Anti-vax Organic Consumers Association, linked to measles outbreak, has deep ties to anti-GMO conspiracist USRTK

[Editor's note: As has been widely reported, conspiracists who believe that vaccines are responsible for alleged rises in cases of autism have convinced the Somali community in Minneapolis to forgo childhood vaccines. That's led to a full-fledged health crisis--dozens of cases of measles in recent months. According to a report in the Washington Post, anti-vaxxers infiltrated the Somali community in 2008, fanning fears. A University of Minnesota study dispelled the myth that autism rates were any higher among Somali children, but the anti-vaxxers continued to preach paranoia, led by Andrew
Wakefield, the discredited former gastroenterologist whose 1998 study suggesting a connection between vaccines and autism was retracted; he was later barred from practicing medicine. Vaccination rates plunged from 92 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in the last reporting period, 2014, and is reportedly even lower now. This report investigates the key US group funding the anti-vax effort in Minnesota and across the United States, the Organic Consumer Association--and its deep ties to the anti-GMO movement's leading conspiracy-promoting group, US Right to Know.]


On April 30, 2017, anti-vaccine groups held a community meeting in Minneapolis “to discuss measles and vaccines in the Somali community”. The goal of the meeting was to convince the Somali population that the MMR vaccine was more of a risk than actually contracting measles. Doubt was their product. The groups hosting the meeting included several anti-vaccineorganizations with relatively small budgets. The one outlier is the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which also happens to have a sizeable budget. [Read the GLP's profile of the OCA here.]

In the late 90s, the OCA began as the “Pure Food Campaign” by activist Jeremy Rifkin who had spent a large part of that decade campaigning against the use of genetic engineering in crop breeding and agriculture. Since 1998, the organization has been run by a protege of Rifkin’s, Ronnie Cummins. Cummins has expressed his feelings on vaccination: “It’s the same position [I have] as on human vaccines. They are dangerous, and that’s why I didn’t vaccinate my kid.” OCA has also lobbied the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to remove vaccines from organic standards.

Today the Organic Consumers Association is part of Health Liberty, a coalition of groups campaigning against the use of genetic engineering, vaccines, and fluoride. More recently the coalition became financially involved with a proposed ballot measure that sought to label food in California that contains genetically engineered ingredients.

To lead the campaign they brought in activists Gary Ruskin, Stacy Malkan and Pamm Larry.

Gary Ruskin was asked by the Los Angles Times in 2012 about his connection to Health Liberty’s founder, Joseph Mercola, described by Science Based Medicine as a purveyor of “tabloid journalism, late-night infomercials, and amateur pre-scientific medicine”.

Ruskin responded, "We don't endorse everything our supporters say.”

Mercola was Ruskin’s number one campaign contributor. Ruskin seemed to insinuate that they can agree on one issue, such as their ballot initiative, but disagree on issues such as childhood vaccinations. However, in 2006, Ruskin called a campaign to educate youth about the human papillomavirus (HPV) and a new vaccine to fight it, “deceptive and dishonest”.

When the measure failed, at the behest of the OCA, the three began a new organization, US Right To Know, which is funded almost entirely by OCA. [Read GLP's profile of US Right to Know here.]

After joining forces with Carey Gillam, fired last year by Reuters after years of what scientists say was biased reporting targeting mainstream science support for the safety of agricultural biotechnology, they began using a technique perfected by the tobacco industry and climate change deniers under a new organization, US Right To Know (US RTK). Broad freedom of information act requests were filed on professors that communicate with the public about the safety of genetic engineering when used in conjunction with seed breeding. This technique is often used to intimidate such professors as emails can easily be cherry picked to smear just about anyone.

Ruskin would change his tune in regards to supporters of a cause when it comes to any connection with climate change deniers, as his web page attacks anyone pro-GMO remotely connected to climate change deniers. Even when they are on record as agreeing with the consensus, such as Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project.

Also on the US RTK payroll is journalist Rob Waters. While the OCA uses the discredited Andrew Wakefield to promote the debunked idea that vaccines are connected to autism to Somali parents, Waters himself once wrote for Stat News:

“....discredited British physician Andrew Wakefield, who falsified data to imply a link between vaccines and autism. Wakefield’s medical license was revoked for a series of ethics violations, and most in the mainstream medical community blame him for raising unjustified doubts about the safety of vaccines.”

Even more shocking is the involvement of Stacy Malkan, who previously worked with the organization Healthcare Without Harm to vaccinate millions in the Philippines against measles. Once tweeting that “Hell hath no fury like a mother whose child has been sickened”, mothers like Suaado Salah now have sickened children caused by misinformation from Malkan’s financial backers.

Carey Gillam makes sure that her own children are vaccinated while taking money from those seeking to keep less privileged people from having the same health care access.

Using USRTK as a front, OCA has managed to get a lot of press attention for their causes. The New York Times, Global News, WBEZ, Mother Jones, the Boston Globe and most recently the Canadian Broadcasting Company, which served as a vessel for an attack on an internationally respected biotechnology researcher [Read GLP Daily Digest here; read response by plant scientist Kevin Folta to USRTK's attack piece here] have all published articles smearing professors based on cherry picked emails without discussing the weakness of such sources. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The use of open records laws to harass researchers emerged with the growing use of electronic communications. Conversations that used to take place over the phone or in person are now conducted by email, a format that leaves a permanent record. When these email discussions are made public through records requests, the privacy that academics have long enjoyed in discussions with colleagues is compromised. This can have a chilling effect on the frank exchange of ideas and constructive criticism, a crucial part of the scientific process.

Abuse of open records requests can also hinder researchers simply by hijacking their schedule. Complying with requests may take dozens or even hundreds of hours of researchers' time, putting their real work on hold or on the back burner for a long while. This may often be the main purpose of such requests.

Organizations like the OCA are able to actively fundraise using public fear of biotechnology and pesticides, but it often goes unreported that a lot of this money is used to fight childhood vaccination and prey on vulnerable communities. Major donors to the OCA, like Dr. Bronner’s, and the journalists that work with US RTK are just as responsible for this measles outbreak as the OCA is. They can’t do much damage if they are not given podiums to preach from.

In addition, we cannot expect the harassment of academics to end with crop and food biotechnology professors. With their money, skillful manipulation of media, and success at seeding doubt using cherry-picked emails, vaccine researchers and public health officials should be very alarmed at these tactics which could be aimed at them shortly. When we continue to need new and improved vaccines, thwarting research could have far-reaching and long-lasting harm to public health.

Mary Mangan, Ph.D., received her education in microbiology, immunology, plant cell biology, and mammalian cell, developmental, and molecular biology. She co-founded OpenHelix, a company providing training on open source software associated with the burgeoning genomics arena, over a decade ago. All comments here are her own, and do not represent OpenHelix. Follow her on Twitter @mem_somerville

Stephan Neidenbach is a middle school teacher in living in Annapolis, Maryland. He holds a BS in business administration from Salisbury University and an MS in Instructional Technology from University of Maryland University College. He started and runs the Facebook group We Love GMOs and Vaccines. Follow him on Twitter @welovegv

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Amazing just how corrupt these folks are. All are smart enough to earn good livings. Yet choose dishonest careers. Thanks for the article.

  • Alokin

    If you weren’t already convinced that the OCA is not interested in evidence and reason, then their anti-vax views have surely convinced you, right?

  • isolate

    I can’t believe there are no laws in place to stop anti-vaxxers from putting people in danger. Free speech stops when very real dangers are involved. Vaccines rid the US of measles some time ago. What motivates these people to try to reintroduce it is beyond me.

  • Pamm Larry, who you mention, is also a vocal anti-vaccine advocate. In fact, before the March for Science, Ms. Larry

    posted to facebook a statement against the march, supported by her belief that the science on GMOs and vaccines was “bought” science and that she rejects it. Stacy Malkan was tagged and part of the discussion, and did not dispute the claims about vaccines. Gary Ruskin was tagged but did not comment. The discussion was deleted within a day.
    The anti-vaccine-OCA-funded USRTK should publicly distance themselves from the anti-vaccine views of their band of conspiracy theorists, or admit if they also share those views.

    • First Officer

      Anybody got a screen shot?

  • CB

    Just keep drinkin the Kool-Aid, if you think the medical & agricultural industry is being truthful with you. I don’t trust anybody who is making money, peeing on my leg & telling me it’s raining !!

    • Jefe Mixtli

      And if the information comes from a Naturopath or Organic farmer does the same level of skepticism apply?

    • Stephan Neidenbach

      Big Pharma being shit does not mean that magic beans cure cancer.

      • CB

        That’s funny, cause they’ve been hoarding money for 60 years, without much results. Killed a lot of people though !

        • Brian

          Got Polio?

      • Mike Stevens

        I call this the “magic carpet” fallacy, often deployed by those who use this argument against conventional medicine.
        Because an aeroplane crashed, does that mean magic carpets can fly?

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Actually, the correct name is the “Steppenwolf Fallacy”

          • Erin Oakley
          • Eric Bjerregaard

            What I do know is that you are an ignorant, vile, piece of slime that lies and libels because it has no facts to back it’s positions. Get lost.

          • Erin Oakley

            Just trying to warn you about Mike. What’s wrong with you?

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            People like you exist causes imperfections in others. Get lost scum.

          • Erin Oakley

            You’re the guy who comments in the “Love Joy Feminism” forum. I took some screenshots of that.

            You people are wackos!! You and Mike both!

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          This scum that is calling itself erin Oakley is replacing it’s posts with less vile posts. Is this a regular practice? I noticed the phgony7 screen shots in the other argument.

          • Mike Stevens

            He’s well known troll in provax circles. He will try anything.
            His real name is Travis Schwochert, an unemployed man who lives with his father in Wisconsin.
            He has a criminal record.

            If he’s paying you attention, it means you are succeeding in whatever you are trying to do. He can’t handle that, and resorts to abuse. II wouldn’t let him get to you, if I were you, he’s not worth the bother.

          • Erin Oakley

            What are these lies Mike? Slanderous.

            You are not using your real name so I can say whatever about ‘nym Mike Stevens.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Thanks, pretty much what I figured. Living garbage.

          • Erin Oakley

            They are real screen shots Eric.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Nope, The stench of your dishonesty even comes wafting over the internet.

  • Crank Magnetism.

    Both have a vested interest in destroying the public trust in science and expertise since their marketing/delusions cannot fight the objective facts.
    They are cults. They tell their acolytes to ignore information and sites outside that given by themselves and that any information produced that doesn’t match their anti-(gmo/vaccine/fluoride/etc) dogma is merely a product of a vast conspiracy by all of mainstream science.

    I think you’ll see Babs Low Fisher’s NVIC is also broadening its focus beyond anti-vaccine to include anti-gmo and anti-non organic. All the anti-science alt industries are branching out. There must not be enough $$ in any one sector for all the grifters who want in.

    • Eric Bjerregaard
      • Realiτy022

        Nice video.

        What do you think about aluminum and Alzheimer’s?

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Both words start with an A.

          • Erin Oakley

            That’s just a fluff article. You’ve got to read the studies:

            •Alzheimer’s disease: X-ray spectrometric evidence of aluminum accumulation in neurofibrillary tangle-bearing neurons

            •Absorption of aluminium-26 in Alzheimer’s disease, measured using accelerator mass spectrometry

            •Aluminium and iron, but neither copper nor zinc, are key to the precipitation of β-sheets of Aβ in senile plaque cores in Alzheimer’s disease

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            No, there is no reason to read garbage posted by garbage. Especially junk that is correlational or disregards the inert nature of some chemicals. Also, try proving the Web MD article is fluff.

          • Erin Oakley

            … disregards the inert nature of some chemicals.

            How so? That very sentence merely proves how stupid you are.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Some elements have inert forms. That one of the many reasons vaccines are safe. I see you have squat to disprove the WebMD article. Got it.

          • Kris Preston

            Inert? Wow you’re dumb. What do you think happens to it Eric? You think it might dissolve and release the Al³⁺ ion?

          • Erin Oakley

            Also, try proving the Web MD article is fluff.

            LOL! It’s a WebMD article moron!

    • Renè

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