FOIA emails reveal anti-GMO, pro-organic spin ‘A team’ led by Tom Philpott and Michael Pollan

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Those who can’t support their position on a controversial science issue with empirical research and independent studies—take vaccine safety rejectionists as an example—often buttress their opinions with the words “it’s scientific fact”. In popular use, the statement is used sometimes in jest and sometimes as hyperbole, but the intent is the same: “You can’t win this argument because I have science on my side” (just don’t ask me to cite legitimate research).

We have seen dedicated opponents of crop biotechnology use these tactics. Questionable studies by marginal scientists? Offer up research by Gilles-Éric Séralini, computer scientist Stephanie Seneff or biological engineer V.A. Shiva Ayyadura. Controversial legislation? Vermont passed a GMO labeling bill that’s being Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.23.09 AMchallenged in court. Celebrity supporters? Doesn’t get much bigger than Oprah, Dr. Oz or the team of celebrity, organic-endorsing moms assembled by Just Label It’s Gary Hirshberg.

These efforts have all gone a long way toward stirring unease about GM foods. When asked if they support labels for genetically modified foods, more than 90 percent of Americans have replied they think it’s a good idea. But these efforts would have gone no where without the promotion of anti-crop biotechnology viewpoints by journalists and bloggers. Ironically now, because of an attack campaign funded and launched by anti-GMO activists, we have an insight on how crop biotechnology opponents have coordinated their public relations efforts. 

FOIA’s unlock story of journalist-organic industry cooperation

In August, the anti-GMO, organic industry funded activist group U.S. Right to Know began releasing selective emails to sympathetic journalists that tried to build a case that crop biotechnology scientists were being financed by Monsanto to promote GMOs, and that the seed industry was coordinating their messages. It led to a slew of articles in the advocacy press, most notably by Tom Philpott of Mother Jones, a reliable critic of modern crop biotechnology, and a few mainstream media stories.

The most highly publicized of the articles was an early September New York Times front page story, “Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show,” in which reporter Eric Lipton presented what he apparently believed was a balanced view of the controversy over industry support for the pro and anti GMO viewpoint. He framed his article as if both sides of the GMO debate — scientists who support crop biotechnology and GMO opponents, mostly NGOs and journalists — equally compromised their ethics by working closely with corporations that supported their view points.

But Lipton bungled the story by presenting a kind of false equivalency that scientists on both sides of this controversial issue were being financed in part by their respective industry supporters. The most damning information he could muster challenging the biotech science side was an unrestricted contribution of $25,000 by Monsanto to the University of Florida for science outreach–money since donated to charity. No biotechnology scientists took any industry handouts. As his counter example, well down in the piece, Lipton briefly cited Charles Benbrook. who until May of 2015 was an adjunct research professor at Washington State University churning out one pro organic, anti-GMO research project after another. Lipton wrote about Benbrook’s move from the Organic Center, a division of the Organic Trade Association industry lobby, to a position with WSU–an adjunct professor appointment for which the university contributed zero funds.

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.

Lipton missed the real story. While he highlighted a tiny grant to Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta to pay for travel and donuts, with no money going to research or even into university coffers, he did not disclose the fact that organic companies were not just “closely involved in [Benbrook’s] research and advocacy’; in fact they had financed 100% of his research while at WSU—hundreds of thousands of dollars—and have been his central benefactor for more than a decade. Lipton also did not disclose the troubling fact that the anti-GMO wing of the organic industry had often directly requested studies to support a pro-organic, anti-GMO position—which Benbrook then offered to deliver. How do we know this? Because a few weeks after the publication of Lipton’s report, the Times posted online a cache of Benbrook’s emails at WSU that it had secured in a FOIA request.

The GLP has a background report on Benbrook’s career here. GLP contributing writer Julie Kelly has an analysis of Benbrook’s direct financial relationship with the organic industry, including his ties to Gary Hirshberg, who has led the national campaign promoting mandatory labeling of GMOs. And Australian reporter Colin Bettles has an expose of Benbrook’s offer to produce a ‘pay-for-play’ study that would challenge the safety of GMOs and promote the organic industry—if activists would foot the bill for the study and pay him $100,000 to “ramrod” through this “independent” study.

Chuck Benbrook lists his A-Team of what he believes are pro-organic journalists

The Times‘ emails, and a new set of Benbrook emails released just last week in response to a separate FOIA request, offer a compelling narrative on how the organic lobby mobilizes its troops of pro-organic journalists, professors and NGOs (or in Benbrook’s language “the A-Team”). These emails go part of the way toward explaining how the organic food industry consistently manages to garner sympathetic ‘white hat’ publicity as the beleaguered David fighting the Goliath of Big Ag despite overwhelming scientific evidence that organic foods offer no nutritional or ecological advantages but rather are much more expensive for consumers.

The emails also underscore the importance the organic lobby has placed on having Benbrook appear as a seemingly independent and reputable voice who held a position of prestige at a major university. Benbrook’s research has been used as the lynchpin of claims by anti-GMO activists and organic advocates to support their belief that GMOs are potentially harmful, pose ecological challenges and that organic foods are a safer and more sustainable alternative—ideological claims that science doesn’t support. How critical has it been for organic activists to trot out Benbrook and his work to challenge the mainstream science consensus? As Gary Hirshberg told the Times:

“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.”

But just as important, the Benbrook emails illustrate his sway over science communicators— journalists and bloggers who the public depends upon for independent reporting. Consider for instance the coverage of Benbrook’s controversial 2013 study claiming that organic milk is healthier than conventional milk. The email record shows that Benbrook led what amounted to a guerilla style promotion of the study backed by a $120,000 media promotion grant from the organic industry—a fact never disclosed by Benbrook or by reporters who ended up wiring glowing articles about his study. Washington State University compounded the ethically questionable promotional campaign by arranging for Eric Sorensen, a top WSU public relations spokesperson, to oversee the logistics.

The sheer volume of people the anti-GMO pro-organic reps briefed using industry backed talking points is astounding. And who rallied the troops personally? Benbrook.

a team

Let’s be clear here. Benbrook and his industry partners identified an ” A Team” comprised of Tom Philpott (food reporter who was erroneously listed as with Mother Earth News, but had moved to Mother Jones in 2011); Melinda Hemmelgarn who goes by the moniker Food Sleuth; Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group; and foodie author Michael Pollan; three out of four were briefed by Benbrook. According to Benbrook’s emails Pollan—who teaches media and media ethics at the University of Berkeley but whose activist leanings have been under scrutiny for years; and Philpott— apparently agreed to “help out with strategic Tweets, comments to media, etc.”

And they delivered. Pollan promoted the “independent” study feverishly to hundreds of thousands of his followers, and has since often commented favorably on its much disputed findings. Philpott wrote a story — “Organic Milk Proves Higher in Healthy Fats” — that resembled an organic industry news release.

In a recent study published in the peer-reviewed PLOS-One, a research team led by Washington State University’s Charles Benbrook found that organic milk delivers significantly healthier fats than its non-organic counterpart.

The takeaway seems to be: milk from grass-fed cows seems to have more healthy fats then conventional milk. And for consumers, the organic label is a good shorthand way to find milk from cows eating the good stuff.

Benbrook and his organic industry PR partners also sealed support from the likes of self-appointed food expert Robyn O’Brien, as there are numerous emails documenting their contacts. They also reached out to many other high profile health, nutrition and general science reporters and web posters.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 8.58.01 PM

Note that next to many names there is the phrase: “DONE, Chuck”. Many other reporters at various, large news outlets such as Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio; Kathleen Masterson on NPR, Elizabeth Weiss and Nanci Hellmich of USA Today, Maria Rodale of Huffington Post, Marion Burros, Mark Bittman and Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times, Alan Bjerga of Bloomberg and Eryn Brown of the LA Times were also contacted. According to Benbrook’s emails, they were not just contacted to provide background on the study; many were recruited to defend and promote this study, including making strategic comments on social media.

tweet

Many of those contacted did subsequently report favorably about the study, and almost no one disclosed either their solicitation by the organic lobby or the publicly known fact that all of Benbrook’s research and this study in particular was financed by the organic industry.

Some of these contacts have shown biases in their reporting on the organic-GMO feud, but most would be understandably horrified to find they were on this PR outreach list. Gary Ruskin and Tom Philpott, in their recent attacks on journalists based on Kevin Folta’s emails, automatically assumed that anyone who interacted with the those sympathetic to crop biotechnology were automatically biased and corrupted; that’s an unfair smear, and there is no reason to believe that every one, or even many, of the people on these organic industry lists were corrupted or corruptible. Most are just hard working journalists who would welcome information outreach from any source, as would any good journalist.

But not all. Of this group, perhaps the most problematic involvement came from Michael Pollan and Tom Philpott. Pollan has long promoted Benbrook’s often one-sided research. Here is his Tweet from 2012 hyping Benbrook’s controversial attempt to explain away a state-of-the art Stanford University meta-study that found organic foods offered no nutritional benefits over conventional foods–research that challenged years of pro-organic claims and propaganda.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 12.04.41 PM

Panic-over-organic study: Good analysis from Chuck Benbrook, suggesting there is less than meets the eye http://t.co/m1JUxtdg

— Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) September 4, 2012

The troubling ethics of Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott

Ironically, Tom Philpott presents himself as an ethical Rottweiler on science and journalism. Two months ago, he was issuing multiple Tweets decrying the “close ties” of “Pro-GMO zealot Kevin Folta” to Monsanto.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 12.13.05 PM

Hmm. What about the close ties of pro-organic industry “zealot” Tom Philpott?

Philpott has never acknowledged his willingness to coordinate stories and story lines with corporate interests, even going so far as to attempt to influence public votes. It’s notable that while he wrote an inflammatory slam of Folta’s alleged close industry ties—which consisted of an unrestricted grant with no research money—he all but shrugged his shoulders at Benbrook’s history of conflicts of interest and receiving direct industry payments to support his research. This is what Philpott wrote in his story on the 2012 Benbrook milk study:

“It’s important to note that Organic Valley, the farmer-owned organic dairy cooperative, donated $45,000 to fund the research, and Maged A. Latif, director of research and quality at Organic Valley, is one of the paper’s co-authors. But the paper’s publication in PLOS-One, one of the nation’s premier refereed science journals, lends it credibility. And it has been well-received in fat-research circles, reports The New York Times.”

In fact, the Benbrook study was not well-received but widely dismembered by independent scientists. Philpott’s biases, and his unrelenting promotion of Benbrook as a whistle clean scientist, was also on display this summer when he hyped an opinion piece co-authored by Benbrook dissing GMO crops published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 12.22.04 PM

Philpott again failed to mention that all of Benbrook’s funding comes from the organic food lobby — and that he himself has worked hand-in-glove with pro-organic, anti-GMO lobbyists.

Perhaps the most egregious example of Phlipott’s compromised ethics is illustrated by an email sent to Benbrook by Dr. Bronner’s Soap founder David Bronner in September 2014, five weeks before Oregon was set to vote on whether to institute mandatory labeling. Bronner had given millions of dollars to anti-GMO groups and mandatory labeling efforts, including in Oregon. Clearly desperate to influence the vote, he had written an advertorial that distorted the science of GMOs and promoted some of Benbrook’s much-criticized claims. Bronner had placed the propaganda ad in a number of non science publications, but was furious when two science journals, Scientific American and Nature, both saw it for what it was–an attempt to manipulate an election by promoting questionable science.

That’s where Tom Philpott enters the picture and comes to the rescue. Bronner’s solution, according to this email he sent to Benbrook: recruit Philpott to carry his personal message that GMOs are dangerous and mandatory labeling was necessary — all coordinated closely with Bronner as part of his national campaign set to roll-out on October 20, two weeks before the election.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.33.09 PM

Every journalist welcomes being pitched a story; nothing untoward about that. But in this case, according to Bronner’s email, Philpott agreed not only to write an article promoting Bronner’s point of view, but to publish it on a specific date to coordinate with a national anti-GMO mandatory labeling effort—and to coordinate everything with one of Bronner’s public relations operatives.

We are going to break this oct 20th same day New Yorker and scientific American ads drop with Tom philpott and our own our pushing hard. … We will definitely blow upon Oregon media and expect will get national play too.

Tom Philpott and Mother Jones were in Bronner’s pocket, agreeing to not only write a story but to time it to influence an election. And Philpott delivered. On October 20, just as Bronner and his PR operatives planned, Philpott’s wrote a scathing story for Mother Jones excoriating editors at Scientific American and Nature for—get this—their questionable ethics and journalistic fairness for not carrying Bronner’s propaganda piece. Philpott hit all the talking points in his story and provided a helpful link to the advertorial now embedded on a Mother Jones page for public viewing.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 1.35.51 PM

No where did Philpott acknowledge he furthered a propaganda effort on demand, timed the date of publication of his article with its prearranged message in coordination with a corporation’s public relations operative as part of a national campaign, all to influence a public vote in Oregon. That’s a gross breach of journalistic ethics—and a fireable offense in every responsible mainstream newsroom in the world. But not at Mother Jones.

Conflicts of Interest

Pollan, Philpott and some of the other members of the A-Team are long-time, established, integral parts of the organic lobby’s strategy to smear crop biotechnology and mainstream independent scientists, and the impact of their efforts throws a dark cloud over science itself. They appear to be ready on a moment’s notice to promote and defend anyone’s work that conforms with their selection bias against GMOs—with talking points provided, conveniently, by long time science ideologues. Or they will savage critics of organic foods.

But this is not just about tweets and poor journalism. Biased journalism creates a false equivalence on the science of GMOs. The attention Benbrook used to receive because of his position at Washington State and amplified by these prominent journalists made his research and his opinions seem far more credible than if he was merely an organic consultant—as he is now. There are few globally prominent crop scientists who raise serious safety concerns about the technology; almost all the antis “science” rested on Benbrook’s organic-supported shoulders. Benbook’s A Team—the ones who cooperated in promoting his views rather than just reporting on them—also helped create the illusion that there is strong science establishment support for the health and ecological benefits of organic food, when there is actually a consensus that there are few unique benefits. They manufactured false balance—and the established media has allowed them to get away with it.

The alleged misdeeds by Folta and other other scientists mentioned by the Times? The promotion and education of the public on the science of biotechnology—which coincidently is their job. They are mandated by land grant universities to engage equally with all stakeholders: consumers, students, professors, government and corporations doing ground breaking research; in other words, they would be in violation of their professorial contracts if they did not work with companies like Monsanto—and disclosure those relationships, as Folta and others properly did.

To demonize independent professors for doing fulfilling their mandated responsibilities is to misunderstand the very nature of science and research. Sure science is a search for knowledge, but what good is knowledge if it is not shared with others, if tangible products do not result from it? This is what real science advocates do, they go around the world getting people excited about science. Not for glory and not for money—almost all of these scientists under fire made a fraction of what Benbrook made with his organic funded research job and his lucrative consulting practice that included Whole Foods and other big name clients—but because it is what they want to do.

In the cold light, what’s the legacy of the campaigns by Benbrook and compliant journalists? They formed an informal public relations team funded by a multi-billion-dollar industry, creating a faux, legitimate-sounding professorial position at a reputable institution so that ideologically aligned journalists could quote his work as if he was an independent expert.

Now which group is suppose to have the conflict of interest again?

Nicholas Staropoli is a research associate for the American Council on Science and Health. He has an M.A. in biology from DePaul University and a B.S. in biomedical sciences from Marist College. Follow him on twitter @NickfrmBoston.

Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, is a Senior Fellow at the World Food Center Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, University of California-Davis. Follow @JonEntine on Twitter

  • Stephan

    :-)

  • Benjamin Edge

    Note too the timing of the media blitz mentioned by Bronner, just weeks before the GMO labeling votes in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Not just trying to manipulate the press, but voters, too. Reminiscent of the Seralini blitz before the Prop 37 vote in 2012.

    • Alexander Parish

      There was quite a bit more than just the Seralini blitz. Multi-million dollar propaganda films and some best selling books all came out at just the perfect time.

      I’ve been looking into the finances off the anti-gmo lobby, and its incredibly fishy. Money gets shifted between various non-for-profit 501(c) 3 and 4 NGOs, the donors get lost, and their total expenditures aren’t reported. The environmental working group runs several different NGO’s from the same mailing address, each with different laws governing tax-exempt and disclose status.

      I’d really like to see someone dig into this. I can’t get an numbers into the budget of Just label it! and many other organic lobbying groups. (Sorry, “advocacy groups”) The laws around this are a mess, and even as lax as they are, [these groups break them](http://www.pdc.wa.gov/archive/commissionmeetings/meetingshearings/pdfs/2014/14-011%20YES%20ON%20I-522.pdf). (Although to be fair, sometimes big retail does too)

      I have no clue what the actual total is for anti-gmo spending – I know I’ve seen far more anti-gmo propaganda and adverting then pro-gmo, and that the anti-gmo propaganda is often funded in ways it doesn’t appear on places like open secrets.

      In this [Forbes article](http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/10/22/the-roots-of-the-anti-genetic-engineering-movement-follow-the-money/2/), Henry I. Miller claimed the organic and natural product spent over 2.5 billion on advocacy in 2012.

      I’d love to see someone else follow it up with in-depth funding break downs, but that’s unlikely to change until 501(c)’s fiscal reporting laws change.

    • mem_somerville

      Yeah, that struck me too. Writer coordinates with industry rep to publish the story, and influence the election. That strikes me as outside the bounds of journalism and is pure activism.

    • gmoeater

      Uh, are you saying the voters were so stupid that a “media blitz” changed their minds? Get real. Voters rejected the ballot issues in Oregon and Colorado because they recognized how meaningless, confusing, and disingenuous those ballot initiatives were. They weren’t bought off by some kind of “media blitz,” unless you really believe voters are stupid. Do you believe that?

      • Benjamin Edge

        No gmoeater, you misunderstood my comment. I’m talking about the media blitz mentioned by Bronner involving Benbrook and timed to sway voters to vote for labeling, by coming out with “research studies” that claim to show a difference between organic and non-organic milk. The timing makes for maximum impact with voters, and limits the ability of serious scientists to debunk the stories. The study stays in the voters’ minds, not the rebuttal.

        • gmoeater

          Got it. Thank you for that clarification.

  • rebeccagavin

    Philpott is a crackpot.

    • Good to see someone walking the talk. I found your challenge to Philpott Crackpot at the MJ site under one of his dubious articles.

      • rebeccagavin

        When you made your name and career out of saying something is dangerous, it’s a real awkward thing when the science says otherwise. Someone like Phillpott can either acknowledge that he was wrong and come over to our side, or he could double and triple down with the crazy.

  • DeeDee

    Why do the producers of chemicals and GMO s want to suppress GMO labeling and eliminate the consumers choice ?

    • Jason

      Dee, could you explain how eliminating a choice (how to market your product) increases consumer choice? Isn’t there, by definition, less choice at that point?

      • Goody FANFan

        “…the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market just the way it was done in Europe.”
        –Joe Mercola on labeling

      • DeeDee

        I do not understand your response.
        GMO producers want to remove the consumer’s choice of whether to buy or not buy GMO products by refusing to label products as GMO.

        I guess I should buy all my food at WholePaycheck.

        • Jason

          No one is trying to remove consumers choice. In fact the very companies that are fighting mandatory labeling are also willfully offering non-GMO and organic alternatives to meet these consumer needs and allow for choices.

          What mandating a label does is remove the choice from consumers who would prefer to buy lower priced foods and don’t care whether they are labelled or not. Count me squarely in that category.

          By definition, creating less choices (the choice whether to label or not) means less choice.

          • Goody FANFan

            The anti-GMO crowd actually is trying to remove consumer choice.

          • Jason

            Good point. I really meant the “GMO producers” that she’s referring to.

          • DeeDee

            Go Transparency !
            What a spin !

          • DeeDee

            Please explain how labeling products removes the consumers choice. If a product is labeled non-GMO or GMO I can then make the choice of a higher or lower priced non GMO or a higher or lower priced GMO product.
            Your “definition” that labeling GMO or non GMO reduces choice is nonsensical unless you are a Monsanto shill.
            You wish to reduce the consumers choice by NOT LABELING GMO products, so that consumers will not know what they are buying.
            CORRECT ?
            Not labeling GMO products reduces MY choices.
            I am a consumer.
            I want to choose whether or not I purchase GMO products.
            Who pays you ?

          • Goody FANFan

            “Your “definition” that labeling GMO or non GMO reduces choice is nonsensical unless you are a Monsanto shill.”

            Logic problems, methinks.

          • Jason

            It is very simple. FORCING anything removes the choice not to do the thing that is being forced. And, by definition, removes the choice for other to support those who do not do that thing. Get it?

            Forcing a label on ingredients grown with GMO plants means that now you have to begin separating grains grown with GMO plants from those that are not. That additional step of separation is not done at zero cost. This effects the entire grain handling system. So, regardless of whether I buy GMO or non-GMO products, all will be higher priced due to this extra handling.

            Currently, I have the choice to buy foods from producers who do not have to incur and pass along these additional costs. You are proposing taking that choice away from me. And you’re proposing to take that choice away, all under the guise of providing you with a choice that you already have. You want to choose whether or not to purchase GMO products? Then choose between the already existing organic or non-GMO options that you have or choose to stick with the existing unlabeled options.

            Now we all have options that meet our needs. Isn’t the free market great?

            By the way… I chuckled that it only took your 2nd reply for you to pull out the “shill” accusation. I expected better. Maybe I shouldn’t have?

          • Warren Lauzon

            Once you played that stupid Monsanto shill gambit, you lost 95% of any credibility.

          • agscienceliterate

            Yup, I missed that shill thing in her last post, too. I too am done with her.

          • agscienceliterate

            What, exactly, does “gmo” on a label tell you, DeeDee? Be specific.

          • gmoeater

            Ah, okay. You have resorted to the shill accusation. Like agscienceliterate, to me you are done here.

          • Boulder7777

            Really?? shill accusation? You are not worthy of any more communication.

        • Goody FANFan

          The ultimate end-game for the pro-labeling crowd is to push genetically engineered products out of the marketplace. Labeling is just a tool–the “right to know” folks don’t really care about your “right to know.” They want to use you to promote organic products. They have said as much.

          “The burning question for us all then becomes how—and how quickly—can we move healthy, organic products from 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.”
          –Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

          Of course there’s no evidence that organic products are healthier/more nutritious than other food products.

          • DeeDee

            But consumers should not have the choice ? Right ? And the GMO group wants to make the decision for the consumers because they know what is best for them ?

          • Goody FANFan

            Consumers are in a better position than ever before, thanks to the Non-GMO Project Verified labels now coming on line. As of more than a year ago, they’d verified more than 20,000 unique grocery items as being GMO-free. For consumers who are needlessly afraid of products containing GMOs, you can look for the project’s label and products certified as USDA Organic.

            Most people who are opposed to mandatory labeling have no problem with voluntary labeling. Mandatory labeling uses a government’s regulatory power to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and there is a noisy fear-mongering campaign to spread lies about genetic engineering–you’ve no doubt heard of “Frankenfoods.” Further, anti-GMO activists are engaged in a multi-state strategy designed to bleed money from grocery manufacturers and agribusinesses. The very real prospect of conflicting labeling laws (and exemptions from them) is one of the primary reasons Congress has gotten involved.

            With regard to knowing what is best, the anti-GMO people take the cake for self-righteousness. They’re going to save the world one bloody organic pomegranate at a time–and make me do it too. No thanks.

          • DeeDee

            Absolutely , producers should VOLUNTARILY label their products without government intervention. Just think… if producers voluntarily labeled their products , this article would be moot.

          • Goody FANFan

            “…producers should VOLUNTARILY label”—well if it’s voluntary, your “should” becomes “could.” If it’s voluntary, it’s their choice, not yours.

          • They do that now. You can find lots of ‘GMO-free’ labels that appeal to the genetically illiterate. Our USDA has begun monitoring them for truth in advertising.

          • gmoeater

            There ya go. Now you’re getting it.

          • Michael McCarthy

            “Mandatory labeling uses a government’s regulatory power to pick winners and losers in the marketplace”
            Absolutely, I have used the following quote many times.
            “A true free market is always fair. It’s only when government passes laws and regulations that favor some over others that it’s unfair.”

          • You already have two choices – organic or GMO-free. You won’t be getting a third.

          • gmoeater

            And the last two ballot initiatives failed in states that had labeling on the ballot. The voters totally got it that labeling was a hype tactic for organic industry, and would have hurt local farmers financially with a 0% comingling standard. Poor DeeDee. She wants her own choice. She can easily avoid scary dreaded gmos.

          • Benjamin Edge

            All you have to do is look at Europe. They have GMO labeling, and essentially no GMO products to choose from. Labeling eliminated choice.

          • gmoeater

            What, you don’t have a choice in your supermarket aisles? Someone is forcing you to buy something? You are helpless in the supermarket? You can’t read? You can’t research for yourself? Grow up and stop demanding that everyone else does something for you that you are unmotivated to do for yourself. Learn about GE, which foods have it, and make your choices. Quit whining.

          • Boulder7777

            No, YOU want to make the “decision” for the consumers by demanding useless labels. If you know what foods are geneticallty engineered, you can easily avoid them. Do it. Freedom of choice.

        • Warren Lauzon

          How does it remove choice? The same choices are still there. Personally I would be more concerned with things like the now rather common “non-GMO” project label – which appears on many products that have never been GMO or could not possibly be GMO, such as salt and baking soda.

          • gmoeater

            And water. Don’t forget “non-gmo” water! What a total farce.

        • agscienceliterate

          DeeDee, you totally misunderstand GE technology. To put a “gmo” label on something tells the consumer nothing. It doesn’t say whether the GE crop was roundup-ready or Bt. It doesn’t say anything about whether the GE crop (like GE sugarbeets), after processing, yield regular ole sugar that is exactly like any other non-GE sugar. It says nothing about safety or allergens. It only labels a process.

          There is no need to label foods for production methods, unless you are simply trying to demonize that one process (while ignoring others, like mutagenesis — look it up).

          If you want non-gmo food, buy organic at WholePaycheck, or by “non-gmo certified.” You have plenty of choices. You don’t have the right to force meaningless lables on food.

    • gmoeater

      Why should they be labeled? If you want to know what’s GE, you can find out for yourself. Consumer choice. Why do you think you have a right to force food manufacturers to label their food a certain way? Just because you want them to? Voters disagree with you.

  • betheranne

    One small correction that I’m not sure matters. While his pieces are sometimes heard on NPR, Clay Masters is technically a reporter with NPR member station Iowa Public Radio. He is also one of the founding reporters of the Harvest Public Media regional journalism consortium. http://iowapublicradio.org/people/clay-masters#stream/0

  • Mike Bendzela

    Jon and Nicholas, this is a stupendous article.

    Watch what happens when I make substitutions in the Philpott quote from above:

    It’s important to note that Monsanto, the agricultural giant, donated
    $45,000 to fund the research, and Dr. X, director of research and
    quality at Big Consumer Product Co, is one of the
    paper’s co-authors. But the paper’s publication in PLOS-One,
    one of the nation’s premier refereed science journals, lends it
    credibility. And it has been well-received in fat-research circles,
    reports The New York Times.

    Well, this sort of thing (which has not, in fact, happened in the Folta case), just would not stand, would it? But because it involves the sacred organic industry, it’s OK. The Halo Effect works.

    Articles like this make my pivot away from the organic “philosophy” complete, a 180- instead of a 90-degree shift. I will explain why, and you can take my lay view for what it’s worth.

    Seven years ago, I worked at an organic farm and counted myself as one of Organics’ advocates. It was a delightful job, and the practices at the farm itself were perfectly fine. In fact, now that I’ve become co-owner of a minuscule CSA and orchard, I still practice about 90% of the techniques I saw in play at the organic farm: We build our soils with composted manure and vegetable compost; we mulch intensively with grass clippings, straw, leaves, and plastic sheeting; we use cover crops whenever we can; I use an aggressive Integrated Pest Management plan in the apple orchard to cut spraying in half, because as a small farm it makes no sense to invest in the equipment and chemicals that large farms must use.

    But I am no longer averse to using synthetic pesticides, including the insecticides Sevin and Imidan, the fungicide Captan, and the herbicides Roundup and Crossbow, when necessary. Nor am I dissuaded from supplementing our soil-building with synthetic NPK fertilizer when a soils test shows a deficiency.

    And I no longer have any fear of “GMOs”: in fact, I now feel privileged to be able to witness the transformations taking place in agriculture, and I hope I can live long enough to be able to employ some of the new varieties myself. (GMOs currently are not really practical for very small farmers with diverse crops.)

    The transformation of my point of view, which began while I was working at the organic farm, was initiated by the discovery that some of my favorite skeptics websites–Science-Based Medicine, The Skeptics Dictionary, etc.–did not hold “organics” in high esteem. I then discovered the writings of some very articulate scientists, Steve Savage and Kevin Folta among them. Also, I became friends with a toxicologist, who has a very rational view of the use of synthetic pesticides. So when I helped start up our little farm here in 2010, and the issue of organic certification came up, I said, “No, thanks.”

    The jaw-dropping irony of your article is not lost on me: It’s actually Big Organic, it advocates and acolytes, who deserve to be pilloried, not Monsanto and the like. In fact, one of the greatest ironies is that, over time, I have actually come to like Monsanto: hundreds of thousands of farmers enthusiastically use their products; they have met the most unfair attacks in the media with dignity and equanimity; and they donate lots of money to good causes (not to mention the fact that, as a man with a male spouse, I admire Monsanto’s exemplary treatment of its gay and lesbian employees).

    As I like to say, beliefs are like fishhooks–easy to swallow, difficult to cough up. Your article is another slap on the back!

  • Goody FANFan

    Rampant hypocrisy from Big Organic. Surprise, surprise, surprise. And hoisted by the their own FOIA petards to boot.

  • Rob Bright

    Wow! The Genetic Lunacy Project strikes again!! Pretty ironic that GLP is guilty as charged of the accusations this article makes in the very first paragraph. I guess industry-funded astroturf groups like the GLP have about as much journalistic integrity as a stinking pile of BS (which, incidentally, is exactly what this article is…)

    • agscienceliterate

      Can you show that GLP is industry-funded, Rob? Or just more lies?

  • Brian

    Hilarious! It’s not the giant multinationals spending the money, it’s the 1% organic folks, sure, you betcha. Plenty of research shows health problems with GMO’s. The Pro GMO research always has to short of study time. Rally, funny, wow, you guys should write comedy, oh wait, you do.

    • agscienceliterate

      What research, Brian? What specific health problems?