Pamela Ronald’s Ties to Chemical Industry Front Groups

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Pamela Ronald, PhD, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis and author of the 2008 book “Tomorrow’s Table,” is a well-known advocate for genetically engineered foods. Less known is Dr. Ronald’s role helping lead organizations that portray themselves as acting independently of industry but in fact are collaborating with chemical corporations to promote GMOs and pesticides, in arrangements that are not transparent to the public.

Ties to key agrichemical industry front group

Tax forms filed with the IRS show that Dr. Ronald served on the board of directors of the Science Literacy Project in fiscal year 2015/2016. Science Literacy Project is the parent organization of Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), a group that works behind the scenes with Monsanto and other agrichemical companies on public relations projects without disclosing those collaborations. A 2017 Le Monde investigation describes GLP as a propaganda website and a key player in Monsanto’s PR efforts to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research panel in the wake of its report about glyphosate. A 2015 Monsanto PR document identified GLP as an industry partner in its plan to “orchestrate outcry” about the cancer report in order to “protect the reputation and FTO of Roundup.” GLP has since published dozens of articles attacking the cancer scientists as “anti-chemical enviros” who “lied” and “conspired to misrepresent” the health risks of glyphosate.

The Science Literacy Project’s board members include key operatives of chemical industry public relations campaigns:

UPDATE: Dr. Ronald said (in December 2018) that she did not serve on the board of directors of the Science Literacy Project, despite IRS tax filings appearing on several public records websites listing her as an SLP board member from June 2015 to June 2016. She said an amended IRS tax form has been filed to retroactively remove her from the SLP board of directors, although this amended form does not appear on IRS nonprofit tax records websites.

Founded, led UC Davis group that elevated industry PR efforts

Dr. Ronald was the founding director of the World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy (IFAL), a group launched in 2014 at UC Davis to train faculty and students to promote genetically engineered foods, crops and pesticides. The group does not fully disclose its funding.

Documents show that Dr. Ronald gave Jon Entine and his industry front group Genetic Literacy Project a platform at UC Davis, appointing Entine as an unpaid Senior Fellow and as an instructor and mentor in a science communications graduate program. Entine’s body of work includes defending pesticides, industrial chemicals, plastics, fracking, and the oil industry, often with attacks on scientists, journalists and academics. (Entine is no longer a fellow at UC Davis. See also our letter to the World Food Center inquiring about funding for Entine and IFAL and their obscure explanation about where their funding comes from.)

In July 2014, Dr. Ronald indicated in an email to a colleague that Entine was an important collaborator who could give them good suggestions on who to contact to raise additional funds for the first IFAL event. In June 2015, IFAL co-hosted the “Biotech Literacy Project boot camp” with Genetic Literacy Project and the Monsanto-backed group Academics Review. Although organizers claimed the event was funded by academic, government and industry sources, the only traceable source of funding was the biotech industry, according to reporting by Paul Thacker in The Progressive. Tax records show that Academics Review, which received its funding from the agrichemical industry trade group, spent $162,000 for the three-day conference at UC Davis.

The purpose of the boot camp, according to the agenda, was to train and support scientists, journalists and academic researchers to persuade the public and policy makers about the benefits of GMOs and pesticides. Speakers included Jay Byrne, a former director of corporate communications at Monsanto; Hank Campbell, leader of the Monsanto-funded group American Council on Science and Health; and academics with undisclosed industry ties such as University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy and University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta. Keynote speakers included Dr. Ronald and Yvette d’Entremont, also known as Sci Babe, a “science communicator” who defends pesticides and artificial sweeteners while taking money from companies that sell those products.

Cooking up a Chipotle boycott

Emails indicate that Dr. Ronald and Jon Entine collaborated on messaging to discredit critics of genetically engineered foods. In one case, Dr. Ronald proposed to organize a boycott against the Chipotle restaurant chain over its decision to offer and promote non-GMO foods.

In April 2015, Dr. Ronald emailed Entine and Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, a former Monsanto employee and cooperative extension specialist at UC Davis, to suggest they find a student to write about farmers using more toxic pesticides to grow non-GMO corn. “I suggest we publicize this fact (once we get the details) and then organize a chipotle boycott,” Dr. Ronald wrote. Entine directed an associate to write an article for Genetic Literacy Project on the theme that “pesticide use often soars” when farmers switch to a non-GMO model to supply restaurants like Chipotle. The article, co-authored by Entine and touting his UC Davis affiliation, fails to substantiate that claim with data.

Co-founded biotech spin group BioFortified

Dr. Ronald co-founded and served as board member (2012-2015) of Biology Fortified, Inc. (Biofortified), a group that promotes GMOs and has a partner activist group that organizes protests to confront Monsanto critics. Other leaders of Biofortified include founding board member David Tribe, a geneticist at University of Melbourne who co-founded Academics Review, a group that claimed to be independent while receiving industry funds. Former board member Kevin Folta (2015-2018), a plant scientist at the University of Florida, was the subject of a New York Times story reporting that he misled the public about undisclosed industry collaborations. Biofortified bloggers include Steve Savage, a former DuPont employee turned industry consultant; Joe Ballanger, a consultant for Monsanto; and Andrew Kniss, who has received money from Monsanto. Documents suggest that members of Biofortified coordinated with the pesticide industry on a lobbying campaign to oppose pesticide restrictions in Hawaii.

Played leading role in industry-funded propaganda movie

Dr. Ronald featured prominently in Food Evolution, a documentary film about genetically engineered foods funded by the trade group Institute for Food Technologists. Dozens of academics have called the film propaganda, and several people interviewed for the film described a deceptive filming process and said their views were taken out of context.

Advisor for Cornell-based GMO public relations campaign

Dr. Ronald is on the advisory board of the Cornell Alliance for Science, a PR campaign based at Cornell University that promotes the GMOs and pesticides using agrichemical industry messaging. Funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cornell Alliance for Science has opposed the use of Freedom of Information Act to investigate public institutions, misled the public with inaccurate information and elevated unreliable messengers; see documentation in our fact sheet.

Receives money from the agrichemical industry

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know indicate that Dr. Ronald receives compensation from agrichemical companies to speak at events where she promotes GMOs to key audiences that companies seek to influence, such as dieticians. Emails from November 2012 provide an example of how Dr. Ronald works with companies.

Monsanto staffer Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, a dietician who formerly worked for the food-industry spin group IFIC, invited Ronald to speak at two conferences in 2013, Food 3000 and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. Emails show that the two discussed fees and book purchases and agreed Dr. Ronald would speak at Food 3000, a conference organized by the PR firm Porter Novelli that Kapsak said would reach “90 high media impact food and nutrition professionals/influencers.” (Dr. Ronald invoiced $3,000 for the event). Kapsak asked to review Dr. Ronald’s slides and set up a call to discuss messaging. Also on the panel were moderator Mary Chin (a dietician who consults with Monsanto), and representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Monsanto, with Kapsak giving opening remarks. Kapsak later reported that the panel got rave reviews with participants saying they would share the idea that, “We have to have biotech to help feed the world.”

Other industry-funded speaking engagements for Dr. Ronald included a 2014 speech at Monsanto for $3,500 plus 100 copies of her book which she declined to tweet about; and a 2013 speaking engagement for which she invoiced Bayer AG for $10,000.

Retracted papers

Retraction Watch reported that, “2013 was a rough year for biologist Pamela Ronald. After discovering the protein that appears to trigger rice’s immune system to fend off a common bacterial disease – suggesting a new way to engineer disease-resistant crops – she and her team had to retract two papers in 2013 after they were unable to replicate their findings. The culprits: a mislabeled bacterial strain and a highly variable assay. However, the care and transparency she exhibited earned her a ‘doing the right thing’ nod from us at the time.”

See coverage:

What do you do about painful retractions? Q&A with Pamela Ronald and Benjamin Swessinger,” Retraction Watch (7.24.2015)

Can the scientific reputation of Pamala Ronald, the public face of GMOs, be salvaged?” by Jonathan Latham, Independent Science News (11.12.2013)

Pamela Ronald does the right thing again, retracting a Science paper,” Retraction Watch (10.10.2013)

Doing the right thing: Researchers retract quorum sensing paper after public process,” Retraction Watch (9.11.2013)

Why Forbes Deleted Some Kavin Senapathy Articles

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Who pays Kavin Senapathy to promote GMOs? 

Kavin Senapathy emerged as a writer in 2015 with articles promoting GMOs, defending pesticides and attacking critics of the agrichemical industry, many of them published in Forbes. She does not disclose her funding sources.

In 2017, Forbes deleted seven articles Senapathy co-authored with Henry I. Miller, a former Hoover Institution fellow, following revelations in the New York Times that Monsanto ghostwrote an article published under Miller’s name in Forbes. Forbes also removed an article Senapathy wrote about transparency, which lacked transparency. Still up on the Forbes site is an article she co-wrote with Cameron English, who works for the American Council on Science and Health, a front group paid by Monsanto.

Senapathy’s Linked In profile lists her as a contributing writer to Genetic Literacy Project, another agrichemical industry front group that works closely with Monsanto.

Senapathy co-founded March Against Modification Myths (MAMyths), a group that organizes protests against biotechnology critics (and an affiliate of the GMO promotion group Biofortified). She co-authored a 2015 book that promotes GMOs, claims aspartame and MSG are safe, and purports to explain the “facts behind those toxic pesticide scares.”

At Least Seven Articles Removed by Forbes 

Collaboration with Henry I. Miller 

Senapathy began sharing a byline with Henry Miller in 2015 on a series of articles in Forbes defending GMOs. The articles are promoted here by the Hoover Institution, a policy think tank that receives funding from right wing foundations and corporations.

Forbes deleted the Miller/Senapathy articles in the wake an August 2017 New York Times report:

“Documents show that Henry I. Miller … asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015 … Forbes removed the story from its website on Wednesday and said that it ended its relationship with Mr. Miller amid the revelations.”

An article in Retraction Watch quotes Mia Carbonell, senior VP of global communications at Forbes:

“All contributors to Forbes.com sign a contract requiring them to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and only publish content that is their own original writing.  When it came to our attention that Mr. Miller violated these terms, we removed all of his posts from Forbes.com and ended our relationship with him.”

The emails between Miller and a Monsanto executive show how corporations work with writers such as Miller to promote industry talking points while keeping their collaborations secret. In this case, a Monsanto executive asked Miller to write a column defending glyphosate and provided him with a “still quite rough draft” as “a good start for your magic.” The draft appeared a few days later in Forbes, largely unchanged, under Miller’s name.

Transparency Blunder

Forbes also removed at least one article with Senapathy’s solo byline. The August 17 piece, “This Crowdfunded Experiment Offers a Lesson on Transparency” (which now appears on Medium), criticized Monsanto for ghostwriting safety reviews for glyphosate, describing the incident as a “transparency blunder” and a “PR gaffe.” Although published weeks after news reports that Monsanto ghostwrote an article for her collaborator Henry Miller, Senapathy’s article about transparency neglected to mention that fact.

“Legitimate objections” raised about “independence”

In a Sept. 2015 Project Syndicate article titled “GMOs and Junk Science,” Senapathy and Miller accused the organic and natural food industries of abusing scientific authority and producing propaganda. Project Syndicate added this editor’s note to the piece on August 4, 2017:



“Legitimate objections have been raised about the independence and integrity of the commentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, in particular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readers should be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it been known at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constituted grounds for rejecting them.”

Underhanded Tactics of MAMyths 

Senapathy is co-founder of March Against Myths of Modification, a group that organizes protests to confront critics of the agrichemical industry, such as Dr. Vandana Shiva, and sometimes uses underhanded tactics. In 2016, MAMyths orchestrated a failed attempt to derail a Center for Food Safety event in Hawaii featuring Vani Hari, The Food Babe.

As Hari explained in an article about the episode:

“24 hours before I was scheduled to take the stage, I was informed by Hawaii CFS that the pro-GMO and satire activist group (MAMyths) launched a campaign to sabotage the event. The tickets to the event were free, but there were a limited quantity available as the venue could only accommodate a certain number of people …

MAMyths asked their followers to reserve blocks of tickets using fake names and fake emails so that it would appear to be “sold out” and that we would be speaking to an empty venue. They reserved over 1,500 tickets using names like “Fraud Babe,” “Organic is Dumb,” “Susi Creamcheese,” and “Harriett Tubman” from traced IP addresses outside of Hawaii and overseas in the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Thailand, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

They were unsuccessful because Hawaii CFS discovered where these bogus requests were coming from and were able to easily cancel their reservations.”

MAMyths claims on their website they are “not paid by Monsanto or any other industry. We are all volunteers with a passion for justice and do this of our own free will.” According to Senapathy’s bio on the site, “She believes that critical thinking is key in raising well-rounded children, and that embracing biotechnology is imperative to this objective.”

Book Describes the Food Movement as a “Terrorist Faction”

Senapathy is co-author of a book, “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House,” published in October 2015 by Senapath Press. The book promotes genetically engineered foods, claims aspartame and MSG are safe, and purports to explain the “facts behind those toxic pesticide scares.”

Co-authors are Mark Alsip, a blogger for Bad Science Debunked, and Marc Draco, who is described as a veteran member of the Banned by Food Babe Facebook page. The forward was written by University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta.

The book’s forward describes the food movement as “a modern day elite and well financed terrorist faction sworn to use fear to force political change around food,” and an “agile and sneaky terrorist group. Like all terrorist groups they achieve their objectives through the implementation of fear and coercion.”

Chemical Industry Allies

USRTK has compiled a series of fact sheets about writers and PR groups the agrichemical industry relies on to manufacture doubt about science that raises concern about risky products and argue against environmental health protections.
– Why You Can’t Trust Henry I. Miller
Julie Kelly Cooks up Propaganda for the Chemical Industry
– The American Council on Science and Health is  Corporate Front Group
– Jon Entine of Genetic Literacy Project: The Chemical Industry’s Master Messenger
– Trevor Butterworth / Sense About Science Spins Science for Industry
Does Science Media Centre Push Corporate Views of Science?

Follow the USRTK investigation of Big Food and its front groups: https://usrtk.org/our-investigations/