Although Monsanto’s public relations team has done a great job of making the GMO debate appear to be nothing more than pro-science verses anti-science and anti-environment, thousands of emails have recently come to light which tells a different story. Monsanto has been using public universities to fuel their PR stunts.
What this biotech giant has been doing is taking pro-GMO research from these universities and claiming that the studies came from “independent research” studies so that they could make themselves look better. This information comes through the thousands of emails that were obtained through the U.S. Right to Know portion of the Freedom of Information Act (FIOA).
As these emails came to light, the story was picked up by the Boston Globe, the StarPhoenix, Bloomberg, and the New York Times, to name a few. However, this scandal was not a surprise to everyone. Steven Druker, author of Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, wrote, “For more than 30 years, hundreds (if not thousands) of biotech advocates within scientific institutions, government bureaus, and corporate offices throughout the world have systematically compromised science and contorted facts to foster the growth of genetic engineering, and get the foods it produces, onto our dinner plates.”
The question that remains for many people is whether or not this book along with the bad press Monsanto is getting be enough to expose their so-called science for the ongoing public relations stunt that it is?
USRTK is a non-profit group that is primarily funded by the Organic Consumers Association. It was this group that decided to file the FOIA request in order to get the documents and emails from a total of 43 staff members at public universities. These documents include records from law professors, scientists, economists, communicators, and extension specialists. The group also adds that as part of public institutions, these staff members are paid by taxpayer dollars.
On their website, USRTK members have stated, “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.”
Now, we know how Monsanto has deceived the masses in this latest stunt, by paying a PR firm to pose as an independent third party. In August 2013, the lead of Monsanto’s strategic engagement Eric Sachs came up with a plan. An email went out from him to nine different academics explaining his plan that they would create “short policy briefs on important topics in the agricultural biotechnology arena.”
Sachs also mentioned in this email that he chose these academics because “of their influence on public policy, GM crop regulation, and consumer acceptance.” He continues to say, “I understand and appreciate that you need me to be completely transparent and I am keenly aware that your independence and reputations must be protected.
The two groups that were to therefore handle the transactions so that Monsanto wouldn’t be involved “because Monsanto wants the authors to communicate freely without involvement by Monsanto” were the American Council on Science and Health and CMA, a public relations organization funded by the industry.
It was that group that was to “manage the process of producing the policy briefs…. coordinate website posting and promotion…. [and] merchandize” the short briefs by turning them into “op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.” Sachs also added in the email that the involvement of this third party was “an important element” in order to keep Monsanto’s name out of it.
Unfortunately, while many see this move by Monsanto with the negativity it deserves, there are others that are still defending their actions, like the New York Times and the Bloomberg, who are reporting this story as an attack on the biotech giant and defending their methods, beginning with Bloomberg’s title of this story: “How Monsanto Mobilized Academics to Pen Articles Supporting GMOs.”
In the article, they state that the “undisclosed recruitment of scientists from Harvard University, Cornell University and three other schools to write about the benefits of plant biotechnology is drawing fire from opponents.” The article also focuses on the Genetic Literacy Project whose mission is to “disentangle science from ideology.” They also include articles published by scientists that were solicited by Monsanto’s PR firm without mentioning that detail.
The report by the Bloomberg continues to defend Monsanto and the arguments made by the scientists who are claiming that CMA Consulting, Monsanto’s PR firm, had nothing to do with the publication of their articles on the subject. Despite there being no real scientific consensus regarding the safety of GMOs, Bloomberg concludes in their article “The challenge for the pro-GMO lobby is the yawning gulf between scientific consensus and public perception.”
How Monsanto Lied and Manipulated its Way to Power:
How Monsanto Lied and Manipulated its Way to Power? Find out in this short, only 2 minutes long video:
Boston Globe: ‘Harvard Professor failed to disclose’
Taking the local angle approach, a reporter for the Boston Globe focused on a Harvard professor caught up in the scandal.
Reporter Laura Krantz wrote, “A Harvard Kennedy School professor wrote a widely disseminated policy paper last year in support of genetically modified organisms at the behest of seed giant Monsanto, without disclosing his connection, e-mails show.”
Professor Calestous Jumanot is author of an article titled “Global Risks of Rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology,” published on the Genetic Literacy website. According to the Globe, in an email to Jumanot, Monsanto’s Eric Sachs, head of regulatory policy and scientific affairs suggested a topic, a summary and a headline. Jumanot chose a different headline, but the gist of the article conformed to the PR firm’s agenda.
As the Globe, the Times and others outlined, the Jumanot was one of nine professors who received emails from Sachs.
Krantz wrote, “His e-mail lays out the agribusiness giant’s strategy. A marketing company would “merchandize” the papers online, disseminate them to the media, and schedule op-eds, blog posts, speaking engagements, and webinars.”
Jumanot told the Globe, which had also previously reported on Jumanot’s connection to Monsanto, that it was the publication’s responsibility, not his, to disclose the connection.
In the end, neither did.
StarPhoenix: ‘no mention of Monsanto’s involvement’
Monsanto didn’t limit its influence to U.S. academics. Zeroing in on one of its own, Canada’s StarPhoenix reported on Peter W.B. Phillips, graduate chair at the U of S Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, who was also approached by Monsanto.
According to the StarPhoenix, owned by Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, Phillips was asked to write about the “burdensome regulations” that “stifle innovation” in the biotech industry.
“Critics might lead you to believe that genetically engineered crops are not tested or regulated. That is wrong,” read the opening line of the finished article by Phillips.
In his conclusion, Phillips stated: “Increased regulatory costs and an expanding approval process stifle innovation – the innovation that is needed to secure an adequate supply and, appropriate quality of food at affordable prices.”
Like Jumanot, Phillips denied any wrongdoing, telling the StarPhoenix that he wasn’t paid for the article, and that he works with a host of corporations, governments and non-governmental agencies: “That’s part of my job,” he said. “The research world has changed.”
Indeed it has. And, we would argue, not for the better.