GMO promoters Bruce Chassy, Kevin Folta, David Shaw, Calestous Juma, and Peter Phillips appear to have stepped over the line between big business and academia
The following article summarises the conflicts of interest with industry of 13 academics. Five out of the 13 – Bruce Chassy, Kevin Folta, David Shaw, Calestous Juma, and Peter Phillips – work to promote GMOs and associated pesticides.
13 Academics who have become shills for corporate giants in the food, agrochemical and fossil fuel industries
By Lorraine Chow
AlterNet, September 8, 2016
[excerpts only published below; links to sources are at the URL above]
* Mounting evidence reveals that corporations are buying science and support from university professors
There’s nothing new or unusual about corporate and academic collaboration. IBM, for instance, has partnered with universities around the country since the 1940s to support computer science education. This relationship is mutually beneficial both for the tech giant and the institutions sponsored. IBM’s grant dollars provide welcome funding for research and equipment for students, all while fostering a new class of computer scientists and engineers.
University-business partnerships, however, require a careful balance. Take the tobacco industry. According to a 2012 study by Harvard professor Allan Brandt, cigarette makers all but invented the concept of industry-academic conflicts of interest. Since the 1950s, cigarette companies have sought to influence the debate about the dangers of smoking to sell more of their products. One tactic used was aligning with university-based science and underwriting millions of dollars for favorable research.
A number of industries have evidently taken a page from the tobacco playbook. Powerful industries from Big Oil to Big Food have been found funneling eye-popping sums of money to university professors in order to fund research and promote their commercial interests. The corporate hijacking of higher education is more complex than it looks. When state universities or land grant colleges see their budgets stretched thin, some faculty may feel pressured to seek or accept much-needed funding in ways that are not transparent to the public.
Nonetheless, academics are counted upon for the integrity of their assertions. Industry funding has been shown to undermine objectivity, and professors violate their responsibilities as impartial experts as well as the public’s trust when they associate with unscrupulous commercial interests.
Here are 5[of 13] prominent university professors who appear to have stepped over the line between big business and academia:
6. Bruce Chassy: the University of Illinois professor emeritus has similarly come under fire for his close ties to the controversial agrichemical industry. U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit watchdog group, obtained a jaw-dropping cache of emails through FOIA requests unveiling how Monsanto and its allies not only donated money to professors but also enlisted them to do PR, lobbying and regulatory work for the agrichemical industry.
On September 2015, a stunning exposé from the New York Times on the FOIA emails described how Chassy received money from Monsanto and collaborated with the agrichemical industry’s lobbying of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject a proposal that would tighten the regulations on pesticide-resistant seeds.
Monsanto’s Eric Sachs, who leads the company’s scientific outreach, emailed Chassy to set up Academics Review, a nonprofit aimed at countering critics of GMOs. “The key” to Academics Review’s success will be “keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information,” Sachs wrote.
This past March, a WBEZ investigation by Monica Eng uncovered that Monsanto gave Chassy more than $57,000 in two years to help promote, defend and deregulate GMOs through the lobbying of federal officials. Monsanto also made $140,000 in “biotech research and outreach” payments through the University of Illinois Foundation between 2006 and June 2012.
Chassy has harshly criticized the U.S. Right to Know campaign.
7. Kevin Folta: The professor and chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida has been labeled a “Monsanto shill” by critics after the FOIA emails indicated frequent collaboration with the world’s largest seed company. The plant scientist was the center of the 2015 New York Times exposé by Eric Lipton, who writes:
“Dr. Folta, the emails show, soon became part of an inner circle of industry consultants, lobbyists and executives who devised strategy on how to block state efforts to mandate G.M.O. labeling and, most recently, on how to get Congress to pass legislation that would pre-empt any state from taking such a step.”
“I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like,” Folta wrote in an October 2014 email to a Monsanto executive.
Folta, a Buzzfeed profile noted, corresponded with global public relations firm Ketchum, which represents the powerful Council for Biotechnology Information, to write an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, in which he claims "profiting authors, celebrity chefs and eco-terrorists" are attempting "to arrest the pace of scientific progress" in regard to GMOs. (Ketchum has a notorious reputation: Stacy Malkan, the co-director of U.S. Right to Know, notes that the firm "remains a key player in PR efforts to dampen demand for organic foods, spinning messages that tell consumers organics are over-priced and over-hyped... [and] runs the GMO Answers website, funded by Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF.")
In August 2014, Monsanto gave Folta an unrestricted $25,000 grant through the university’s agricultural biotechnology communication program. The university tried returning the money to Monsanto, but the company refused. Folta, citing personal threats, later decided to donate the money to a campus food bank. Folta wrote in a recent blog post that he is neither pro- nor anti-GMO but has an “overwhelmingly positive” opinion of the technology.
8. David Shaw: According to the New York Times piece, Monsanto provided at least $880,000 in grants to Mississippi State University’s vice president for research and economic development.
The FOIA emails show that Shaw was approached by both Monsanto and Dow Chemical to submit comments to the USDA to approve the former’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend GMO soybeans and the latter’s Enlist weedkiller. Dow executive Larry Walton sent a June 2015 email to Shaw requesting his support for Enlist. In the message, Walton noted that the Mississippi Agricultural Industry Council, where Walton is president, has provided scholarship funds to Mississippi State students. Shaw agreed to the two requests.
Shaw, Folta and seven other professors were also included in an August 2013 group email from Sachs, the Monsanto outreach executive. Sachs asks the group to lend their academic gravitas on a series of articles touting the benefits of GMOs aimed at the general public. The Monsanto exec even assigned them topics and provided talking points and added that company-hired PR firms would plug the finished articles.
“The key to success is participation by all of you—recognized leaders with the knowledge, reputation and communication experience needed to communicate authoritatively with the target groups,” the email stated.
Shaw and Cornell entomologist and professor Anthony Shelton were tasked with the topic, “sustainable crop systems” and the professors complied. The final co-authored article, “Green Genes: Sustainability Advantages of Herbicide Tolerant and Insect Resistant Crops,” was published by the Genetic Literacy Project, an organization critics have labeled an agrichemical industry front group.
9. Calestous Juma: The Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government professor was also part of the Sachs group email. Juma, who is enthusiastically pro-GMO, wrote a December 2014 piece titled, “Global Risks of Rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology,” a topic—and a similar headline—Sachs suggested. The piece was also published by the Genetic Literacy Project.
Citing the FOIA emails, the Boston Globe described how Monsanto connected Juma with a marketing company to promote his paper “as part of Monsanto’s strategy to win over the public and lawmakers.” The international development specialist defended his piece, telling the Boston Globe he was not paid by Monsanto and merely pulled material from his previously published book on the topic.
“It’s not that I was trying to hide anything,” Juma said….
13. Peter Phillips: The University of Saskatchewan public policy professor was also asked by Monsanto's Eric Sachs to throw his weight behind a pro-GMO piece.
The finished piece, “Economic Consequences of Regulations of GM Crops”, closely mirrored the subject matter of “burdensome” regulations that stifle biotechnology, something that Sachs had pitched. The paper was again published on the Genetic Literacy Project website in December and did not disclose Monsanto’s meddling.
According to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, “Phillips said there was no need to declare his connections because he was not paid and Monsanto did not ask him to alter his research.”
However, Gary Ruskin, co-director for U.S Right to Know which accessed the emails, disagrees.
“Monsanto says jump and these scientists said, how high? This is not how publicly funded scientists should behave,” Ruskin told the publication, adding that Americans should trust top university scientists to disclose any conflict of interest.