The Kevin Folta Fiasco Has Opened A Whole “Can Of Worms” The Biotech Industry May Never Close

Posted: September 9, 2015 in Kevin Folta-GMO Shill
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Shocking Email From Monsanto: 

Why I Am Submitting An FOIA Request

Vani Hari – “The Food Babe”

By Food Babe – With Additional Data Gathered And Added By Ric A Ohge From A Variety Of Sources

I’ve always said that food and chemical corporations work with public university scientists “behind closed doors” to manipulate the public—and now our movement has irrefutable PROOF. 

But first, let me start at the beginning…

When our movement got big companies to change, Dr. Kevin Folta, from University of Florida appeared on the scene. 

Every time we made headway on an important issue, Kevin Folta, who claimed to be an unbiased scientist, was there to refute our claims and throw some ad hominem attacks. 

Here are a few examples (many more are documented at the end of this post): 

“The fact that she is able to mobilize this army of blind followers who reject science and follow her words, to smear and harm the reputations of companies that are doing nothing wrong.” – The Atlantic, 2/11/2015 

Kevin M. Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, described Ms. Hari’s lecture at the university last October as a “corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism.” – quoted in New York Times, 3/15/2015 

“There’s something that dies inside when you are a faculty member that works hard to teach about food, farming and science, and your own university brings in a crackpot to unravel all of the information you have brought to students.” — Folta’s Blog, Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

My intuition and common sense knew that this guy HAD to be connected to these corporations in some way, but he kept denying any connection. And I believed he was causing irreparable harm to our healthy food movement because the media believed that he was an unbiased scientist. Well, NOT ANYMORE.

This week an unprecedented major investigative report was published in the NY Times about how the chemical and food industries work with public university scientists to advance their agendas to the public. 

Hundreds of emails have now been revealed between University of Florida Professor Dr. Kevin Folta, Monsanto, the biotech front groups, and their PR firm Ketchum after a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request was submitted by the nonprofit group U.S. Right To Know.

Read Them In Full Thanks To The NY Times-Here:

Why would Monsanto work with a public scientist in the first place?

Some powerful entities in the chemical and food industries have a financial incentive to try to discredit us in the work we have all done together and now we know how they are using public scientists like Dr. Kevin Folta as sock puppets to advance their message. 

We’ve come a long way in our food movement and things are finally starting to change –  people are getting healthier and the food industry is responding to us, but why is someone like Dr. Kevin Folta on a mission to stop our progress?

Newly discovered emails reveal that Folta 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,” and “I promise a solid return on investment.”

However, Folta previously denied ties to Monsanto, here are 9 different examples:

Not only was Folta repeatedly dishonest about his ties to Monsanto, but on “several occasions” according to the NY Times, Folta took word for word answers and commentary from Monsanto’s PR firm Ketchum to use as his own words. 

Previously he claimed he never used the text written for him by the PR firm Ketchum.

Monsanto sells Roundup, the chemical that is sprayed on the majority of GMO seeds. 

The main ingredient in Roundup was recently classified as a probable carcinogen

They are in panic mode trying to repair their image and will do anything to confuse the public.

Folta attempted to derail my speaking event at the University of Florida. 

He has also been interviewed by major media outlets such as The Atlantic, NPR, and the NY Times acting as an unbiased third party source, telling reporters he has no financial ties to Monsanto or the biotech industry all while acting as the ringleader and chief of my critics. 

Monsanto thanks Folta for attending my talk at The University of Florida

One of the emails discovered by showed Lisa Drake, an executive at Monsanto cheering Dr. Folta on after he attended my talk at his University last fall. 

Dr. Folta wrote a blog post attempting to discredit my talk including a false accusation that I refused to answer questions from the audience. 

(FYI – Here’s the photographic evidence of the long line of teachers and students that I answered questions from ) 

I still find it bizarre that if he wanted to ask me a question so bad that he didn’t stay to meet me face to face. 

Instead he spread dishonest information about my talk all over social media, in forums and on his blog, acting more like an online troll than a distinguished science professor.

 Seeing this email sent shivers down my spine and left me with a lot of questions. 

First and foremost, my talk was not about the dangers of GMO foods, it was about the story of quitting my corporate career to become a food activist sharing examples of major food companies changing their policies. 

Who wrote that paragraph summarizing my talk that Lisa Drake referenced? 

Why was a Monsanto executive sending this message to Folta? 

Did they ask him to attend my talk? 

Are they paying him to attack activists like myself? 

At the time I had no idea why this professor was so aggressive towards me but now it’s starting to make sense.  

I’ve tried to explain to various reporters in the past that many of our critics are part of the larger entrenched food and chemical lobby that doesn’t agree with having more transparency (labeling GMOs) or doesn’t want to remove the controversial chemical additives from our food. 

The reporters have always said but what about the “public university scientists” that have no ties?

This investigation finally begins to explain that.

Why I am also submitting a FOIA request

In light of this email and the incredible amount of reputational damage Dr. Folta has waged on me personally and our healthy food movement (see a sampling of his public comments below), I am submitting a formal request to the University of Florida to have all documents and correspondence released to the public from Dr. Kevin Folta regarding my name Vani Hari and Food Babe.

I believe obtaining these correspondences will serve the public in greater transparency on how the food industry uses “independent” third-party scientists and professors to control science and deliver their PR and lobbying messaging.

I’ve often wondered why companies like Monsanto go through such great lengths to stop transparency about GMOs… If their food is safe, why don’t they want to label GMOs? Why would they pay public university scientists to advance their message?



Quotes from Kevin Folta:

Folta calls me a crackpot, accuses me of food terrorism, blackmail, villifying farmers and compares me to a dog.

“Vani is very good at marketing herself and telling people what they want to hear. She is very good at playing into the current popularity of vilifying farmers and large-scale agriculture. But really, she’s her own company, and she’s the spokesperson.” – The Atlantic, 2/11/2015

Kevin M. Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, described Ms. Hari’s lecture at the university last October as a “corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism.” (Her fee was $6,000.) Dr. Folta added, “She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you’re talking about.”. – quoted in New York Times, 3/15/2015

“She really conflates the science. If anything, she’s created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives.” – NPR, 12/4/2014

“To have someone like Hari go out and make up nonsense that only digs into public opinion against these technologies is really frustrating for us.” – The Atlantic, 2/11/2015

“That’s not healthy activism or change based on science. That’s coercion, fear mongering and (yes) terrorism to achieve short-sighted political non-victories in the name of profit and self-promotion, ironically the same thing she accuses the companies of.” —

Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“Luckily, Starbucks didn’t fold… Otherwise, Hari would have blackmailed them too.” –

Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“Vani Hari would be spreading her corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism here at the University of Florida. Oh joy”. – Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“Responding to the Food Babe is like telling a funny joke to my dog at a party. Everyone there gets it– except for the dog. She just tilts her head to one side and looks at me like I’m stupid.” – Response to the Food Babe. This is Boring, 3/19/2015

“There’s something that dies inside when you are a faculty member that works hard to teach about food, farming and science, and your own university brings in a crackpot to unravel all of the information you have brought to students.” — Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“If this is a charismatic leader of a new food movement it is quite a disaster. She’s uninformed, uneducated, trite and illogical. She’s afraid of science and intellectual engagement. She’s Oz candy at best.”- Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“What if Hari were to take a long look in the mirror and decide that while scaring people into boycotts and book buying pays the bills, the legacy associated with it is embarrassing. Time will frown on Hari, and it already is happening.  While adored by internet fans, scientists, physicians, the food industry, farmers and science fans see her clearly as the empty information vessel she truly is.” – The Value of Vani, 12/12/2014

“Her discussion was a narcissistic, self-appointed attack on food science and human nutrition. There is a vein in my head that pulses when I hear someone deliberately misrepresent science for personal celebrity, and it was pounding.” – Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“I was really proud to see that the student audience was not buying it. Throughout her presentation that was about Hari in the spotlight and “me-me-me”, students got up and left. She left gaping pregnant pauses where previous performances got applause– only to hear nothing. Not even crickets.” – Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“While microphones stood ready in the audience to answer questions, there was no public Q&A period where a scientist that knows the research could publicly challenge her false assertions.”- Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“I guess I’m just angry because I didn’t get to lock science horns with The Food Babe. I would have liked to have asked a few questions that she could never answer.” – Food Babe Visits My University, 10/21/2014

“I listened to her talk about herself and provide lots of false information to my students, and waited for the opportunity to ask dismantling questions from one of the two microphones in the room”. – A Letter To Support My Claims Against the Food Babe, 11/16/2014

“She did not take questions from the audience. The event ended and the audience left”.- A Letter To Support My Claims Against the Food Babe, 11/16/2014

“She was paid $6000 for over an hour’s time to promote her brand and spread her filth.  Now scientists and educators have to fix it.” – A Letter To Support My Claims Against the Food Babe, 11/16/2014

“As we attempt to illuminate products, technology and method to feed a growing population, Hari’s shameful resistance to reality needs to be met. We’ve done that, and I’m proud of the push back…” –

The Value of Vani, 12/12/2014

“Recently I’ve given a number of talks and interviews where I’ve been described as the “guy that stood up to the Food Babe”. While standing up for science is important, I’d rather be described as the guy that changed her mind because I took the time to teach the facts.” –

The Value of Vani, 12/12/2014

“I cannot think of someone so clueless that thinks she’s so clue-full. The bravado to manufacture completely wacky statements is beyond arrogance, and to criticize students who approach her from a scholarly evidence-based point shows she’s fully subscribed to her own deception.” –

Vani Hari’s Kooky Response to Critical Students, 1/26/2015

Folta discredits Food Babe campaigns to remove controversial chemicals from the food supply:“Bread is a foam. Even culinary experts will tell you. It was a perfectly safe food additive for years, until she came along and decided that Subway bread was essentially a yoga mat.” –

The Atlantic, 2/11/2015

“The fact that she is able to mobilize this army of blind followers who reject science and follow her words, to smear and harm the reputations of companies that are doing nothing wrong.” –

The Atlantic, 2/11/2015

“Safety always has to be the number one concern. And an understanding of safety is contingent on an understanding of the chemical in question. But she lacks the scientific prowess to be able to tell when something is truly a threat, and when something poses no threat.” –

The Atlantic, 2/11/2015

Additional Evidence: Folta denies any ties to Monsanto on his blog:

“In another thread she encourages those curious to call the university, because “a certain professor who promotes Monsanto… has spread a lot of nonsense”. Again, she speaks from no evidence, leveling false allegations against a public scientist that only wants her to back her claims with science. How do I ‘support Monsanto’?”- A Letter To Support My Claims Against the Food Babe, 11/16/2014

“She also took the liberty of making a false association between a public scientist and university professor to a company that does not exist, purely to discredit him. Here are two clear falsehoods that Hari stands by.  Why anyone would take any advice from her, ever, is beyond me.”- A Letter To Support My Claims Against the Food Babe, 11/16/2014

“Of course, she ties me in with Monsanto. Blatantly false. But since when does she need evidence before making a claim?” –

Vani Hari (Food Babe) and Silencing Critics, 12/7/2014

Folta’s personal email to Food Babe (3/19/2015):  

“I work as an independent, public scientist. Companies have no control of my research, my results or my opinions.”

“You’ll also see from my publications that almost all of my funding comes from public sources, like USDA, NSF and NIH. I’m not a “Monsanto scientist” as you’ve suggested. My only “industry funding” is for strawberries– a strawberry industry of family farmers that grow a nutritious fruit. Yes, I answer questions on GMO Answers. I am not paid, I’m grateful for the forum, and if you gave me a page on Food to answer questions the answers would be exactly the same.”

More About Folta’s Activities:  

 “Independent” GMO Researcher Forced To Admit $25K Grant From Monsanto

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/18/2015 

Submitted by Cassius Methyl via,

In January of 2015, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Oakland organization U.S. Right to Know requested email records between academics, scientists, and representatives of Big Agriculture.

The FOIA requests were sent to 14 scientists at four public universities, requesting information on communications and email records.

The FOIA findings included communications of well-known, staunch proponents of GM crops like Kevin Folta, a professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Gainesville, who received a $25,000 grant from Monsanto. 

The emails reveal the funds could “be used at [his] discretion in support of [his] research and outreach projects”.

About 4,600 pages of emails, among other records, were obtained from Folta.According to the communications, the ties between allegedly objective scientists and Big Agriculture run deep. 

According to Nature Magazine,“The documents show that Monsanto paid for Folta’s travel to speak to US students, farmers, politicians and the media. 

Other industry contacts occasionally sent him suggested responses to common questions about GM organisms.

”While it’s not uncommon for scientists to receive corporate funding through grants, these revelations are troublesome because Folta is regularly sold to the public as an “independent” authority on GMOs. 

In fact, the biotech industry-funded site, — which seeks to dispel myths about the dangers of GM foods and pesticides — has still not disclosed Folta’s financial ties to Monsanto.

According to an article from Nature Magazine, U.S. Right to Know is “probing what it sees as collusion between the agricultural biotechnology industry and academics who study science, economics and communication.”

In layman’s terms, the organization is made up of ordinary people who seek to make corruption transparent and obliterate illusions of objectivity.

Executive director of U.S. Right to Know, Gary Ruskin, said one of the reasons the organization made the requests is that “The agri-chemical industry has spent $100 million dollars in a massive public relations campaign.

The public has the right to know the dynamics.”

It looks like the FOIA targets are doing everything they can to avoid revealing information. According to Wired, “Legal teams at the universities—Nebraska, University of Florida, UC Davis, and the University of Illinois—are currently evaluating the situation, but some scientists have already spoken out against the FOIA request.”

FOIA requests might be one of the greatest threats to corruption and revolving door politics, which explains why those who oppose transparency are doing everything they can to prevent them.

“Open records requests are increasingly being used to harass and intimidate scientists and other academic researchers, or to disrupt and delay their work,” a report from The Union of Concerned Scientists claims.

“Academic institutions and other involved parties need to be prepared to respond to these requests in a way that protects the privacy and academic freedom of researchers while complying with the law and respecting the public’s right to information.”

Kevin Folta did what he could to avoid blame, saying, “I’m just a teacher, trying to distill a controversial literature for the general public.”

“I turned over everything [requested by the FOIAs] immediately,” he said.

There is no such thing as objective science when a researcher receives tens of thousands of dollars from the GM producers themselves, then goes on to promote their financiers’ products.

Corporate collusion between government bureaucracies and educational institutions has become a serious issue in the U.S. that has corrupted objectivity in nearly every sector of American life.

If there is corruption in our society that you wish to make transparent, you can file your own Freedom of Information Act request, just like U.S. Right to Know did.

AND Even More:

Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show

By ERIC LIPTON | SEPT. 5, 2015

WASHINGTON — At Monsanto, sales of genetically modified seeds were steadily rising. But executives at the company’s St. Louis headquarters were privately worried about attacks on the safety of their products.

So Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and its industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.

“Professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate and support in their states, from politicians to producers,” Bill Mashek, a vice president at Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the biotechnology industry, said in an email to a University of Florida professor. 

“Keep it up!”

And the industry has.

Corporations have poured money into universities to fund research for decades, but now, the debate over bioengineered foods has escalated into a billion-dollar food industry war. 

Companies like Monsanto are squaring off against major organic firms like Stonyfield Farm, the yogurt company, and both sides have aggressively recruited academic researchers, emails obtained through open records laws show.

The emails provide a rare view into the strategy and tactics of a lobbying campaign that has transformed ivory tower elites into powerful players. 

The use by both sides of third-party scientists, and their supposedly unbiased research, helps explain why the American public is often confused as it processes the conflicting information.

The push has intensified as the Senate prepares to take up industry-backed legislation this fall, already passed by the House, that would ban states from adopting laws that require the disclosure of food produced with genetically modified ingredients.

The efforts have helped produce important payoffs, including the approval by federal regulators of new genetically modified seeds after academic experts intervened with the United States Department of Agriculture on the industry’s behalf, the emails show.

Charla Lord, a Monsanto spokeswoman, said the company’s longstanding partnership with academics helped demystify the science. 

“It is in the public interest for academics to weigh in credibly, not only to consumers but to stakeholders like lawmakers and regulators as well,” she said.

But even some of the academics who have accepted special “unrestricted grants” or taken industry-funded trips to help push corporate agendas on Capitol Hill say they regret being caught up in this nasty food fight.

“If you spend enough time with skunks, you start to smell like one,” said Charles M. Benbrook, who until recently held a post at Washington State University. 

The organic foods industry funded his research there and paid for his trips to Washington, where he helped lobby for labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients.

On the other side, the biotech industry has published dozens of articles, under the names of prominent academics, that in some cases were drafted by industry consultants.

Monsanto and its industry partners have also passed out an undisclosed amount in special grants to scientists like Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, to help with “biotechnology outreach” and to travel around the country to defendgenetically modified foods.

Document: A Florida Professor Works With the Biotech Industry

“This is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we’re looking to develop,” Michael Lohuis, the director of crop biometrics at Monsanto, wrote last year in an email as the company considered giving Dr. Folta an unrestricted grant.

Dr. Folta said that he had joined the campaign to publicly defend genetically modified technologies because he believes they are safe, and that it is his job to share his expertise. 

“Nobody tells me what to say, and nobody tells me what to think,” he said, adding, “Every point I make is based on evidence.”

But he also conceded in an interview that he could unfairly be seen as a tool of industry, and his university now intends to donate the Monsanto grant money to a food pantry. 

“I can understand that perception 100 percent,” he said, “and it bothers me a lot.”

Players in a Safety Debate

The moves by Monsanto, in an alliance with the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are detailed in thousands of pages of emails that were at first requested by the nonprofit group U.S. Right to Know, which receives funding from the organic foods industry.

The New York Times separately requested some of these documents, then made additional requests in several states for email records of academics with ties to the organics industry.

There is no evidence that academic work was compromised, but the emails show how academics have shifted from researchers to actors in lobbying and corporate public relations campaigns.

The fight between the competing academics is not focused on questions about the safety of genetically engineered seeds themselves. 

The sides are fighting mainly over the safety of herbicides used in so-called genetically modified organism, or G.M.O. crops. 

The organic food proponents argue that herbicide use has surged, and that some of these herbicides may be unsafe. 

The biotech companies say that data relating to herbicide use on genetically engineered crops is being misinterpreted — and that these new crops, more resistant to pests and disease, are helping to feed the world.

So far, the anti-G.M.O. community has been winning the public relations war. Major brands like Chipotle and original Cheerios have moved to reduce or eliminate their use of genetically engineered ingredients, based in part on a marketing judgment that this is what the American public wants. 

That poses a threat to companies like Monsanto, which had $15.9 billion in global sales last year.

“Misinformation campaign in ag biotech area is more than overwhelming,” Yong Gao, then Monsanto’s global regulatory policy director, explained in an April 2013 email to Dr. Folta as the company started to work closely with him. 

“It is really hurting the progress in translating science and knowledge into ag productivity.”

Dr. Folta is among the most aggressive and prolific biotech proponents, although until his emails were released last month, he had not publicly acknowledged the extent of his ties to Monsanto.

He has a doctorate in molecular biology and has been doing research on the genomics of small fruit crops for more than a decade. 

Monsanto executives approached Dr. Folta in the spring of 2013 after they read a blog post he had written defending industry technology.

“We really appreciate independent scientists working to educate the public,” Keith Reding, a microbiologist who helps Monsanto manage its relations with regulatory agencies, wrote in an April 2013 email to Dr. Folta.

A few weeks later, the Council for Biotechnology Information — controlled by BASF, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and Monsanto — asked Dr. Folta and other prominent academics if they would participate in a new website,GMO Answers, which was established to combat perceived misinformation about their products. 

The plan was to provide the academics with questions from the public, such as, “Do GMOs cause cancer?”

“This is a new way to build trust, dialogue and support for biotech in agriculture that will help explain in an independent voice what GMOs are,” an executive at Ketchum wrote to Dr. Folta.

But Ketchum did more than provide questions. 

On several occasions, it also gave Dr. Folta draft answers, which he then used nearly verbatim, a step that he now says was a mistake.

Document: A Mississippi State Administrator’s Ties to Monsanto and Dow

“It was absolutely not the right thing,” he said, adding that he now insists that he write his own responses.

Kate Hall, a spokeswoman for the biotechnology council, said that the scholars were free to revise the scripted responses, and that the group offered these draft answers in only a few dozen cases, compared with the nearly 1,000 responses on GMO Answers to date.

Dr. Folta, the emails show, soon became part of an inner circle of industry consultants, lobbyists and executives who devised strategy on how to block state efforts to mandate G.M.O. labeling and, most recently, on how to get Congress to pass legislation that would pre-empt any state from taking such a step.

While Dr. Folta was not personally compensated, biotech companies paid for his trips to testify in Pennsylvania and Hawaii. 

“I should state upfront that I have not been compensated for any testimony,” he said at a public hearing in Hawaii, before adding, “The technology is safe and is used because it helps farmers compete.”

Dr. Folta routinely gave updates on his travels — and his face-to-face encounters with opponents of genetically modified crops — to the industry executives who were funding his efforts.

“Your email made my day!” wrote Cathleen Enright, an executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, after Dr. Folta gave her a written update on the October 2014 legislative hearing in Pennsylvania. 

“Please send all receipts to us whenever you get around to it. No rush.”

In August 2014, Monsanto decided to approve Dr. Folta’s grant for $25,000 to allow him to travel more extensively to give talks on the genetically modified food industry’s products.

“I am grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment,” Dr. Folta wrote in an email to one Monsanto executive.

Dr. Folta is one of many academics the biotech industry has approached to help it defend or promote its products, the emails show.

The company, in late 2011, gave a grant for an undisclosed amount to Bruce M. Chassy, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, to support “biotechnology outreach and education activities,” his emails show.

In the same email in which Dr. Chassy negotiated the release of the grant funds, he discussed with a Monsanto executive a monthslong effort to persuade the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its proposal to tighten the regulation of pesticides used on insect-resistant seeds.

“Is there a coordinated plan to maintain pressure and emphasis on EPA’s evolving regulations?” 

Eric Sachs, the chief of Monsanto’s global scientific affairs group, wrote in a related email to Dr. Chassy. 

“Have you considered having a small group of scientists request a meeting with Lisa Jackson,” referring to the E.P.A. administrator at the time.

In an interview, Dr. Chassy said he had initiated the fight against the E.P.A. plan before Monsanto pressed him. 

But he conceded that the money he had received from the company had helped to elevate his voice through travel, a website he created and other means.

“What industry does is when they find people saying things they like, they make it possible for your voice to be heard in more places and more loudly,” he said.

Dr. Chassy eventually set up a meeting at the E.P.A., with the help of an industry lobbyist, and the agency ultimately dropped the proposal.

In 2013, Monsanto also asked David R. Shaw, the vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State University, to intervene with the Department of Agriculture to help persuade the agency to approve a new type of genetically modified soybean and cottonseeddesigned by Monsanto.

Document: A University of Illinois Professor Joins the Fight

Organic farmers argued against this move, convinced that approval of the new seeds would lead to an increase in potentially harmful herbicide use. 

Monsanto wanted Dr. Shaw, whom the company has supported over the last decade with at least $880,000 in research grants for projects he helped oversee, to refute these arguments, the emails show.

“Our Regulatory Affairs and Government Affairs groups feel it is important that USDA hear from folks like you on the key issues since there is a high probability that many negative voices will be heard during these calls,” said a June 2013 email from John K. Soteres, then Monsanto’s head of weed resistance programs. 

“Your voice not only counts from the standpoint of presenting scientifically based viewpoints but also to a degree from a numbers standpoint.”

Dow Chemical made a similar pitch this year, with one company executive first reminding Dr. Shaw in an email about the industry’s financial support for the university. 

Then the executive asked Dr. Shaw to intervene with the Agriculture Department to urge it to approve Dow’s new genetically modified cottonseed, which was designed to be treated with a Dow-produced herbicide.

Dow’s and Monsanto’s requests to the Agriculture Department have since been approved. 

Dr. Shaw declined to comment. 

But a university spokesman, Sid Salter, described Dr. Shaw as “a highly ethical researcher.”

Why Not ‘Mommy Farmers’?

At times, the scientists themselves questioned whether they were the best advocates for the companies.

“What the situation requires is a suite of TV spots featuring attractive young women, preferably mommy farmers, explaining why biotech derived foods are the safest & greenest in the history of ag and worthy of support,” wrote L. Val Giddings, a senior fellow at Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit food policy research group in Washington, in an October 2014 email to a Monsanto lobbyist. 

The company was debating how to defeat labeling campaigns last year in Colorado and Oregon.

Dr. Folta, included in the email chain, agreed.

Document: Washington State Professor Allies With Organics Industry

“We can’t fight emotion with lists of scientists,” Dr. Folta wrote to Lisa Drake, the Monsanto lobbyist. 

“It needs a connection to farming mothers.”

But Ms. Drake flatly rejected their arguments. 

Monsanto had already run television ads with mothers who were farmers. 

They fell flat.

“Doesn’t poll as well as credible third party scientist,” she said. 

“I know hard to believe, but I have seen the poll results myself, and that is why the campaigns work the way they do.”

Emails and other documents obtained by The Times from Washington State, where Dr. Benbrook served until earlier this year, show how the opponents of genetically modified foods have used their own creative tactics, although their spending on lobbying and public relations amounts to a tiny fraction of that of biosciences companies.

The organic foods industry has a direct financial interest to raise consumer concerns, because federal law requires that any product labeled organic in the United States be free of ingredients produced from genetically modified seeds. 

So if consumers move away from G.M.O.-based sources, they sometimes switch to organic alternatives.

Like the biotech companies, organic industry executives believed they could have more influence if they pushed their message through academics.

“I am a business guy, not a scientist,” said Gary Hirshberg, the chairman and former president of Stonyfield Farm, which produces organic yogurt, who leads an industry lobbying effort called Just Label It. 

“So of course it helps to have an academic scientist explain it.”

That is why Dr. Benbrook, who had served as chief scientist at the Organic Center, a group funded by the organic foods industry, resigned his job and sought a university appointment, he said.

“I was working for an organization affiliated and funded by the industry, and people were just not listening,” he said.

At Washington State, Dr. Benbrook was supported by many of the same financial backers, including Organic Valley, Whole Foods, Stonyfield and United Natural Foods Inc. 

The companies stayed closely involved in his research and advocacy, helping him push reporters to write about his studies, including one concluding that organic milk, produced without any G.M.O.-produced feed for the cows, had greater nutritional value.

At least twice, Mr. Hirshberg’s group also paid for Dr. Benbrook to go to Washington so he could help lobby against a federal ban on G.M.O. labels. 

And his research suggesting that herbicide use in G.M.O. crops has surged has been a central part of the organic industry’s argument for mandatory labels.

Dr. Benbrook, whose research post at Washington State was not renewed this year, said the organic companies had turned to him for the same reasons Monsanto and others support the University of Florida or Dr. Folta directly.

“They want to influence the public,” he said. 

“They could conduct those studies on their own and put this information on their website. But nobody would believe them. There is a friggin’ war going on around this stuff. And everyone is looking to gain as much leverage as they can.”

Then, There’s STILL More:

The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left out)

By Jonathan Latham, PhD | Sept 8, 2015

“Reading the emails make(s) me want to throw up” tweeted the Food Babe after reading a lengthy series of them posted online by the NY Times on Sept 5th. 

The emails in question result from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and are posted in the side bars of a front-page article by Times reporter Eric Lipton (“Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show”). 

The article is highly disturbing, but, as the Food Babe implied, the Times buried the real story. 

The real scoop was not the perfidy and deceit of a handful of individual professors. 

Buried in the emails is proof positive of active collusion between the agribusiness and chemical industries, numerous and often prominent academics, PR companies, and key administrators of land grant universities for the purpose of promoting GMOs and pesticides. 

In particular, nowhere does the Times note that one of the chief colluders was none other than the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

All this is omitted entirely, or buried in hard-to-notice side bars, which are anyway unavailable to print readers. 

So, here is the article Eric Lipton should have written.

First, The Lipton Story

The Lipton article seems, at first sight, to be impressive reporting. 

Lipton describes how Kevin Folta, Chair of the Dept. of Horticulture at the University of Florida secretly took expenses and $25,000 of unrestricted money from Monsanto to promote GMO crops. 

On behalf of the biotech industry, or via the PR firm Ketchum, Folta wrote on websites and attended public events, trainings, lobbying efforts and special missions.


Parts of this were already known, but Lipton digs up further damning evidence and quotes from Folta. 

They include an email to Monsanto that solidly contradicts Folta’s previous denials of a relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry: 

“I am grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment,” Folta wrote after receiving the $25,000 check, thereby showing both a clear understanding of his role and the purpose of the money. 

The article goes on to similarly expose Bruce Chassy (Prof Emeritus, University of Illinois) and David Shaw (Mississippi State University). 

It also discussses, presumably for “balance”, agronomist and GMO critic Charles Benbrook, then at Washington State University, who unlike the others openly acknowledged his funding.

What Lipton Missed

But readers of the emails can find facts that are much more damaging to perceptions of academic independence than that contained in the main article. 

For one thing, the money Folta received is insignificant besides the tens of millions his university was taking from: 

Syngenta (>$10million), 


Pioneer (>$10million), 

and BASF (>$1million). 

Money that it’s hard to believe did not have a role in protecting Kevin Folta as he roamed zealously (and often offensively) over the internet, via his twitter account, blog, podcast, and OpEds, squelching dissent and ridiculing GMO critics wherever he went.

Also missing from the main Times article is a sense of the extensive and intricate networking of a small army of academics furthering the interests of Monsanto and other parts of the chemical, agribusiness and biotech industries. Folta rarely acted alone. 

His networks are filled with economists, molecular biologists, plant pathologists, development specialists, and agronomists, many of them much more celebrated than Kevin Folta, but all of them in a knowing loop with industry and the PR firms. 

Their job was acknowledged openly in emails 

(“We are all bad-ass shills for the truth. It’s a pleasure shilling with you.” 

Or, as Folta himself put it: “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.”). 

More generally, the group’s role was to initiate academic publications and other articles and to firefight legislative, media and scientific threats to the GMO and pesticide industries, all the while keeping their industry links hidden.

The academics identified by these emails as cooperating with industry and PR firms include:

Profs. Bruce Chassy (University of Illinois) and Alan McHughen (University of California, Riverside) who worked together to destroy the credibility of Russian scientist and GMO critic Irina Ermakova. 

They persuaded the journal Nature Biotechnology to interview Ermakova about her research and describe it. 

This interview was followed by a detailed critique of her research (about which none of the authors were expert). 

Ermakova was neither told of the critique nor given a chance to answer it. 

This whole elaborate subterfuge required her to be sent a dummy proof of the article she thought she was publishing in the journal.

Prof. Calestuous Juma (Harvard University) longtime advocate of GMOs for Africa.

Prof. Wayne Parrott (University of Georgia) a serial intervener in academic GMO debates.

Prof. Roger Beachy (Danforth Center, formerly USAID). 

Beachy is the principal living exponent of a classic biotech strategy: to respond rapidly to a report or publication critical of some aspect of the technology with a multi-author “rebuttal” 

[Disclaimer: the inaugural report of the Bioscience Resource Project (on the genome damage caused by genetic engineering) was met, even before formal publication, with both barrels from 23 professors, including Roger Beachy (Altpeter et al 2005)].(2)

Prof. Ron Herring (Cornell) who has helped to promote GMOs in India and fought to defuse the farmer suicide debate in India.

Prof. CS Prakash (Tuskegee University) is the convener of the influential listserv AgBioWorld. 

AgBioWorld was the all-important conduit for a petition signed by three thousand scientists calling for the retraction of a 2001 scientific paper showing GMO contamination of Mexican corn (Quist and Chapela 2001). 

As detailed in an article called The Fake Persuaders, the scientists who initiated the petition, and made inaccurate and inflammatory statements about the authors, were not real people. 

However, their emails could be traced back to servers belonging to Monsanto or Bivings, a PR company that was working with Monsanto at the time.

Prof. Nina Fedoroff (Penn State) is the most prominent of all of the scientists looped into all of the Times emails. 

Nina Fedoroff was the 2011-2012 President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

The AAAS is the foremost scientific body in the US. During her Presidency, Fedoroff, who is also a contributor to the NY Times, used her position to coordinate and sign a letter on behalf of 60 prominent scientists. 

This letter was sent to EPA as part of an effort to defeat a pesticide regulatory effort. 

The real coordinator was Monsanto but Fedoroff participated in phone conferences and email exchanges with them (including with the prominent lobbyist Stanley Abramson) and gets credit in the emails for “moving the ball far down the field”. 

Yet Nina Fedoroff is not once named in the main article and nowhere at all is her position noted.

So the story that academia’s most vocal GMO defenders, and some of its most prominent scientists, are copied into these emails is missing. 

The focus on individuals like Folta occludes a demonstration, for the first time ever, of long-suspected and intricate coordination and cooperation among them.

Also looped in to various of the emails are supposedly independent individuals and organisations who speak in favour of biotechnology, self-reportedly out of personal passion. 

These include Dr Steve Savage, Karl Haro von Mogel of Biofortified, Mischa Popoff (of the Heartland Institute) and Jon Entine (then affiliated with George Mason University and now head of the Genetic Literacy Project and a Forbes Magazine columnist). 

All are revealed, by the emails but not the article, as biotech insiders.

Cooperation among academics is not a crime. 

But these emails show, as in the EPA letter example, that a company (usually Monsanto, but also Dow and Syngenta and a PR firm, often several of them, plus sometimes the biotech lobbyists BIO or CropLife America) were invariably looped in to these emails, and further, that initiatives usually began with one of these non-academic entities, and were shepherded by them. 

Only rarely is there even a suggestion from the emails that the various academics were out in front, though that was always the intended impression of the result.

But perhaps the biggest of all revelations within these emails is the connivance of senior university administrators, especially at Cornell University. 

The NY Times article focuses on the misdeeds of Mississippi State University Vice President David Shaw. 

But, looped into one email string, along with the PR firm Ketchum and Jon Entine are various Cornell email addresses and names. 

These are ignored by Lipton, but the email addresses belong to very senior members of the Cornell administration. 

They include Ronnie Coffman (Director of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science) and Sarah Evanega Davidson (now director of the Gates-funded Cornell Alliance for Science).

The Alliance for Science is a PR project and international training center for academics and others who want to work with the biotech industry to promote GMOs. 

It is funded ($5.6 million) by the Gates Foundation. Its upcoming program of speakers at Cornell for September include Tamar Haspel (Washington Post reporter), Amy Harmon (New York Times reporter) and Prof. Dan Kahan (Yale Law School). 

These speakers are the exact ones mentioned in a proposal worked out between Kevin Folta and Monsanto in a series of email exchanges intended to enhance biotech outreach. 

These email exchanges also propose setting up “Ask Me Anything” events to be held at universities around the country with Kevin Folta as of the panelists.

On Sept 10th the Cornell Alliance for Science is hosting an event in downtown Ithaca (home town of Cornell). 

It is called “Ask Me Anything About GMOs” and Kevin Folta is a panelist. 

Somehow or other Davidson’s Cornell Alliance for Science read Monsanto’s lips, perfectly.

Your right to know

Let me speculate at what is really going on behind the scenes of Lipton’s article.

Earlier this year, a newly-formed US group called US Right to Know (USRTK) set in motion Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests directed at 14 (now 43) prominent public university scientists it suspected of working with (and being paid by) the biotech industry and/or its PR intermediaries. 

Now, if these 43 academics had nothing to hide, this request would not have attracted much attention and hardly any emails would have been forthcoming. 

However, the USRTK FOIA requests triggered a huge outcry in various quarters about the “harassment” of public scientists. 

The outcry has led to OpEds in the LA Times and the controversial removal of scientific blog posts defending USRTK, and much else besides, as reputedly tens of thousands of emails (from these FOIA requests) have landed on the desks of USRTK.

What would a good PR company recommend to its clients in such a situation? 

In order to preempt the likely upcoming firestorm, it might recommend that various media outlets run ahead of USRTK to publish a version of events in which academic small-fry like Kevin Folta, Bruce Chassy and David Shaw (of Mississippi State) are the villains. 

Making them the fall guys lets others off the hook: high-profile scientists like Nina Fedoroff and Roger Beachy; the pro-biotech academic community in general; and prestigious Ivy League institutions like Cornell University.

These much bigger fish are who the NY Times should have harpooned. 

Since they did not, or perhaps would not, let us hope that USRTK will make better use of those emails, ideally by posting all of them online.


(1) Others Professors cc’d into emails include : Peter Davies (Cornell), Carl Pray (Rutgers), Tony Shelton (Cornell), Peter Phillips (University of Saskatchewan), Prabhu Pingali (Cornell), Elizabeth Earle (Cornell), Peter Hobbs (Cornell), Janice Thies (Cornell) and Ann Grodzins Gold (Syracuse), Martina Newell-McGloughlin (UC Davis).

(2) Later published as  A. K. Wilson, J. R. Latham and R. A. Steinbrecher (2006) Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews  23: 209-237


Altpeter F. et al (2005) Particle bombardment and the genetic enhancement of crops: myths and realities. Molecular Breeding 15: 305–327.

David Quist and Ignacio H. Chapela (2001) Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature 414: 541-543


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