsanto. The disclosure said the money came from BIO, the biotechnology industry trade association. A September 2016 disclosure note reported $27,000 in “pass through” funds from Academics Review Charitable Association for the boot camps, but did not mention BIO.

The Academics Review partnership was removed from the GLP disclosure altogether after Paul Thacker reported on July 11 2017, that BIO had paid Academics Review over $300,000 for boot camps in 2014 and 2015 at UC Davis and the University of Florida that were co-sponsored by GLP. Industry appeared to be the only funder but Entine and his partner told journalists and scientists that the boot camps were partly funded by university and government sources.

The new funding note also misleadingly describes GLP as independent of the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) and GMU, and does not disclose that STATS and its sister group CMPA paid Entine over a half million dollars between 2012-2016. In 2012, Entine claimed that he derived the bulk of his income from the Genetic Literacy Project, according to reporting by Tom Philpott.

In March 2016, Genetic Literacy Project made no financial disclosures at all and tried to distance itself from STATS. In 2012, the Genetic Literacy Project claimed it was affiliated with STATS.

Center for Media and Public Affairs/George Mason University

For the year ending June 2016, according to tax records, Entine received $173,100 for his work as “director” at Center for Media and Public Affairs, a group based at George Mason University and founded by GMU Professor Robert Lichter.

CMPA was paid by Phillip Morris in the 1990s to deflect concerns about tobacco, according to documents in the UCSF Tobacco Industry Library.

CMPA does not disclose its funders but has received funding from George Mason University Foundation — the leading recipient of donations affiliated with Charles Koch and Koch Industries. GMUF also received $5.3 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund between 2011-13, according to the Guardian. These funds channel money from anonymous donors including corporations to campaigns and academics who push industry interests, as Greenpeace demonstrated in an undercover investigation.

STATS – key player in chemical industry defense efforts 

CMPA’s sister group, also founded by Lichter and based at GMU, is Statistical Assessment Services (STATS). According to its IRS forms, STATS paid Entine $140,600 in 2012/2013 and $152,500 in 2013/2014 for his work as a “research consultant,” and $173,100 as “director” for the year ending June 2015. The tax records show that Entine received a total of $639,300 from STATS or CMPA between 2012-2016

CMPA has loaned money to STATS – a $203,611 loan in 2012 and a $163,914 loan in 2013, which “due to inadequate funding” has “not been reimbursed.” In those years, George Mason University Foundation gave CMPA grants in the amount of $220,900 in 2012 and $75,670 in 2013. GMU Foundation does not disclose the source of its funds.

Reporting in The Intercept, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Atlantic and Consumer Reports portray STATS as a key player in the chemical industry’s PR efforts to defend its toxic products.

Biotechnology industry funding

The GMO-industry trade group, BIO, paid a total of $340,000 to fund Biotech Literacy Boot Camps at the University of Florida in 2014 and UC Davis in 2015 that were co-sponsored by the Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, which boot camp materials described as “an independent nonprofit organization.” In fact, Academics Review was set up as a front group  with the help of a Monsanto executive who promised to find funding for Academics Review “while keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information,” according to emails obtained by US Right to Know.

The BLP Boot Camps were described as a “communication skills training” for scientists and journalists to help reframe the food safety and GMO debate, and promised to provide scientists with the “tools and support resources necessary to effectively engage the media and appear as experts in legislative and local government hearings, and other policy making and related outreach opportunities.”

Faculty at the first first boot camp included representatives from the agrichemical industry, food industry front groups and trade groups, and pro-GMO academics including University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta, and University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy, both of whom have accepted undisclosed funding from Monsanto and promote the GMOs and pesticides that Monsanto sales rely upon. Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel, who also accepts money from agribusiness interests, was the journalist on faculty.

Climate science denier funders 

Major supporters of STATS and Entine’s group Genetic Literacy Project also include right-wing foundations – primarily Scaife Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust and Templeton Foundation – that are leading funders of climate science denial, according to a 2013 Drexel University study.

See USRTK investigation: Climate Science Denial Network Funds Toxic Chemical Propaganda.

Attacks on Critics of ExxonMobil

Entine attacked Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt, as “a populist Luddite, the intellectual Rottweiler of in-your-face, environmentalism, unduly wary of modern technology.”

Entine attacked Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll and journalist Susanne Rust for their series reporting that Exxon knew for years that climate change was real but hid the science to keep revenues flowing.

In a follow-up attack, Entine accused Rust of having a “journalistic history” that raises “ethical and science questions.” He cited as evidence Rust’s award-winning investigative series on BPA that was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize. The BPA reporting, he wrote, was “dead wrong.” He didn’t mention that the series outed his former group STATS as a “major player in the public relations effort to discredit concerns about BPA.”

Chemical Industry Defense Guy

For many years, Entine has been a prominent defender of chemical industry interests, following the industry playbook: he defends the chemicals as safe; argues against regulation; and attacks science, scientists journalists and others raising concerns.

Defending Neonicotinoids

Growing scientific evidence suggests that neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of pesticides, are a key factor in bee die-offs. The European Union has restricted neonics due to concerns about impact on bees.

Entine:

  • Accused European politicians of trying to kill bees by restricting neonics (Forbes).

Defending Phthalates

In August of 2012, Entine defended vinyl plastic backpacks that were found to be exposing children to phthalates.

  • Entine criticized an NBC reporter for “shoddy journalism” for raising questions about the safety of phthalates (Forbes).

Defending Fracking

Entine defends hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the pumping of high-pressure chemical-laced water into the ground to crack shale and extract natural gas. As in his many other messaging campaigns, Entine blasts science and scientists who raise concerns, framing them as “activists,” while making sweeping and indefensible statements about “scrupulous” science conducted over many years that defend its safety.

For example, Entine claimed: “From a scientific perspective, no reason exists to even suspect unknown health or environmental issues will turn up” from fracking (New York Post).

Entine also:

  • Accused New York Times reporters of misleading children about the potential environmental dangers of fracking (Forbes).
  • Attacked two Cornell University scientists for their study suggesting that fracking operations leak methane (Forbes).
  • Attacked the Park Foundation, claiming that it has “almost single-handedly derailed shale-gas development in methane-rich New York State, and put its imprint on public opinion and policy decisions around the country.” (Philanthropy Roundtable)

Defending BPA

Entine writes in defense of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), despite a large body of scientific evidence raising concerns about its endocrine disrupting potential and other health problems associated with it. Canada declared the chemical to be toxic in 2010, and the EU banned BPA in baby bottles in 2011.

Entine:

  • Attacked “a small but determined group of university researchers, activist NGOs and journalists” raising concerns about BPA (Forbes).
  • Tells women who can’t get pregnant not to blame it on plastics (Forbes).
  • Challenged scientists linking BPA to heart disease (Forbes).

Defending Nuclear Power

Entine:

  • Criticized Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes for pointing out the economic and environmental risks of nuclear power (Huffington Post).
  • Claims that nuclear power plants are environmentally benign and that “Nothing as bad as Chernobyl is likely to occur in the West” (Jon Entine).
  • Argued that Germany is “taking a gamble” by transitioning away from nuclear power (Ethical Corporation)

Fellowships

Entine was an unpaid fellow at the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University (GMU) from 2011-2014. Entine is also a former senior fellow at the UC Davis World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, which does not disclose its donors, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a DC think tank funded in part by corporate and dark money contributions.

See also, Greenpeace Polluter Watch page on Jon Entine and “the hidden story of the Genetic Literacy Project.”

The American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group

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The American Council on Science and Health is a front group for the tobacco, agrichemical, fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and other industries.

A leaked ACSH financial summary, released in 2013 by Mother Jones, revealed that the American Council on Science and Health receives funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the messaging ACSH promotes. The internal document further revealed that ACSH solicits corporate donations for specific product-defense science messaging campaigns. For example, the document outlines:

  • plans to pitch the Vinyl Institute which “previously supported chlorine and health report”;
  • plans to pitch food companies for a messaging campaign to oppose GMO labeling, and cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures”; and
  • efforts to court tobacco and electronic cigarette (e-cig) companies.

Personnel

  • ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” was Dr. Gilbert Ross.[2] In 1993, according to United Press International, Dr. Ross was “convicted of racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy,” and was “sentenced to 47 months in jail, $40,000 in forfeiture and restitution of $612,855” in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system.[3]
  • ACSH’s Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for ten years.[4]
  • Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from convicted felon Dr. Gil Ross in June 2015. Campbell is a former software developer who started the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his book, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left” (2012), Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet” and, “Six years ago, with nothing but enthusiasm and a concept, I approached world famous people about helping me reshape how science could be done, and they did it for free.”

Funding

ACSH has often billed itself as an “independent” group, and has been referred to as “independent” in the press. However, according to the internal ACSH financial documents obtained by Mother Jones:

  • “ACSH planned to receive a total of $338,200 from tobacco companies between July 2012 and June 2013. Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were each listed as expected to give $100,000 in 2013, which would make them the two largest individual donations listed in the ACSH documents.”[5]
  • “ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron ($18,500), Coca-Cola ($50,000), the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation ($15,000), Dr. Pepper/Snapple ($5,000), Bayer Cropscience ($30,000), Procter and Gamble ($6,000), agribusiness giant Syngenta ($22,500), 3M ($30,000), McDonald’s ($30,000), and tobacco conglomerate Altria ($25,000). Among the corporations and foundations that ACSH has pursued for financial support since July 2012 are Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust.”[6]
  • ACSH has received $155,000 in contributions from Koch foundations from 2005-2011, according to Greenpeace.[7]

ACSH features prominently in a July 11, 2017 article in the Progressive by Paul Thacker detailing the chemical industry’s PR campaign to spin journalists on GMOs and discredit environmental health concerns.  Although Monsanto denied funding other groups, Thacker reported, “Monsanto ignored repeated questions about their financial support for the American Council on Science and Health.” ACSH Director Hank Campbell responded with this comment about his corporate funding, “I don’t care. If a large food corporation, like Whole Foods, or a smaller one, like Monsanto, wants to buy an ad here, they can. We will cash that check.”

Ties to Monsanto

A 2017 Le Monde investigation into Monsanto’s “war on science” describes the American Council on Science and Health as a key player in Monsanto’s communication and lobbying network.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a May 2017 brief that:

  • “Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the “Genetic Literacy Project” and the “American Council on Science and Health,” organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.

According to emails obtained by US Right to Know, Monsanto tapped ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers written by professors and assigned by Monsanto.

  • In an August 2013 email, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to the professors: “To ensure that the papers have the greatest impact, the American Council for Science and Health is partnering with CMA Consulting to drive the project. The completed policy briefs will be offered on the ACSH website … CMA and ACSH also will merchandize the policy briefs, including the development of media specific materials, such as op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.” The papers were eventually published and merchandized by Jon Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project.

Ties to Syngenta

In 2011, ACSH published the book “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health,” by Jon Entine, a longtime PR messenger for chemical industry interests. Entine’s book defends atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.

A 2012 Mother Jones article about Entine describes the circumstances leading up to the publication of the book. The article, by Tom Philpott, is based in part on internal company documents, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describing Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.

In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.

A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’s book with this release:

“The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper … authored by Jon Entine, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and highly regarded science journalist … ACSH compiled this resource book and position to educate legislators, industry, media, consumers and parents on the actual risks of chemical exposure and use in everyday products.”

Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

Indefensible and incorrect statements on science 

ACSH has:

  • Claimed that “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.”[8]
  • Argued that “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming. The climate change predictions are based on computer models that have not been validated and are far from perfect.”[9]
  • Argued that fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.”[10]
  • Claimed that “The scientific evidence is clear. There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.”[11]
  • Declared that “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.”[12]
  • Argued that the exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.”[13]

ACSH in the Media 

February 2017 letter to USA Today: Thirty health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today expressing concerns that the paper is publishing science columns by members of the American Council on Science and Health without identifying  them as a corporate front group. The editors have so far declined to stop publishing the column or provide accurate disclosures about ACSH’s ties to corporations.

Footnotes

[2]Meet the ACSH Team,” American Council on Science and Health website.

[3]Seven Sentenced for Medicaid Fraud.” United Press International, December 6, 1993. See also correspondence from Tyrone T. Butler, Director, Bureau of Adjudication, State of New York Department of Health to Claudia Morales Bloch, Gilbert Ross and Vivian Shevitz, “RE: In the Matter of Gilbert Ross, M.D.” March 1, 1995. Bill Hogan, “Paging Dr. Ross.” Mother Jones, November 2005. Martin Donohoe MD FACP, “Corporate Front Groups and the Abuse of Science: The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).” Spinwatch, June 25, 2010.

[4] Department of Health and Human Services, Departmental Appeals Board, Civil Remedies Division, In the Cases of Gilbert Ross, M.D. and Deborah Williams M.D., Petitioners, v. The Inspector General. June 16, 1997. Docket Nos. C-94-368 and C-94-369. Decision No. CR478.

[5] Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman, “Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013. “American Council on Science and Health Financial Report, FY 2013 Financial Update.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013.

[6] Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman, “Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013. “American Council on Science and Health Financial Report, FY 2013 Financial Update.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013.

[7]Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).” Greenpeace. See also Rebekah Wilce, “Kochs and Corps Have Bankrolled American Council on Science and Health.” PR Watch, July 23, 2014.

[8] Richard Craver, “The Effects of the Smoking Ban.” Winston-Salem Journal, December 12, 2012.

[9] Elizabeth Whelan, “’Global Warming’ Not Health Threat.” PRI (Population Research Institute) Review, January 1, 1998.

[10] Elizabeth Whelan, “Fracking Doesn’t Pose Health Risks.” The Daily Caller, April 29, 2013.

[11]TASSC: The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition,” p. 9. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, University of California, San Francisco. November 21, 2001. Bates No. 2048294227-2048294237.

[12]The Top 10 Unfounded Health Scares of 2012.” American Council on Science and Health, February 22, 2013.

[13]The Biggest Unfounded Health Scares of 2010.” American Council on Science and Health, December 30, 2010.

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 – hidden industry payments and secret collaborations that undermine our nation’s scientific, academic, political and regulatory institutions.

The USRTK investigations have unearthed important documents about Monsanto and the agrichemical industry and Coca-Cola and the beverage industry — along with the PR operatives, front groups and third-party allies that assist these industries. Together, these documents demonstrate the strategies and tactics these organizations employ to maximize industry profits at the expense of public health.

Here are some of key findings and articles from the USRTK investigations so far.

Undisclosed collaborations between academics and the agrichemical industry:

Corporate influence on journalists, science and regulatory institutions:

Breaking news about chemicals in our food:

Reporting on glyphosate:

USRTK is also posting the “Monsanto Papers on our website, including court documents, news and analysis of the litigation against Monsanto by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Third-party messengers/front groups that lobby and write propaganda for the food and chemical corporations:

To receive updates on the US Right to Know investigation, you can sign up to receive our newsletter. Please also consider making a donation to keep our investigation cooking.

Climate Science Denial Network Funds Toxic Chemical Propaganda

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They promote GMOs and pesticides, defend toxic chemicals and junk food, and attack people who raise concerns about those products as “anti-science.” Yet Jon Entine, Trevor Butterworth and Henry Miller are funded by the same groups that finance climate-science denial.

By Stacy Malkan

British writer George Monbiot has a warning for those of us trying to grasp the new political realities in the U.S. and the U.K.: “We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates,” he wrote in the Guardian.

Corporate America may have been slow to warm up to Donald Trump, but once Trump secured the nomination, “the big money began to recognize an unprecedented opportunity,” Monbiot wrote. “His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it.”

This network, or dark money ATM as Mother Jones described it, refers to the vast amount of hard-to-trace money flowing from arch-conservative billionaires, such as Charles and David Koch and allies, and corporations into front groups that promote extreme free-market ideas – for example, fights against public schools, unions, environmental protection, climate change policies and science that threatens corporate profits.

“We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates.”

Investigative writers Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway and others have exposed how “the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin,” as U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse described it last year in a speech.

The strategies of the “Koch-led, influence-buying operation” – including propaganda operations that spin science with no regard for the truth – “are probably the major reason we don’t have a comprehensive climate bill in Congress,” Whitehouse said.

While these strategies have been well-tracked in the climate sphere, less reported is the fact that the funders behind climate science denial also bankroll a network of PR operatives who have built careers spinning science to deny the health risks of toxic chemicals in the food we eat and products we use every day.

The stakes are high for our nation’s health. Rates of childhood cancer are now 50% higher than when the “war on cancer” began decades ago, and the best weapon is one we are hardly using: policies to limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

“If we want to win the war on cancer, we need to start with the thousand physical and chemical agents evaluated as possible, probable or known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization” wrote scientist and author Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, in The Hill.

Reducing known agents of harm has had “less to do with science, and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks,” Davis noted.

Defending toxic chemicals and junk food 

When products important to the chemical and junk food industries run into trouble with science, a predictable cast of characters and groups appear on the scene, using well-worn media strategies to bail out corporations in need of a PR boost.

Their names and the tactics they use – lengthy adversarial articles, often framed by personal attacks – will be familiar to many scientists, journalists and consumer advocates who have raised concerns about toxic products over the past 15 years.

Public records requests by U.S. Right to Know that have unearthed thousands of documents, along with recent reports by Greenpeace, The Intercept and others, are shining new light on this propaganda network.

Key players include Jon Entine, Trevor Butterworth, Henry I. Miller and groups connected with them: STATS, Center for Media and Public Affairs, Genetic Literacy Project, Sense About Science and the Hoover Institute.

Despite well-documented histories as PR operatives, Entine, Butterworth and Miller are presented as serious science sources on many media platforms, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Philadelphia Enquirer, Harvard Business Review and, most often, Forbes – without disclosure of their funding sources or agenda to deregulate the polluting industries that promote them.

Their articles rank high in Google searches for many of the chemical and junk food industry’s top messaging priorities – pushing the narratives that GMOs, pesticides, plastic chemicals, sugar and sugar substitutes are safe, and anyone who says otherwise is “anti-science.”

In some cases, they are even gaining in influence as they align with establishment institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University and the University of California, Davis.

Yet their funding sources trace back to the same “ultra free market” ideologues from oil, pharmaceutical and chemical fortunes who are financing climate science denial – Searle Freedom Trust, Scaife Foundations, John Templeton Foundation and others identified as among the largest and most consistent funders of climate science denial groups, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, PhD.

Those seeking to understand the dark money network’s policy goals for dismantling health protections for our food system would do well to keep an eye on these modern propagandists and their messaging.

Jon Entine – Genetic Literacy Project / STATS

Jon Entine, a former journalist, presents himself as an objective authority on science. Yet ample evidence suggests he is a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to chemical companies plagued with questions about health risks.

Over the years, Entine has attacked scientists, professors, funders, lawmakers and journalists who have raised concerns about fracking, nuclear power, pesticides and chemicals used in baby bottles and children’s toys. A 2012 Mother Jones story by Tom Philpott describes Entine as an “agribusiness apologist,” and Greenpeace details his history on their Polluter Watch website.

Entine is now director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that promotes genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The site claims to be neutral, but “it’s clearly designed to promote a pro-industry position and doesn’t try to look neutrally at the issues,” said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

“The message is that genetic engineering is good and anybody who criticizes it is a horrible ideologue, but that’s just not indicative of where the scientific debate actually is.”

Entine claims, for example, that the “scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than for global warming” – a claim contradicted by the World Health Organization, which states it is not possible to make general statements about GMO safety, and by hundreds of scientists who have said there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

The Genetic Literacy Project also has not been transparent about its connections to Monsanto. As one example, the site published several pro-GMO academic papers that emails later revealed were assigned to professors by a Monsanto executive who provided talking points for the papers and promised to pump them out all over the internet.

Another example: Genetic Literacy Project partners with Academics Review on the Biotechnology Literacy Project, pro-industry conferences that train scientists and journalists on how to “best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public.”

“The key will be keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information.”

Academics Review, which published a report in 2014 attacking the organic industry, presents itself as an independent group, but emails revealed it was set up with the help of a Monsanto executive who promised to find funding “while keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information.” Emails also showed that Academics Review co-founder Bruce Chassy had been receiving undisclosed funds from Monsanto via the University of Illinois Foundation.

So who funds Genetic Literacy Project and Entine?

According to their website, the bulk of funding comes from two foundations – Searle and Templeton – identified in the Drexel study as leading funders of climate science denial. The site also lists funding from the Winkler Family Foundation and “pass through support for University of California-Davis Biotech Literacy Bootcamp” from the Academics Review Charitable Association.

Previous funding sources also include climate science denial supporters and undisclosed pass-through funding.

The Genetic Literacy Project and Entine previously operated under the umbrella of Statistical Assessment Services (STATS), a group located at George Mason University, where Entine was a fellow at the Center for Health and Risk Communication from 2011-2014.

STATS was funded largely by the Scaife Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust between 2005 and 2014, according to a Greenpeace investigation of STATS funding.

Kimberly Dennis, the president and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust, is also chairman of the board of Donors Trust, the notorious Koch-connected dark money fund whose donors cannot be traced. Under Dennis’ leadership, Searle and Donors Trust sent a collective $290,000 to STATS in 2010, Greenpeace reported.

In 2012 and 2013, STATS received loans from its sister organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which received donations during those years from the George Mason University Foundation, which does not disclose funding sources.

Entine has at times tried to distance himself and GLP from these groups; however, tax records show Entine was paid $173,100 by the Center for Media and Public Affairs for the year ending June 30, 2015.

By 2014, emails show, Entine was trying to find a new home for Genetic Literacy Project, and wanted to establish a “more formal relationship” with the University of California, Davis, World Food Center. He became a Senior Fellow at the school’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy and now identifies as a former fellow. GLP is now under the umbrella of a group called the Science Literacy Project.

Entine said he would not respond to questions for this story.

Trevor Butterworth – Sense About Science USA / STATS

Trevor Butterworth has been a reliable industry messenger for many years, defending the safety of various risky products important to the chemical and junk food industries, such as phthalates, BPA, vinyl plastic, corn syrup, sugary sodas and artificial sweeteners. He is a former contributor at Newsweek and has written book reviews for the Wall Street Journal.

From 2003 to 2014, Butterworth was an editor at STATS, funded largely by Scaife Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust. In 2014, he became the founding director of Sense About Science USA and folded STATS into that group.

A recent exposé by Liza Gross in The Intercept described Sense About Science, its director Tracey Brown, Butterworth, STATS and the founders of those groups as “self-appointed guardians of sound science” who “tip the scales toward industry.”

Sense About Science “purports to help the misinformed public sift through alarming claims about health and the environment” but “has a disturbing history of promoting experts who turn out to have ties to regulated industries,” Gross wrote.

“When journalists rightly ask who sponsors research into the risks of, say, asbestos, or synthetic chemicals, they’d be well advised to question the evidence Sense About Science presents in these debates as well.”

Sense About Science USA posted this response to the piece, and Butterworth said via email he was “disappointed with the Intercept’s misleading article, which lumped people and organizations with no connection to Sense About Science USA together.” He said his group takes no corporate funding and is legally independent from the UK Sense About Science.

He also said, “I have never been involved in industry messaging campaigns — in any capacity, paid or not.”

Some journalists have concluded otherwise. 

Reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Atlantic and Consumer Reports portrayed Butterworth as a key player in the chemical industry’s aggressive PR efforts to defend the chemical BPA.

In 2009, journalists Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger of the Journal Sentinel described Butterworth as BPA’s “most impassioned” defender, and an example of “chemical industry public relations writers” who do not disclose their affiliations.

 “The most impassioned defense of BPA on the blogs comes from Trevor Butterworth.”

STATS, they wrote, “claims to be an independent media watchdog” but “is funded by public policy organizations that promote deregulation.” Its sister organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, “has a history of working for corporations trying to deflect concerns about the safety of their products.” Butterworth said his reporting on BPA reflected the evidence at the time from authoritative sources, and STATS posted responses here and here to the critical reporting.

A more recent example of how Butterworth’s writings played a key role in corporate lobby efforts to discredit troublesome science can be seen in his work on the controversial artificial sweetener sucralose.

In 2012, Butterworth wrote a Forbes article criticizing a study that raised concerns about the cancer risk of sucralose. He described the researchers, Dr. Morando Soffritti and the Ramazzini Institute, as “something of a joke.”

In 2016, a food industry front group featured Butterworth’s 2012 article and “something of a joke” critique in a press release attacking a new Soffritti “panic study” that raised concerns about sucralose. Reporters at The IndependentThe Daily MailThe Telegraph and Deseret News picked up Butterworth’s quotes discrediting the researchers, and identified him only as a reporter from Forbes.

Similarly, in 2011, Butterworth was a featured expert at the International Sweeteners Association Conference, and claimed in their press release there is “no evidence of a risk to health” from sucralose. He was identified as a “journalist who regularly contributes to the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

Emails obtained by USRTK show that Coca Cola VP Rhona Applebaum described Butterworth to the leaders of the Global Energy Balance Network – a Coca-Cola front group working to spin the science on obesity – as “our friend” and a journalist who was “ready and able” to work with them. Butterworth said he never worked with that group.

Butterworth is now affiliated with Cornell University as a visiting fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science, a group launched in 2014 with a $5.6 million Gates Foundation grant to promote GMOs. The Gates-funded group now partners with Sense About Science USA on a workshop to teach young scientists to “Stand Up for Science.”

Sense About Science USA also runs public engagement workshops for scientists at such venues as the University of Washington, University of Pittsburg, Carnegie Melon, Rockefeller University, Caltech and University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Henry I. Miller – Hoover Institution

Henry I. Miller, MD, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is one of the most prolific defenders of genetically engineered foods and fiercest opponents of labeling them. He has penned numerous attacks on the organic industry, including “The Colossal Hoax of Organic Agriculture” (Forbes), “Organic Farming is Not Sustainable” (Wall Street Journal) and “The Dirty Truth About Organic Produce” (Newsweek).

Miller has also written in defense of bee-harming pesticides, plastic chemicals and radiation from nuclear power plants, and has repeatedly argued for the reintroduction of DDT. He did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

Unlike Butterworth and Entine, Miller has a science background and government credentials; he is a medical doctor and was the founding director of the FDA’s office of biotechnology.

Like Butterworth and Entine, Miller’s funding comes from groups that finance climate science denial – the Hoover Institute’s top funder is the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the group has also taken money from the Searle Freedom Trust, Exxon Mobile, American Chemistry Council, Charles Koch Foundation and Donors Trust.

Like the founders of STATS and Sense About Science, Miller also has ties to the tobacco industry PR campaigns. In a 1994 PR strategy memo for the tobacco company Phillip Morris, Miller was referred to as “a key supporter” of the global campaign to fight tobacco regulations. In 2012, Miller wrote that nicotine “is not particularly bad for you in the amounts delivered by cigarettes or smokeless products.”

Miller is also a member of the “scientific advisory board” of the George C. Marshall Institute, which is famous for its oil and gas industry funded denials of climate change, and a former trustee of the American Council on Science and Health, which “depends heavily on funding from corporations that have a financial stake in the scientific debates it aims to shape,” according to Mother Jones.

Perhaps recognizing that pontificating men aren’t the best sources to influence the women who buy food, Miller has recently been sharing bylines with female protégés who have joined his attacks on health advocates and organic farmers.

Examples include a co-authored piece with Kavin Senapathy, co-founder of a group that tries to disrupt speaking events of GMO critics, headlined “Screw the Activists;” and one with Julie Kelly, a cooking instructor whose husband is a lobbyist for the agribusiness giant ADM, describing organic agriculture as an “evil empire.”

Recent work by Kelly includes a piece in National Review casting doubt on climate science researchers, and an article in The Hill calling on Congress to defund the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which she accused of “cancer collusion” and “using shoddy science to promote a politically motivated agenda.”

As we enter the fifth decade of losing the war on cancer, and as climate instability threatens ecosystems and our food system, it’s time to unravel the network of science deniers who claim the mantle of science and expose them for what they are: propagandists who do the dirty work of industry.

This article was originally published in The Ecologist.

Stacy Malkan is co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit public watchdog group US Right to Know. She is author of “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,” a co-founder of the national Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and a former newspaper publisher.

Our Investigation of Big Food and its Front Groups

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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 betwUSRTK_FOIArequestsAgroChemical_1een 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

2017

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 

2016

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

2015

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

Further reading

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.