The U.S. Right To Know (USRTK) was founded in 2014 and formally launched on January 20, 2015 by former Yes on Prop 37 (mandatory GMO labeling ballot measure in California) campaign manager Gary Ruskin and media director Stacy Malkan with seed money from the Organic Consumers Association.
Its donor list includes organizations well known for supporting fringe medicine and activist causes. As of September 2017, the backbone of its funding came from the Organic Consumers Association, which has contributed $479,500. OCA is an anti-technology group that opposes genetic engineering and vaccines, and promotes alternative medicine, such as homeopathy. Other donors include Dr. Bronner’s Family Foundation ($133,000) and the Westreich Foundation ($17,500), both of which promote “alternative medicine” initiatives.
USRTK operates under the tag line “Exposing what the food industry doesn’t want you to know” and engages in anti-corporate attacks on agribusiness, the food industry and their supporters alleging unethical, lobbying and political influence on issues linked to GMOs, pesticides, sweeteners, and marketing to children.
As of September, 2015, URTRK had sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demands to more than a dozen public universities, targeting more than 40 scientists and science advocates, including Kevin Folta, Bruce Chassy, Richard Goodman and Jon Entine. According to mainstream scientists and many social scientists and journalists, the USTRK is using FOIA requests–each state has its own version echoing the federal law–to harass and intimidate scientists.
Ruskin acknowledges that is his goal. “The records disclosed … will be used in preparation of articles for dissemination to the public,” according to the text of one record request obtained by Science Insider. But Gary Ruskin, USRTK’s executive director, put a blunter point on it when he told the Insider that the group is “especially looking to learn how these faculty members have been appropriated into the PR machine for the chemical-agro industry.”
“The agri-chemical industry has spent $100 million dollars in a massive public relations campaign,” Ruskin also has said. “The public has the right to know the dynamics.” The implication is that the scientists are working too closely with businesses who support genetically modified, or GM, foods.
As the Columbia Journalism Review has noted:
While open records requests are designed to protect press freedom, they also make it possible for people who oppose certain scientific viewpoints to exploit them. Ideologically driven record requests to public universities, coming from both the right and left, are often purposefully designed to disrupt research. This is nothing more than bullying, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for a measured approach to open records, with a more discrete definition of which requests serve the public good and which do not.
University of Florida professor Kevin Folta, a central target of USRTK, posted an infographic analysis of a blog by Stacy Malkin of USRTK illustrating what he believes are the deceptive tactics used by the anti-GMO group. (Click here for enlarged version.)
After her forced departure from Reuters in 2015, reporter Cary Gillam, who is known in mainstream media circles for what is perceived as biased reporting about agricultural biotechnology, was hired by USRTK as “research director.” She portrays herself as fighting for the cause of transparency in the food and agricultural industries.
The organization is a 501c3 tax-exempt organization formed in 2014 (granted status October 2014); however, the website was first registered in 2012 (see below) while both Ruskin and Malkan were working for the Yes on Prop 37 ballot initiative campaign. The website became live in January 2015.
On January 20, 2015, it released a report on what it calls “Big Ag”, outlining what it says is the “seedy business” of Big Food, which it claims hides behind “slick PR campaign[s] on GMOs”.
Address: 6026A Harwood Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618.
- Incorporated 5/2/2014 California Number: C3672501 as a “Domestic Nonprofit” by Gary Ruskin at the above noted residential address using the phone number (415) 944-7350. This address is the listed residence for an “Anna M. Neave” of Berkeley, Arcata and Oakland, California.
- EIN Tax id: 465676616
USRTK website first registered in 2012 – using privacy protection service:
Domain ID:D165523202-LROR; Domain Name:USRTK.ORG
- Created On:10-May-2012 20:29:30 UTC
- Expiration Date:10-May-2015 20:29:30 UTC
- Sponsoring Registrar:GoDaddy.com, LLC (R91-LROR)
- Registrant ID:CR112536331
- Registrant Name:Registration Private
- Registrant Organization:Domains By Proxy, LLC
- Registrant Street1:DomainsByProxy.com
- Registrant Street2:15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85260
- Registrant Email:[email protected]
CAMPAIGNS / ACTIVITIES
The group is seeking “whistle blowers” who are “insiders” with the food industry, political, legislative or regulatory bodies to expose “hidden crimes or scandals” related to the food and agriculture industries. The co-founders and board members have a history of litigation targeting corporations and collaboration with litigators suing corporations.
Attacks on Trade, Farm and Professional Groups
USKTR published critical profiles of trade and advocacy groups which support conventional agriculture and non-organic farmers in their “Hall of Shame” – which includes attacks on the Grocery Manufacturers Association, U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Association, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the American Beverage Association (ABA), the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Calorie Control Council.
In addition to its FOIA campaign and writing critical public profiles on trade, professional and farming organizations, USRTK has published attacks on individual academics who publish content favorable on GMOs and conventional agriculture. It has published articles attacking Stanford University Hoover Institute fellow Henry Miller and filed numerous freedom of information related requests] at state universities demanding the correspondence and related materials from academics who have published pro-plant biotechnology research.
Penn State University emeritus professor Nina Fedoroff, also a target of USRTK, has likened the group to climate denialist advocates. “USRTK’s attack is reminiscent of ‘Climategate’, where the release of private emails did immense, unwarranted damage to the reputations of climate scientists. Now the vocal anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate playbook.”
- Co-Founder and Executive Director Gary Ruskin
- Co-Founder and Media Director Stacy Malkan
- Research Director Carey Gillam
Board of Directors
- Juliet Schor, chair – sociology professor at Boston College and anti-corporate author who promotes a global move towards organic and non-toxic agriculture.
- Charlie Cray, board member – research director at Greenpeace USA and board member Center for Corporate Policy with Andrew Kimbrell. Cray was a policy analyst and the director of the [htttp://wwww.corporatepolicy.org Center for Corporate Policy] in Washington, D.C. He was also the former director of the Campaign for Corporate Reform at Citizen Works and a former associate editor of Multinational Monitor magazine. In 2010 he led efforts behind lawsuits against two chemical companies and their public relations firms (Ketchum and Denzenhall Associates) alleging they engaged in corporate espionage against Greenpeace.
- Lisa Graves, board member – executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of anti-corporate Source Watch.
The only donor reported as of February 2015 is the Organic Consumers Association with a noted grant of $47,000.
- Science Magazine writer Keith Kloor reports a campaign to use freedom of information requests targeting academics at public institutions by USRTK is the same intimidation used by climate skeptics: “The tactic is familiar in another controversial area, climate science, where researchers have faced an avalanche of document requests from climate change skeptics… Researchers worry they will also have a chilling effect on academic freedom.”
- University of California scientists Alison Van Eenennaam called USRTK’s FOIA campaigns, “It seems like a fishing expedition…. I am very worried correspondence is going to be used to sully the reputations of scientists… Your first inclination … is to stop talking about the subject. “But that’s what they want. And I don’t want to be intimidated.”
- University of Florida researcher Kevin Folta says, “Unfortunately, when you skim through the 70,000 e-mails I have … USRTK will find opportunities to pull out a sentence and use it against me… They will show I have 200 e-mails from big ag companies. While it is former students … or chitchat about someone’s kids, it won’t matter. They’ll report, ‘Kevin Folta had 200 emails with Monsanto and Syngenta,’ as a way to smear me.”
- Union of Concerned Scientists commented, “Open records requests are increasingly being used to harass and intimidate scientists and other academic researchers, or to disrupt and delay their work. … 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.”