After a Freedom of Information Act request in early 2015, several scientists involved with pro-GMO campaigns had their emails turned over as there was believed collusion between them and big agri-chemical companies like Monsanto and Dow they were promoting.
The request was made by US Right to Know, a nonprofit dedicated to exposing the “failures of the corporate food system.”
In an attempt to garner support from third party, “unbiased” scientists, both creators of GMO products and creators of organic products have lobbied by spending millions on grants for scientists to follow research. Often, these grants are for undisclosed amounts. It is also noted that the amount of money coming from big ag companies like Monsanto blow the amount from Whole Foods and Stonybrook, both organic food companies, out of the water.
Some of the scientists working with funding from Monsanto were upset and did not want to release their email records. Bruce Chassy, former head of the University of Illinois’s food science department, was one such scientist and reacted by saying “these requests are not about rational dialogue. They are destructive, unethical, and immoral. They are looking for words to twist and take out of context,” adding “when people are producing work in line with the scientific consensus there’s no reason to go on a witch hunt.”
It is not shocking that many scientists working with Monsanto did not want their email records released to the public, what is shocking is what some of the emails revealed when they were released.
The story is told, most concisely, in the emails of Dr. Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida. To help with “biotechnology outreach” he has been given an undisclosed amount of grant money by Monsanto to speak positively about GMOs.
The director of crop biometrics at Monsanto, Michael Lohuis wrote in one email to Folta that “this is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we’re looking to develop.”
When the EPA was planning to tighten the regulations on pesticides, a meeting was urged to be set up between Folta and the EPA administrator.
“Is there a coordinated plan to maintain pressure and emphasis on EPA’s evolving regulations? Have you considered having a small group of scientists request a meeting with Lisa Jackson (the EPA administrator at the time)?” said the email from Eric Sachs, chief of Monsanto’s global scientific affairs group to Folta.
Folta had the meeting and the EPA dropped the proposal.
Though the scientists and ag execs point out that the scientists aren’t being directly paid, the emails show that they pay for their travel and accommodations, picking up the tab when they are on business trips promoting the company.
This is a moral grey area. Can people be truly objective when they are receiving grants from the company they are promoting?