Alison Van Eenennaam: Anti-GMO activists target public scientists

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Anti-GMO activists and those critical of the role of corporations in food and farming are in the midst of a mock tribunal in The Hague ‘prosecuting’ Monsanto for” crimes against humanity and for ecocide.” Fake judges are listening to faux ”testimony” from alleged “victims” to in preparation for rigged “rulings.” One of the organizers of this ideological circus is the US-based Organic Consumers Association (OCA) [read GLP profile here], an organic-funded group known for publicity stunts aimed at Monsanto and other agrochemical companies as well as its opposition to vaccines and support of quack ‘alternative’ medicine remedies such as homeopathy. monsanto-skull-crimes-against-humanity

The OCA doesn’t just attack corporations; it also targets independent scientists and science communicators, including the GLP executive director Jon Entine. The OCA has been providing hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the attack group US Right to Know, [read GLP profile here] which has aggressively used the Freedom of Information Act to smear prominent scientists and science communities who speak out on behalf of genetic engineering. One of its prime target is Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal biotechnologist at the University of California, Davis, which has received 17 public-records requests. Dr. Van Eenennaam describes what it’s like being a target of an ideological crusade.

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I’m a Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California-Davis, researching and teaching about animal genomics and biotechnology. As a scientist, my training is to write in the dry, succinct 3rd person. However, today I’m reflecting on my personal experience with the recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests targeting public sector scientists and communicators who are engaged in the public discussion about GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

linda_and_alison_bcca_award_0bd147858286bI am writing this in the first person because there is something deeply intrusive about a third party requesting years’ worth of email correspondence. I guess I am not alone in academia in keeping all of my email correspondence, personal and professional, in one account—my university account. In the absence of a better solution, my email correspondence is quite honestly my somewhat disorganized “filing system”.

At 51, I am not an Internet native but a reluctant web immigrant. I remember the days when I did not have to constantly respond to emails, where I could actually plan my days to write manuscripts or conduct a research experiment. I remember when work finished when you left the office—no email, no social media. I am old enough to remember when email was first introduced into UC Davis in the dscn9192
early 1990s, and the university provided its employees with a free account. You used to have to pay for email accounts. I even did a course called “Computer Appreciation” with punch cards in high school. No wonder my kids think I am a dinosaur.

My single, lone Outlook account and calendar house my doctor’s appointments, entries for my kids’ reports and high school events, flight details and reminders for my many and varied outreach activities, emails to my family, and, of course, correspondence to colleagues, students and the varied clientele I work with. This includes many farmers and farm groups, all of whom are in the agricultural “industry”. Some are in the dairy industry; some are in the beef industry; and some are in the organic industry. Some are in the animal health industry. Some are good friends with whom I attend social events; some are just regular friends; others are strictly business colleagues.

As I suspect with many academicians, my “work” life and my “life” life merge together into one, giant, chaotic cacophony. As my husband will attest, I observe no strict schedule of work time versus private time—it all blurs together as I simultaneously try to keep all of my various teaching, research, outreach, grant writing, travel, and family balls aloft in the air— a juggling act familiar to every parent. I have never understood the term “work-life balance”; it suggests that my work is not part of my life and I don’t feel that way. My work is an integral part of my life.

On February 5, 2015,  six University of California—Davis scientists, myself included, received a FOIA request from USRTK. The request was for all correspondence (letters, emails) written or received since 1/1/2012 to or from me and to or from any staff or employees of any of the following organizations: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer or Bayer Crop Science, BASF, DuPont or Pioneer, Dow or Dow AgroSciences, Ketchum, GMO Answers, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Council for Biotechnology Information, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Fleishman-Hillard, Ogilvy & Mather, Winner & Mandabach, Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks, and the NGO No on 37. That is more than three years of email traffic.

us-right-to-knowThe request, written by the head of USRTK Gary Ruskin (Ruskin headed up the failed campaign to pass a mandatory labelling law in California), read:

I am making this request on behalf of U.S. Right to Know, a 501(c)(3) non-profit food research organization. The records disclosed pursuant to this request will be used in the preparation of articles for dissemination to the public. Accordingly, I request that you waive all fees in the public interest because furnishing of the information sought by this request will primarily benefit the public.

I did not pay immediate attention to the request at the time as I was in Australia tending to my elderly mother who had taken a nasty fall, and was in a hospital getting a skin graft. Needless to say other priorities had my attention. But I remember reading that email in the hospital and feeling a small knot form in the pit of my stomach. My mom asked what was wrong when she saw my worried face, but I just shrugged. She had her own problems to deal with, and at 85 she did not need to be worrying about anything but getting better.

Upon returning to the U.S., with mom recuperating nicely, I spent a couple of days collating all of the received and sent email correspondence over that requested time period, ~ 75,000 in all. I would bet that number is not uncommon for many academics. Of course more than 99.9 percent of these emails were unrelated to the FOIA request. There were many university business emails, student emails, emails from my health club, kids’ school, SPAM, and so on. The “.com” entity from which I had the most commercial email correspondence was “Yahoo.com”.

At 7 am on Saturday February 21st, I sat down with a UC legal analyst and copied the relatively small number of compliant emails to her USB disk. Since that time I personally have not spent any more time on this FOIA request as the UC legal team is doing what it is required to do under the California Public Records Act law. The UC Davis lawyers, public servants supported by state funds, are using their time to sort through each and every email from all of the professors as there are strict laws regarding what can be released.

I will add that since then I received a second FOIA request from USRTK on August 3 requesting all correspondence (letters, email) from: (1) any staff or employees of any of the following organizations or (2) persons: Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, FP1 Strategies, CMA, American Council on Science and Health, Genetic Literacy Project, Jon Entine, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and any email correspondence since January 1, 2013 to or from me to or from or cc’d to or bcc’d to any of the following domains: Cfsaf.org , Fp1strategies.com, Acsh.org, Cmabuildstrust.com, and Gatesfoundation.org.

I have never even heard of some of these newly added organizations. But I again collated and turned over the few compliant emails to the legal analyst. In addition new UC affiliates including colleagues at different campuses, 10 in all now, had been added to the request. This further increased the scope of the FOIA request and the time that will be required for the legal team to compile all of these records in accordance with California law. It is evident that these requests may continue for years.

FOIA attacks get personal

In the meantime, I have watched with increasing distress at the way that Dr. Kevin Folta, of the University of Florida, also a FOIA request target, has been portrayed subsequent to the public release of his FOIAed emails. Why distress? Because I know Kevin and I know how deeply he cares about science. I have had dinner at his house, and we recently did an early morning fitness “bootcamp” when he was in Davis. I consider him a friend, and his job is not that different than mine—we are both science communicators who talk about breeding; he talks about plants, I talk about animals.cgnboi6xeaetccy-jpg-large

Ironically enough, I first met Kevin at a meeting in Denver, CO in 2014 that was sponsored by the non-profit group AGree. The invitation described a meeting:

…to learn about and discuss different aspects of GE technology that are relevant to AGree’s work. The group is not planning to reach consensus, but rather have a productive dialogue informed by those with expertise in a number of topics, including: yields, weed and pest resistance, human health and environmental safety, and labeling.

I remember that meeting clearly, as I had to miss out on the first night of my family’s annual end-of-school camping trip with the kids at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. However, I thought it was worthwhile to forgo that one night in the redwood forest to engage in respectful dialogue on the topic of GMOs.

Kevin and I, along with all of the invited participants at that meeting, had our travel expenses covered to attend. I never thought to disclose that travel reimbursement—$518.53 for anyone interested, most of which was the $438 economy return airfare to Denver. I would not have attended that meeting if I had to cover the expenses personally, and there is no pot of university money for interstate travel to these types of meetings. I was not paid for attending; I volunteered my time to further constructive discussions about the public debate over biotechnology.

According to university policy, no disclosure is required for “a travel payment that was received from a non-profit entity exempt from taxation under Internal Revenue Service Code Section 501(c)(3) for which you provided equal or greater consideration.” In this case my out of pocket expenses were $518.53. It never occurred to me to make that public as receiving direct reimbursements for incurred interstate travel expenses to speak at meetings is a routine part of my job—and I think I speak for almost all academics in virtually every field of study, nationally, on this issue.

Like Kevin, I speak at many venues throughout the nation. Public communication and engagement is part of my job description. I doubt anyone is much interested that I received travel expenses from the Academy of Veterinary Consultants to speak about the USDA-funded Bovine Respiratory Disease Coordinated Agricultural Project at its meeting in Denver, CO in July 2014; nor that I received travel reimbursement from Tuskegee University to speak at its George Washington Carver Lecture Series about “The future of animal biotechnology and the importance of science communication” in April 2015.

Public sector scientists typically draw on a number of sources to help cover outreach expenses, such as speaker travel costs, meals, and meeting hall rentals, including registration fees, public grants and sometimes donations or sponsorships from private companies that have an interest in the outreach topic. The company sponsors for a recent conference that I organized at UC Davis called “Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle” can be found here. Indeed, many public conference grants require that industry match the public funds. This is true whether the topic is something controversial like biotechnology, or something non-controversial, like drought management.

I have observed Kevin giving biotechnology presentations on several occasions. He provides kevin_folta
evidence-based, factual content. He reports on his own published research results (not sponsored by industry), and also reports on the scientific consensus that the genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat – a conclusion reached by every major scientific organization in the world. I have seen how he speaks with passion about science. Perhaps to his detriment, he does not censor his opinions in person or in email correspondence. He says what he thinks. He spends an inordinate amount of his free time on nights and weekends doing science communication. None of that could be considered wrongdoing. In fact it’s just the opposite: he’s responsibly communicating the up-to-date science, as he is mandated to do as a scientist at a public university.

My extension program at Davis focuses on the use of biotechnology and genomics in livestock production systems. As a UC Cooperative Extension specialist, I carry on the 100-year tradition (authorized by the 1914 Smith-Lever act making federal funds available for extension work) of extending science to farmers and ranchers, and the general public. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors who took breeding techniques such as artificial insemination to the field in the 1940s. My position description states that I am to ‘Establish linkages and interact with the diverse animal industries of the state of California including the emerging animal biotechnology industry… and provide subject matter assistance in genomics and biotechnology with a major emphasis on agriculture and use of products resulting from biotechnology’.

Yet the FOIA requests I received were for companies and organizations mostly associated with the plant biotechnology industry. So, why me? Why were my emails FOIAed?

Initially, according to USRTK, the demands targeted only researchers who have written articles posted on GMO Answers, a website backed by food and biotechnology firms. I did volunteer to answer some questions on that site about animal feeding studies for no pay on my own time. I am committed to science communication in as many forums as possible. However, it quickly became clear that citing GMO Answers was not Ruskin’s real motivation, as many of those targeted at UC and around the country had never written for that site. When confronted with this fact, Ruskin acknowledged that he requested documents from the scientists with no connection to GMO Answers because they made public statements opposing California’s 2012 GM food labeling proposition, which was defeated.

The scope of the requests has since moved well beyond GMO Answers and Proposition 37. The real target seems to be prominent scientists affiliated with land-grant universities across the United States engaged in public discussion about GMOs. That description fits me; I have been involved in public communication around this topic, and many other related controversial topics. You do not need to look too far to find controversial topics in animal agriculture. I have spoken about cloning, genomic selection, the AquAdvantage salmon, animal biotechnologies, GMOS, coexistence of different agricultural production and marketing systems and food labeling.

Full disclosure

Although I am a public scientist, I do have a “connection” to industry, which will likely make me a target of groups like USTRK. I was a student intern at Calgene in 1996, as a part of my PhD training. My genetics Ph.D. program included a “Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology,” which meant I had to take some additional course work on biotechnology and ethics, and was also required to undertake a 3-month internship at a commercial company. I chose to intern at Calgene, partly because it was conveniently located in Davis where my husband and I had just purchased our first
house, and also because it was a cool little startup company initiated by UC Davis faculty and in 1996 Calgene had just successfully commercialized the first genetically engineered plant, the Flavr Savr tomato.1024x1024

As a result of the contacts I made during that internship, I was subsequently offered a job at Calgene in the genomics discovery group following the completion of my Ph.D. I jumped at the chance as I had just given birth to our first son in 1997 and wanted to be in close proximity to him in Davis to continue nursing him for a year. Unfortunately, jobs in animal biotechnology within a 20-mile “proximity for breastfeeding” radius of Davis were not in great supply. But a genome is a genome, and DNA is DNA—whether it’s plants or animals makes little difference.

In addition to the birth of my son and the publication of “Dolly” the cloned sheep, something else happened in 1997; Calgene was purchased by a company called Monsanto. I worked at what was subsequently called the “Calgene-campus” on the genomics team through the birth of my second son and was able to obtain some great experience in genomic techniques. However, animal agriculture and extension have been, and always will be, my passion. And when my current position opened up at UC Davis in 2002, I leaped at the opportunity.

In the interests of full disclosure, in addition to my job at Calgene, I have also worked as a peach packer, a bar maid, a wool washer, as a jillaroo on a cattle ranch and a roustabout in a shearing shed, as a research scientist for a now defunct Australian animal health company called Cooper’s Animal Health that was no-doubt purchased by a larger animal health company, as an International Agricultural Exchange Association trainee at a Santa Gertrudis bovine embryo and semen collection facility in Texas (not exactly sure I want to know the perceived conflict of interest that job suggests!), and as a livestock and dairy advisor for UC Davis Cooperative Extension in the San Joaquin Valley following the completion of my Master’s degree in Animal Science at Davis in the early 1990s.

In the last year alone, I have spoken to around 70 groups on topics related to my expertise, including on “Beef heifer replacement: Considerations related to breed and biological type” and “Use of Parentage Testing: Implications for Bull Fertility and Productivity”. These groups have included high school students (drove myself) public organizations (e.g. Healthy Eating Club, Kilaga Springs Lodge, Lincoln, CA (used in-state university travel funds to pay for the mileage) and producer audiences (e.g. North Bay Dairy Women, Petaluma, CA (in-state university travel funds for that one too), scientific conference attendees (too many to document here but mostly reimbursed by non-profit scientific societies although they typically solicit sponsorship from all sorts of industries), the Intelligence Squared Debate in New York City (IQ2 paid travel expenses for all participants) and the Congressional House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in Washington, DC (made a special request to my dean and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources for university funding to testify).

I have also published a number of peer-reviewed papers in the scientific literature over the past year resulting from my research. The sources and grants that fund my research projects have always been publicly available on my website. Many of my papers have nothing to do with GMOs—for example: “Imputation of Microsatellite Alleles from Dense SNP Genotypes for Parentage Verification Across Multiple Bos taurus and Bos indicus breeds”—and sadly they generated little interest beyond my scientific colleagues. However, those associated with GMOs, most notably “Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations,” have been highly publicized and routinely maligned and attacked by groups opposed to genetic engineering.

Is public engagement on GMOs worth it?

I provide this background as I have been seriously thinking about whether I want to continue communicating about the controversial topic of biotechnology, and specifically the breeding method known as genetic engineering. The political discourse and social media around this topic are so toxic. Kevin’s scientific reputation is being maligned because of his biotechnology outreach efforts, and for routine expenses that are part of normal university business.

If Kevin never spoke in public he would not be the subject of these personal attacks or repugnant comments about his deceased mother or threats to his person. The questions I have been asking myself include whether I want to expose my successful extension program and scientific reputation to this type of attack? Would it be more pragmatic to only speak on non-controversial breeding methods so as to avoid being a target? Or only at events that are sponsored by 501(c)(3) non-profit entities? Should I forgo interstate speaking opportunities in the future? Are there conferences and/or meetings I should not attend? Are there industries I should not speak to, and as a public sector scientist how do I determine which ones are verboten? Should I change how I communicate with colleagues in the future? Should I continue to risk interacting with journalists? For me most importantly, am I putting my family or students at risk in any way?

Although it’s tempting to avoid the conflict, that would not be true to my nature. At the end of the day I have to do what I feel is the right thing. I believe the thousands of genetic markers discovered through livestock sequencing projects, the information obtained from numerous genome wide association studies, the development of genomic selection statistical methodology to include molecular data in genetic merit estimates, genome editing techniques, and genetic engineering technologies are all useful individually. But collectively, they offer a powerful approach to accelerate real genetic change in our food animal species to the advantage of food security and agricultural sustainability globally.

I love extension and I enjoy my job. I am not going to stop communicating science because I feel what I do is important. As an agricultural scientist and a parent I have an interest in promoting evidence-based public policy. I think it is imperative that public sector scientists have a seat at the table, and are not cowed into silence about specific technologies or frightened away from talking about controversial subjects. At heart I am an optimist, and ultimately I want to ensure a future for my kids in which Carl Sagan’s foreboding nightmare, articulated in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, is never realized.

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness….

[Editor’s note: This essay was originally written in 2014 for the Genetic Literacy Project. Prof Van Eenennaam has since faced numerous additional California FOIA demands, requiring additional hours of her time.]

Alison Van Eenennaam, Ph.D. is an animal geneticist and Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis. My Twitter handle: @BioBeef

  • William

    Excellent personal article and as an agricultural scientist I fully support you. Keep up the good work and ignore the haters and Luddites as best you can.

  • First Officer

    Excellent. Yes, they do indeed want you forego any and all public engagements and this is part of the attempt to choke off any and all funds that enable that, along with biotech research and, I dare say, education.

  • Alison Van Eenennaam is a scientist whom I really respect, and it kills me that she has to endure this FOIA attack from people who just want to terrorize scientists because they publish about GMOs and they don’t agree with their results. What these scientists are enduring is something that I don’t wish to my worst enemy. Those who engage in these horrible strategies are cowards.

  • Ronald

    Alison Van Eenennaam is one of the best and the brightest. She, Kevin Folta, and others are being harassed as part of a program to intimidate academic researchers doing nothing more than attempting to share their expertise to educate the public. The USRTK effort is perverting the FOI process for the purpose of attempting to discredit good and decent people. It is also an attack on the Land Grant University system.

  • Mark Walton

    Thank you Alison for spending even more of your time to share the FOIA experience with all of us. It is painful to read both because of how it has and is impacting on you and Kevin and the other scientists being harassed by R2K and because of the chilling implication the attack by R2K has for all of science. As an agricultural scientist I am particularly disturbed by the damaging effect this is having on our ability to feed a growing world in a safe and truly sustainable way. Thank you for persevering.

  • Cairenn Day

    I am going to just use my comment that I posted on a Forbes article here

    I am sick of the attacks on folks that try to educate folks on
    controversial issues. Folks do not go into science for money and even
    more so for those that chose to teach and research at a public
    institution. The private sector pays a lot more. We need more folks like
    Dr Folta, talking about bio tech, about medicine, about all science
    topics. I happen to be a layman (a working studio artist with a
    geology/physics background) and I am insulted daily for daring to post
    links to credible facts and evidence about many things from biotech, to
    fracking to vaccines. I get several death threats every year. How can we
    ask more scientists to put their careers and their lives on the line,
    simply for educating the general public.? We become less informed every
    time one declines. “

    • Farmer Sue

      Great post, Cairenn, although it is sad. Ignorance grows by leaps and bounds, with resulting attacks on highly credible scientists. I’ve heard Kevin speak and he is thoughtful and knowledgeable. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. The attacks on Kevin F., Alison, Kavin Senapathy, and others who vocally and openly promote science are very disheartening. Sometimes I wonder if, with so much total junk on the internet, we are just going back into the dark ages…

  • FRE000

    It is not only GMO scientists who are gagged. People who support nuclear power are also gagged.

    • Indeed. And there is a high overlap between the Anti-GMO and Anti-Nuclear NGOs. I would really like to know the financial networks behind both. My guess is the Anti-GMO program has the bigger funding. But a lot of the anti-advocacy flows from the same NGOs. These examples come to mind, where you can kill two critical technologies with one contribution: Greenpeace, NRDC, FOE, Sierra Club. Others?

      • terryhallinan

        “there is a high overlap between the Anti-GMO and Anti-Nuclear NGOs”

        Absolutely true but only with the affix “GMO.”

        Nuclear power remains a terrible threat, from waste that has a half-life much longer than recorded human history to the laughable soft-peddling of the enormous damage to life and property that still occurs.

        My son was a Navy nuke who can tell frightening stories about the Navy’s nuclear power that have some of the aura of the H-bombs that accidentally fell on North Carolina only there were fatalities in the submarines. He claims that nuclear power plants can be made fully safe [something I disagree with] but the temptation to take short cuts will be as difficult to banish as sin.

        No one has died from GMO killer tomatoes. It is pure fiction.

        Best, Terry

    • SageThinker

      Who is “gagging” anyone?

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Please don’t be naive.

        USRTK’s motives are very transparent. Intimidate public scientists who speak out against the fearmongering over a plant breeding method using a publically funded smear campaign and quote mining. The intent is to gag these scientists. Luckily it’s not working because these scientists have integrity unlike Ruskin et al.

        Weren’t you just talking about how people should be more forth coming regarding their intentions?

        • SageThinker

          Wow, man. Look here. You seem to be accusing me of playing dumb or something. I am not. You also use a lot of loaded words here. I almost called it out from your last comment, and now i really must. “Intimidate”? “Fearmongering”? Those are judgmental words that show your reckoning of motivations and of a larger context. Ok, so those are your judgments. However, if someone is engaged in some kind of biased science or some wrongdoing, then exposing them may be seen by them as “intimidation”. On the other hand, if there is nothing to hide, then why not open the drawers and let everyone see what’s inside? This is not private life. This is public science regarding a topic that affects the public at the most basic level, that of the molecules that become the public’s bodies. Physical bodies. Please refrain from sliming as in your last sentence there. USRTK’s motives are apparent to me in their acronym, the RTK part, which stands for “right to know”. Seems simple enough to me. Attributions of McCarthyism and intimidation are just that — attributions, generally by people strongly aligned with the industry agenda.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            The industry agenda? No I’m afraid that it’s simply a case of what the industry says regarding genetically engineered crops aligns with the scientific consensus.

            That’s why the biotech industry started the gmoanswers website to begin with.

            Ruskin is heading a campaign to harass public scientists because they were willing to help educate the public on genetic engineering through a website run by the biotech industry as a kind of public outreach. That’s the premise of these inquiries, to expose alleged ties to industry that somehow discredit these academics. He then cherry picked and quote mined out of hundreds of thousands of documents to fabricate a narrative of impropriety and then disseminates it to the press as part of a smear campaign.

          • SageThinker

            Well, that is one version of reality.

          • SageThinker

            Another version of the same story would be:

            An industry that is largely led by a company that has deceived the public in the past and hidden scientific results that would have hurt its profits, thereby causing harm and death to many people (PCBs), has entered the large market of the human food supply, and works to engineer a false “scientific consensus” and also largely capture regulatory agencies to get products approved using unpublished studies reviewed by friendly eyes in positions of power, has found it beneficial to forge alliances with scientists and science communicators to further their agenda and protect their profitable market. A small group of concerned people filed FOIA requests to look at possible evidence of collusion with the industry, and found a few notable instances but otherwise no major smoking guns, and has presented a narrative that seems somewhat near to reality, with some whiffs of impropriety but as of yet no major revelations of falsification of results.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Coming soon to a theater near you? Sounds like an engaging piece of fiction just waiting for adaptation to the silver screen.

            I find if remarkable to suggest that these scientists can be bought. After digging through all Dr. Fortas emails what did they find? A measly grant for 25K that went to public outreach that they didn’t control the message of. Let’s just step out of conspiracy land for a moment and put that into perspective.

            You can deny the consensus all you wish it doesn’t make it less real. It just makes you sound like a climate change denier. It’s just in this case the industry is the one aligned with the consensus while the activists are being played like a fiddle by the organic food industry in a ploy to gain market share by making people scared of conventional and ge food.

          • SageThinker

            I didn’t say that Folta or anyone else had been bought. He’s sort of close with Monsanto, however. I’m not in “conspiracy land”. It seems to be a partnership of convenience and i do not begrudge either party about that. It’s natural.

            On the other hand, there was a very real conspiracy to keep harmful effects of PCBs quiet is very real and documented. Real conspiracies do exist. I would say you’re also in unfounded conspiracy land when you pose the organic industry playing activists like a fiddle to gain market share. There *may* also be some conspiracy to keep quiet some things about glyphosate, for instance. These things do happen.

            As to scientific consensus, this is a matter of complexity. There is no blanket consensus that all transgenically introduced traits already in existence or ever to be introduced will be “safe” or “equivalent”, whether or not transgenics techniques in principle are inherently any more risky than selective breeding techniques. It’s not like climate change denial to say that there is not a complete consensus among scientists that transgenics is in all respects as safe or safer than selective breeding.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            The consensus isn’t that genetic engineering is safer (although I feel an argument can be made for that) but rather that it is no riskier than other methods of plant breeding. There exists even in simple Mendelian crosses the possibility that some novel change could occur that for instance increases production of toxic metabolites or allergens.

            Ofcourse no one is saying all transgenic plants will be “safe”. just like people can’t guarantee all selective bred plant will be “safe”.

            It is denial of consensus. The processes underlying genetic engineering have been validated over the last 3 decades, and there has been insufficient evidence to conclude that genetic engineering as a suite of plant breeding techniques are any riskier than any other plant breeding techniques.

          • WeGotta

            The topic is conveniently hijacked back to your black site impregnable fortress of scientific certainty. Here is what you either can’t see or won’t see. The science doesn’t matter.

            You and all your friends have a financial interest and a personal interest in this technology. These universities would be hurting if this industries money went away. You depend on this industry and are tied to its success or failure in at least a small way.
            It benefits you and your friends if the public accepts this technology.

            The trouble is (for you) that the public does not seem to so enthusiastic about this technology. And why should they be? Because you think it’s great? So you go out and waive your science pom poms some more and tell people how stupid they are if they aren’t convinced.

            It’s not “anti-science” to not want to eat food made via this technology just like it’s not “anti-music” because you don’t want to listen to music played by a trumpet.
            Of course the trumpet players don’t like that and the trumpet players’ union thinks that’s horrible and that these “non-musician” people have no taste and the trumpet schools are bummed and the trumpet makers feel the pinch, but tough shit. We don’t have to listen to trumpets if we don’t want to.

            Now imagine the situation where the trumpet manufacturers association bribes government for special privileges and music schools depended on strong trumpet sales for financial support. Rediculous? Of course!
            Well this is what some of us think about your pet little technology.
            I don’t need to want to buy it. I don’t like how this industry does business. Science has nothing to do with it.

          • David

            what you conveniently left out in your trumpet metaphor is that people who don’t like trumpets go around campaigning for removal of all trumpets from all orchestras, bebop and jazz bands, claiming that trumpets are evil poisons that increase autism, cancer, allergies, diabetes, financial ruin and will eat away your soul and those of your children.

            THAT is where anti-science is, not on the fact they don’t like trumpets, but in the stupid shit they say to justify their dislike of a particular and very specific brass instrument.

          • WeGotta

            People say all kinds of stupid things for all kinds of reasons.
            That’s no justification to claim we need something.

            I don’t care why people say they don’t want to drink decaf. They can want to drink it or not.

          • David

            Well, we obviously need education when people are saying all kinds of stupid things. When they are saying stupid things about trumpets we need education about trumpets, when they say stupid things about genetic modification we need education about genetic modification.

          • WeGotta

            If we are going to talk about needs then I would say we need justice, fairness and a heavy crackdown on corruption before we need any education on some small aspect of science.

            That would be great PR for scientists! Standing against the liars and crooks who have taken over our government and culture.
            Do that and I’ll start listening to other things you say.

            Until then you are just regular people trying to advance you own interest like all the rest of us.

          • David

            Of course you would say we need pink farts and unicorn smiles, but we’re discussing a technology here and your justice and fairness need first and foremost an understanding of the FACTS, which comes about through education.

          • WeGotta

            If I was going to presume to educate the “poor ignorant masses” about facts then GM would be low down on my list. Seems like that type of education serves your interests more than theirs.

            I would start with FACTS such as these:
            Ego and your false self.
            Extent and effects of government corruption by rich special interests.
            Details of quantitative easing and effects of current financial regulations (or lack thereof) on our lives.
            Alternative energy such as ethanol that we could all be using by now if things weren’t rigged.
            Consumerism and its effects on you and the world.
            Where does all that plastic go after you use it for a minute and throw it in the trash?
            What is a healthy diet and how to avoid sickness death and bankruptcy due to poor diets.
            That’s just for starters.

          • Troll fighter

            Wow. You’d put these ideas, all about you and your little personal biases about what’s important, above feeding people.

            Maybe when you’re through “educating” people about all of these world wrongs according to you you you, you’d finally throw dried (organic) breadcrumbs to the ones who haven’t starved by then.

            What a guy.

          • WeGotta

            Wow, you actually think all those things above have no bearing on people’s lives, such as their ability to get good healthy food?

            Thanks for proving my point about the need for education in those areas.

          • David

            Current genetic modified versions of common crops are not unhealthier and may even be healthier, both for the consumer and for the farmer, something you could easily understand if you used your privilege as a rich westerner to learn something about the topic you comment on every day several times a day instead of spouting irrelevant pseudo-philosophical organic bullcrap with la-la-la in your ears.

            There resides the need to educate people on genetically engineered foods, so they can focus on eating a balanced diet without having to worry about ignorant fearmongerers that LITERALLY suggest tomatoes that were genetically engineered may grow teeth and bite you into a zombie.

          • WeGotta

            Current genetic modified crops that humans eat are mostly ingredients in junk food. So I would say they are definitely not healthier.

            I can’t control what other people say about it. They are confused. I would argue that it makes perfect sense why they are confused. It’s because they are deliberately told lies every day by people who make money off of their confusion who hire other people who make money by devising clever ways of confusing people.

          • David

            Oh, get off your privileged white horse. Do you troll around pro LGBT rights sites saying that the issues they feel passionate about and that they get together to discuss are not really important because first we need to educate people about the “details of quantitative easing and effect of current financial regulations on our lives”?
            Are you trolling psychology blogs to discuss how educating people in the facts(?) of ego and false self is such a priority?
            Are you trolling sociology blogs to encourage sociologists to better study the effects of consumerism on the world?
            Are you trolling financial publications to educate anyone about government corruption by rich special interests?

            No.
            You’re trolling the Genetic Literacy Project, a website aimed at educating people about human and agricultural biotechnology and instead of trying to learn something, you’re telling people who devote their time to this that they should just stop and focus on what YOU find important, you privileged egotistical little hypocrite.

            There’s an estimated 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world, people who are not food secure – a number, by the way, that has been reducing in the past decades due to, among other factors, improving agricultural productivity and investing in technology and education. Are you going to tell those people that what they should really be worried about is discredited pseudo-scientific ideas of ego and where the plastic that YOUR computer is made of ends up?

            “Let them eat cake” much?

          • WeGotta

            Yikes!

            My original comment was about FOIA. Where we are now is the result of a dialog. So I don’t apologize for “being off topic” when I’m only responding to your comments.

            You can believe whatever you want to believe. I’m not actively trying to stop anyone. I don’t have websites dedicated to my special interest and I don’t get articles published to garner support for my research. I don’t do interviews with media and I don’t give money to politicians to give my company an advantage. I don’t hire PR firms and lobbyists.

            If you are one of those people that does those things than don’t be surprised when someone makes comments about those articles in the comment section you provide in the website you created.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Except in your little analogy you people are claiming that trumpets are actually harming you without any evidence and want to label all songs with trumpets in them and eventually want to to ban trumpets. It’s convenient you leave that half of the analogy out to make you seem more reasonable.

            Hey no one is forcing you to eat food derived from ge crops. You have the choice to buy organic or non-gmo certified products if you for what ever arbitrary reason want to avoid GE crops.

            If you don’t want to support biotech, then don’t. Judging from the new age pablum you post, youre likely a well fed western activist so keep buying food farmed using 16th century methods, you have that option. It’s not a very environmentally or socially responsible option, but that decision is yours to make. So instead of constantly trying to play the victim, why don’t you just buy the products that align with your ideology and be done with it?

          • WeGotta

            There you go again claiming your job is special.

            I left out safety issues because we haven’t even gotten to that point yet. I’m still trying to figure out why in the world I would want to eat it whether or not it was safe.

            BTW, I don’t think HFCS and other ingredients for junk food is anything to brag about. Junk food is not safe.

            Why would we have to use 16th century technology?
            We can use modern techniques. You don’t own science or agriculture.

            And if you try and hide the fact that there are trumpets playing in some music albums then you kind of are forcing people to hear it.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            If you have special ideologically motivated dietary restrictions then the onus is on you to purchase those goods that align with your world view. There’s no shortage of organic or nongmo verified options for you to consume that will give you peace of mind.

            Youre right, organic farmers can use modern techniques when it suits them for instance the use of plant varieties created by inducing mutations with radiation and mutagenic chemicals. Their opposition more direct and precise forms of genetic manipulation is entirely arbitrary, I’ll correct myself there.

          • WeGotta

            I can and do eat what I want. My choices are based upon my likes and dislikes. I can look around and see who is more healthy and happy and choose to eat the food they eat.

            I don’t need information from a geneticist in order to make up my mind about my food. I can choose to avoid celery if I want. No one calls me anti-science or ignorant because I don’t want to eat celery.
            I can choose to not shop at Walmart if I want too (or Whole Foods for that matter). Strictly because I don’t like the way they do business.

            Everyone keeps bringing up organics like that is some smoking gun or something. Who cares what “big organic” says? They have a financial interest and they are trying to gain market share. Just like you.

            Stop trying to make this into some religious crusade to advance your interests. I don’t know why you are so shocked that people don’t trust you or your opinions about the world. Why should they?

          • Dominick Dickerson

            My opinion is informed by a massive body of literature spanning decades and echoes the opinions of nearly every major professional scientific body the world over. I’ve never asked anyone to accept what I say because I say so. The weight of evidence is quite clear regarding genetic engineering of crops and it falls much more inline with my opinion than with yours.

            The reason the organic food industry is brought up is because the bulk of the anti-genetic engineering sentiment is fostered by groups like the OCA and disseminated amongst marginal but vocal segments of the public.

            Thank you for admitting that fearmongering against genetic engineering is a ploy to demonize competitors to the organic industry so they can gain market share. Doesn’t being honest feel good?

            I have no stake in the biotech industry and I’m not looking to “gain market share” in anything. My only concern is that reason and evidence trump fear and ignorance when it comes to agriculture and food production. Food insecurity is a very real problem and most of the world can’t afford to protest against food because of an ideological opposition to certain breeding methods. Biotechnology offers powerful tools we can use to help address food insecurity especially in the developing world.

            What I’m shocked about is yours and others capacity for willful ignorance. That’s why what these academics do as part of there outreach is so critical. the great majority of people don’t know anything at all about plant breeding or genetics but if people have even a shred of decency they take in evidence and if that evidence contradicts their belief they adjust their beliefs accordingly. Clearly you don’t do that, but I have a higher opinion of the public at large than I do for people who spout the nonsense you do.

          • WeGotta

            Again, I don’t care how strong any body of knowledge is about the safety regarding eating celery. If I don’t want to eat it I won’t.

            I don’t like the food industry and their deceitful business practices which include bribing MY government, hiring PR firms and entangling otherwise decent scientists into their propaganda mess. Therefore, I won’t support them. I know money that I give them will be used to bribe my government. That’s reason enough for me to avoid this technology.

            I’m sincerely sorry for the attacks some people have suffered. But you could argue they asked for it by lowering themselves to the level of PR firms and lobbyists. It’s my opinion these practices are deceitful, unethical and bad for truth (and therefore bad for science).

            I can’t control what other people say or do. Nor would I ever want to. I can’t control what they think. Nor would I ever want to.

            I think it’s great that some scientists want to do community outreach and want to help people who are suffering. But it’s my opinion they are doing it all wrong.
            In my opinion, the first thing they would need to learn is humility. This is one of the most important things anyone would need to learn if they presume to change someone else’s mind.
            Also, I don’t want anyone lecturing me about anything unless they can prove they have their own lives and health in good order.

            What nonsense am I spouting?
            I just think there are WAY more important things we could all do right now with current technology which would have WAY more of an impact on our perceived problems.
            But the first thing is always to look within yourself because that’s where change begins.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            precisely you don’t care, your not the kind of person who can be reasoned with. For you and likely a great many anti-genetic engineering types aren’t interested in the science, because you know the scientific evidence can not support your arguments. I appreciate your honesty in admitting your motivations are inspired by sophomoric anti corporatism .

            So why don’t you just eat what you want to eat and just shut up about it? You have options that align with your ideology, use them, get out of the way and let the rest of us benefit from biotech. Why do you troll this website? What exactly are you trying to advocating? You want the ability to not consume genetic engineered crops, you have it, utilize your personal agency and make whatever choices you want for you and yours.

          • WeGotta

            “precisely you don’t care, your not the kind of person who can be reasoned with.”
            This is what I am talking about. You are either deliberately twisting around my comments or you can’t understand what I said. Either way this makes me doubtful of your ability to understand complicated data and render a sound opinion on such data.

            I’m very interested in science. I love science. That’s one of the reasons I oppose those who try and claim it as their own, especially when it obviously advances their own narrow self interests.
            Science is for all of us. You don’t need a degree or formal training. You especially don’t need to know a thing about genetic engineering.

            I oppose those who go around demeaning people because they may be confused. No wonder they are confused! There’s so much BS thrown around it’s no wonder people are confused. The root of all of the BS is greed and pride.

            Isn’t it a scientifically sound statement to say that personal debt is a huge problem in our country and it’s mostly the result of the actions of greedy people? Don’t you think eliminating debt would have a greater impact on the happiness and well being of people than GM technology would?

            Isn’t it a scientifically sound statement to say that most people get sick, go bankrupt and die from preventable diet related disease in the US? Don’t you think it would be more efficient and useful to eliminate the causes of these preventable diseases than to go around convincing people to accept GM?

            If you think it’s juvenile to hold the opinion that one of the greatest threats to people in this country is corruption, then it’s you who needs education.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Debt and diet related illness have nothing to do with genetic engineering. They aren’t mutually exclusive with genetic engineering. Advocating for greater use and adoption of genetically engineered crops is entirely compatible with advocating for improved diet to reduce diet related illness (I’m thinking globally here, think biofortification of rice, banana, and cassava). As far as your non sequitur about debt and greedy people, only in the mind of a person who can’t separate a handful of companies from an entire field of science does such hasty and lazy conflation exist.

            So sorry if I came in hot, if your genuinely confused about some aspect of genetic engineering or plant breeding I would be more than glad to try to explain it to you to the best of my ability. Perhaps you have a deficit of knowledge somewhere that I can help you rectify.

          • WeGotta

            No worries. I do not get offended easily and I would never be offended by anyone’s comments.
            I have plenty of deficits. For instance, I could be less critical to people who obviously have their hearts in the right place. I will let you know if I need help with anything, thanks.

            I think you misunderstand my position. I don’t think all scientists are greedy or that science is “wrong” or anything silly like that.

            What I do think is that there are definite causes for most of our troubles and these are largely ignored.

            I would say greed is a huge problem. It can infect any person and therefore it can and does infect all kinds of things such as religion, science and politics. I believe it would be much more effective to concentrate on the roots of common problems than it is to apply new technology at the periphery of a problem. Just my opinion and I think its a valid one.

            I would say Americans have poor diets and this is a huge problem. I would also say we could make a huge dent in this problem with some scientific principles and simple changes. But I would be vigorously opposed by people who make money off things the way they are now (which is greed).

            I would say looming financial problems have a huge deleterious effect on many people, including on their health. We could make a huge dent in this problem as well with a little science and some changes. Again, I would be vilified and opposed for my beliefs because a lot of people make a lot of money from things just the way they are (greed).

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Right but what has this got to do with plant breeding techniques?

          • WeGotta

            And yes, it feels unbelievably wonderful to be honest and open.
            It feels absolutely wonderful to have identified truth in the world. It must be like seeing the North Star through the clouds when you have been lost at sea.

            It feels wonderful to let go of false attachments.

  • Thank you for sharing your experience in the crosshairs of the anti-GMO activists. I fear that this is just the beginning of a very long campaign by the organic/natural interests. It’s not clear to me how they can lose. It’s not clear who has the funding and the media leverage to turn these attacks into a loss. I just wrote a post emphasizing what you wrote of your personal experiences engaging with Kevin Folta. Now we have to think of a way to motivate NY Times journalists to tell your story. I wrapped up with these thoughts:

    These attacks are a form of “Asymmetric Warfare” against public scientists who openly discuss genetic engineering technology. I say Asymmetric because the attackers have whatever resources they may need – cluding funding for lawyers, public relations firms and researchers. Dr. Van Eenennaam may get some help from the UC system legal staff to ensure that the surrendered documents do not encroach on the rights of third parties. Beyond that her defense falls on her shoulders (and family). Political operative Gary Ruskin has his whole team attacking – he can just go home and forget it. Dr. Van Eenennaam doesn’t have the option to turn over her defense to a team of professionals.

    If you shop at Whole Foods Markets (for example) you should think carefully whether you wish to be supporting this attack on public scientists. If you continue to shop at Whole Foods Markets, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Joe Mercola etc. these attacks will never stop because those financial interests benefit from muzzling scientists who speak the forbidden. The shareholders of Whole Foods et al benefit every time the New York Times runs front page articles ridiculing scientists who explain the forbidden knowledge.

    The organic/natural interests want moms to be afraid of food sold by anyone else. They have no ethics, but do have barrels of money and buildings full of lawyers.

  • terryhallinan

    Sadly they still burn witches.

    Thank you, Ms.Eenennaam, for your service and courage under fire.

    I also commend you for selecting a family name the anti-GMO activists are most unlikely to be able to remember unless the idiots are also savants.

    Best, Terry

  • sally irwin

    Thank you Alison for writing this and even more importantly for the work you are doing and your willingness to share it. As a geneticist at the University of Hawaii Maui College where a misguided public voted for a GMO moratorium last fall (which was dismissed as illegal eventually in the courts) I have also been a victim of many personal attacks for my public speaking/teaching on GMO’s. I have been accused of being bought out by Monsanto because they have given some educational grants to the college. I think we just need to have more and more scientists speak out on this so that it is overwhelming all the non or anti-science talk to the public. I watched a film on Martin Luther King recently and the fight those people had makes ours look pretty tame. We are on the side of truth, we need to persist.

    • WeGotta

      Speak out about what exactly?
      You don’t own science because you are a geneticist. Stop trying to tell the other 99.99999999% of the world’s population who are not geneticists that they are wrong and you are right.

      You are only human and you are subject to the same human frailties as these scientists who got busted rubber stamping PR firm propaganda.

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Speak out about the science of genetic engineering and engage in public outreach and education, you dolt.

        So you’re suggesting that we should ignore geneticists when it comes to genetic engineering? Brilliant suggestion, ignore the most knowledgable and informed people on the subject.

        Why don’t you piss off?

        • agscienceliterate

          Dominick, conspiracy theorists can continue to justify their own lack of science education, and even more sadly, the lack of their own intellectual curiosity to educate themselves, with just a click of a mouse in their mother’s basement. I’m with you, and will stick to the geneticists, molecular biologists, crop scientists, and biologists on this issue. The choice is clear.

          • WeGotta

            It’s not a theory if there’s proof, say in a bunch of emails.

        • WeGotta

          I suggest we don’t listen to experts who abuse their positions of trust and authority.
          I will just assume scientists would prefer we all do things in a way that ensures they have a job. They are only human.

          • sally iriwn

            you obviously don’t understand what the scientific process is which not only limits greatly any bias but also can be and is checked and rechecked by others in the field for errors or contradictions. This is exactly what has been done in this area of science to the point where there is scientific consensus (97%) that GMOs are safe given the parameters established. Science is how we separate “opinion” or “personal benefit” from the facts…….unlike pretty much everything else. You can go ahead and believe your Jeffrey Smiths whose ONLY income comes from pushing his anti-GMO agenda or Whole Foods who is making billions from the same, and ignore people who are actually looking at the data….up to you.

          • WeGotta

            I understand the process perfectly fine.
            I especially understand the limitations of such a process such as those important words you included in your comment:
            “given the parameters established”.

            I also understand that science changes when new information is made available and the things we were so sure we knew 100 years ago are not so scientifically sound today.

            None of my income comes from GMO related anything. In fact, I have been trying to live as simply as possible with as little money as possible. I find I don’t need near as much as I thought. I find the less I have, the better I feel.

    • agscienceliterate

      Sally, there are many in the scientific community who support you for your work and your courage. Thank you for speaking out and for being persistent in the name of science.

  • RoyWillaims

    As a graduate student in molecular biology (and ex-“mega” dairy farmer), I wish to express my deepest appreciation for the work that Kevin Folta, Alison Van Eenennaam, and every other science communicator has done and is doing to promote public understanding of biology.
    The FOIA gives private citizens the ability to do what we are theoretically protected from: unreasonable search and seizure. The police cannot come into your home and take your computer, or make a copy of your hard drive, without a properly executed search warrant. But a private citizen can do just that, through FOIA. There is something very wrong here.
    Everyone that is being subjected to FOIA deserves special recognition and special support from their home institutions, professional societies, and all of us. And I hope that others will join the ranks of science communicators, as I have, regardless of the hassles involved. If we do not continue to speak up, USRTK will have “won” the battle, and will move on to try to stifle research funding.

    • WeGotta

      As a member of the tax paying public, I wish to express my thanks to the FOIA. How else would we know that some scientists accept money from PR firms in exchange for their reputations and public trust.
      Now we know that we cannot blindly trust what scientists say about GMO (or anything else for that matter).

      The FOIA gives private citizens the ability to see how our money is being used.
      Everyone that is being subjected to the FOIA deserves this extra attention and I hope this is a lesson for those who contemplate participating in these sorts of “public campaigns”. Get your own houses in order before you presume to have anything important to share with me.

      Stick to science.

      • Jason

        “How else would we know that some scientists accept money from PR firms in exchange for their reputations and public trust.”

        Well, since universities generally post funding sources on their website, you could just go look. But yah…this is a much better use of public time & money,

        • WeGotta

          I looked. I didn’t see anything about that PR firm and it doesn’t give any indication how the money was used.

          • Jason

            I guess I’m not understanding what PR firm you’re referring to. The emails I read showed funding from Monsanto for travel related expenses related to public outreach. This was disclosed on the UF website. I saw no funding from any PR company.

          • WeGotta

            “The academics identified by these emails as cooperating with industry and PR firms include:
            Bruce Chassy (University of Illinois) and Alan McHughen (University of California, Riverside), Calestuous Juma (Harvard University), Wayne Parrott (University of Georgia), Roger Beachy (Danforth Center, formerly USAID), Ron Herring (Cornell) who has helped to promote GMOs in India and fought to defuse the farmer suicide debate in India, CS Prakash (Tuskegee University) is the convener of the influential listserv AgBioWorld, Nina Fedoroff (Penn State) is the most prominent of all of the scientists looped into all of the Times emails. Nina Fedoroff was the 2011-2012 President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS is the foremost scientific body in the US. During her Presidency, Fedoroff, who is also a contributor to the NY Times, used her position to coordinate and sign a letter on behalf of 60 prominent scientists. This letter was sent to EPA as part of an effort to defeat a pesticide regulatory effort. The real coordinator was Monsanto but Fedoroff participated in phone conferences and email exchanges with them (including with the prominent lobbyist Stanley Abramson) and gets credit in the emails for “moving the ball far down the field”. Yet Nina Fedoroff is not once named in the main article and nowhere at all is her position noted.”

            http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/09/the-gmo-puppetmasters-of-academia-what-the-nyt-left-out/

          • WeGotta

            “But perhaps the biggest of all revelations within these emails is the connivance of senior university administrators, especially at Cornell University. The NY Times article focuses on the misdeeds of Mississippi State University Vice President David Shaw. But, looped into one email string, along with the PR firm Ketchum and Jon Entine are various Cornell email addresses and names.”

          • Jason

            So, being looped on the emails is the same as being funded by? Am I missing something?

          • WeGotta

            Think whatever you want.
            Go ahead and believe that this is perfectly okay and no compensation was exchanged. I don’t care.

            What I am saying is that this type of behavior is wrong and damages public trust.
            I’m glad it was discovered so that people will give these things some more thought.

          • Jason

            I suppose we can agree to disagree. I don’t find it surprising one bit that multiple organizations who share a common belief would be cooperating on how best to get that message across.

            Certainly if there is any evidence that any research was corrupted or conclusions impacted, I’m totally in favor of exposing that. Otherwise… this just feels like grasping at straws.

          • WeGotta

            It’s just drops in the ocean for sure.

            “cooperating on how best to get that message across.” I think that’s also fine if the message is “Here is what we do and we think its great.”.

            But, if the message is “If you don’t agree you are uneducated.” or “We know best.” or “Trust us.”, then I have a problem with it.

            What these scientists don’t seem to understand is that they don’t have any special powers. They have certain expertise in a particular field. That’s all.

            Maybe I’m just strange, but I think the close relationships between these huge corporations and the universities, and our government and these “top” scientists are troubling. Where there’s smoke and all.

            Maybe I’m strange, but I wish all advertisements, PR firms, lobbying and related activities would disappear. If something is good, it’s good. No need to try and convince people. They would know already.

          • Jason

            “But, if the message is “If you don’t agree you are uneducated.” or “We know best.” or “Trust us.”, then I have a problem with it.”

            I agree that’s not a good way to communicate a message, but I find that to be an extreme example, at least from public scientists.

            Sure… PR firms are pretty annoying, but “good and bad” is very often an opinion and changing someone’s opinion is not unheard of. Besides… people don’t adopt new things in the same way. Some see immediate value and adopt quickly, others need to be sold. That’s just how people work.

          • WeGotta

            Maybe that’s “how people work” because everywhere we look there’s some liar crook trying to tell us one thing or another in order to advance their interests.

            It’s a culture of lies we have created. From birth to death we are lied to by advertisers, every emotion is twisted around to sell us something, sex and desire used to sell beer and diamonds to show our love. It’s sick.

            We don’t need to buy anything to feel pretty.
            We don’t need to buy anything to feel special.
            We don’t need to buy anything to feel loved.
            We don’t need to buy anything to give love.

            That’s part of the reason I’m so against this notion that these scientists know whats best for all of us and we should just trust them.

            What do they know?

          • Jason

            Seems like you’re blaming a lot of what advertisers say on scientists. I think your blame may be misplaced.

            Besides… if someone feels pretty because they bought a new dress, who cares?

          • WeGotta

            No. This is just where we end up when you lead me in certain directions from our original location.

            The original comment (location) was about the importance of transparency if you are going to make claims of superiority or if you are going to try and influence public opinion in a way that benefits you and your friends.

            As far as that pretty dress, buy what you want. There is no need to make false claims about the dress. If it’s pretty and it makes you feel good, that’s plenty of reason to buy it and feel good about it.
            If you feel good in it, odds are you will look good in it. If you look good in it, odds are people will notice and want a pretty dress too.

            If you make pretty dresses and put out a catalog full of pictures of pretty dresses that sounds great too.

            But if you try and make women feel bad about themselves in order to sell dresses, I say you are a greedy sociopath.

            Furthermore, if you use your scientific knowledge to help that greedy sociopath by studying things that make women feel bad and exploiting those things, then you are worse than a greedy sociopath.

          • Jason

            Sorry if I have led you anywhere unintended. Most of my questions are getting at why you think public scientists are making any claims of superiority. Again.. I agree that all those things are bad, I just don’t see them as major problems. They’re not terribly common. Personally, I think this FOIA business is a colossal waste of time. Having now seen Folta’s emails, I am totally convinced it was a colossal waste of time.

            And yes, this dress does make me feel pretty.

          • WeGotta

            It’s interesting how the people who have the least need to apologize are the quickest ones to apologize.

            I find that you are respectful, thoughtful and intelligent in your responses. Above all, you seem to be in control of your thoughts and emotions. This, to me, is a sign that you are self aware and conscious.

            You can lead me anywhere. I love thinking and discussing various things.

            While I think it’s obvious that there have been numerous articles where these scientists claim to be superior, it’s not my intention or desire to try and convince you or anyone else. It’s just what I think. That being said, here is one of the articles:

            http://groundedparents.com/2015/08/19/scientist-and-advocate-moms-to-celeb-on-gmo-food/

            The “major problem”, if there actually is such a thing, would be that which underlies such situations as this one.

            I know I must be starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s my opinion the “major problems” are greed, pride, lust, wrath, envy, sloth and gluttony.

            In this case, greed corrupts even those who think themselves unbiased.

            Pride is also the problem in this case. For truly, who can say they really know anything at all if they can’t admit there is a chance they may be wrong.

            “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Albert Einstein

            “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Aristotle

          • Yet here you are, each and every day, just like a sociopath, trying to make good scientists feel bad about themselves.

          • WeGotta

            No. Just trying to make scientists feel regular about themselves.
            Lots of people do a good job everyday. Painters and janitors and retail workers and nurses and housewives.
            All doing good jobs but not going around thinking their job makes them God.

          • gmoeater

            Captain, look up “internet trolling narcissists” and you will confirm what you speculate. Exactly. And it makes them feel good that people with superior knowledge in biotech, farming, and crops actually respond to him (even if the response is negative). It’s an interesting, and very sad, phenomenon.

          • Yet here you are each and every day as a crook and a liar, advancing your own interests.

          • WeGotta

            What’s my interest that I’m advancing?

          • Yet here you are each and every day doing PR work for Big Org.

          • gmoeater

            Captain, he must indeed be one of those paid by Big Org to shill on a regular basis. He’s here all day, every day. With nothing but empty challenges based on squat, except full of Big Org hype and nonsense. I’d be annoyed and cranky if I didn’t feel so sorry for him; if he’s not getting paid to shill (although not very competently) for Big Org, then he really has no life …. just conspiracy theories and zero curiosity about science. A sad combination.

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Right, because USRTK is definitely not being funded by the OCA to the tune of $100 k. Nope, definitely nothing untoward about that, it’s only an organic industry trade group funding witch hunts against public scientists engaged in science outreach because the science refutes the marketing message of the organic food industry

        • WeGotta

          Who care who funds them?
          If a crack smoker proves a policeman is crooked, I say “thanks, now we know”.
          Not “shut up crackhead”.

    • agscienceliterate

      Roy, welcome to the world of science! Glad you are supporting those who have spoken out in the interests of science education. You will be a great addition to the scientific community!

  • Mike Putnik

    totally unnecessary overload of personal information , to much space wasted with self gloating .how does that saying goes ,, birds of the feathers stick together , no supporters of GMO will fare well these days , to many cancer cases all over the world speak joined together very loudly and wont be silenced .

    • agscienceliterate

      Supporters of GE technology are doing very well. Farmers, food manufacturers, and consumers.

      Do you have any reliable citations about cancer being linked to GE foods? (hint: don’t put Seralini in your response if you expect even a whit of credibility on this site)

      • agscienceliterate

        Because he doesn’t.

  • SageThinker

    In contrast to most of the hyperbolic language of other commenters here, i am actually thankful for FOIA when it works, and for people who care to investigate potential distortion of science through the influence of vested interests. All this language about a “witch hunt” and “in the cross-hairs” and “FOIA attack” is a distortion of what’s actually happening. It’s transparency, folks. It’s not an attack. It’s an attempt to open up and look at what is happening within science (both research and science communication).

    The need for transparency is supported by history. There have been serious harms done to society at large by distortion of science in the past, and to be vigilant is not wrong here. In fact, it’s the responsible course of action. If you demonize those who advocate for transparency in the effort to protect neutrality of the voice of science, then you’re advocating for distortion of science by injection of money from private interests. You’d also presumably be in favor of “frackademia” — in which oil companies gave money in order to buy results that favored their industry. It does happen, and needs to be counteracted proactively.

    • Dominick Dickerson

      Let’s have all the antigmo voices open up and be transparent then as well about their funding and their ties with industry and industry front groups.

      In the interest of fairness of course

      • SageThinker

        That would be wonderful, Dominick, and i have stated that i wish that to happen in previous comments, as well. I do support transparency in all quarters. However, the lay of the land is not symmetrical. It is complex, sociologically, and not symmetrical as posed by some.

        • Dominick Dickerson

          So you don’t have any issue at all with the fact that USRTK is being bankrolled by the OCA? No conflict in that?

          • SageThinker

            No, who else would you expect? There are sides and there is advocacy, sort of like in a courtroom, where advocates pull against one another, and ideally the outcome is judged by a jury or judge by the weight of evidence produced by both sides in their tension. However, i do wish that people could drop agendas and become transparent voluntarily. I haven’t looked into it, but i think much of this funding is in fact transparent. For example, how did you know that USRTK is bankrolled by OCA? Apparently that fact is not hidden to begin with.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Some is, most isn’t. In this case USRTK did disclose that it receives direct funding from the OCA. I’m assuming Ruskins ties to that deplorable association go back to when he was running the labeling campaign in California.

            So USRTK receives $100,000 + from the OCA to harasses scientists that go against the interests of the organic industry and that’s fine because they disclosed it. But Kevin Folta gets $25,000 for travel expenses and a cheap hotel to support his already existent public education outreach and that supposed to demonstrate some kind of unforgivable impropriety on his part?

        • agscienceliterate

          Sage, that is an intellectually shabby and disingenuous copout, and you know it.

          • SageThinker

            No, it is not. It is the reality. Let us have transparency everywhere. We are speaking about matters of public health and well-being, and we need to know that knowledge that we accept — from anyone, whether it’s a research group whose report puts the GMO industry in a good or a bad light — is unbiased. Otherwise, we have a science based on influence, a science that can be bought.

          • agscienceliterate

            Great. Do it. Post a copy of your “Wouldn’t it be nice if you guys would pleeeeeze come clean about your organically-sourced funding” request for transparency to V. Shiva, Mercola, Food Babe, Oz, Bronner, Smith, and Benbrook here.

            We’ll see how that works for ya.

    • agscienceliterate

      Sage, this only goes one way. To public employees. There is no way to FOIA the records of the likes of Charles Benbrook, Vandanaaa Shiva, Food Babe, Mercola, Bronner, Jeffrey Smith, and others of that ilk who take millions of Big Organic money. Do you think they will voluntarily fess up on how much they get from big org? No. Can we FOIA them? No.

      So in this case, yes, it is a witch hunt. Posing it as “transparency” is hype, in the exact same way that those who support useless and uninformative labeling say that labeling is for “transparency” or “We just want to know what is in [sic] our food.” Baloney. It is very much agenda driven. And you know it.

      • SageThinker

        I understand that FOIA is limited to institutions that are connected with public money. Still, in principle, i support full transparency from all quarters. I also take issue with the term “Big Organic” as it seems to pose a symmetry between the agrochemical industry and the organic movement. They are not the same. There is some money in organic food, of course, but it’s a very different thing. Anyway, i support voluntary transparency from all quarters and would hope that FOIA becomes unnecessary.

        • agscienceliterate

          Sage, explain your curious comment that “There is some [some???] money in organic food, of course, but it’s a very different thing.”
          1) Lots of money.
          2) Big Organic is an apt term.
          3) It’s a “different thing” how?

        • Dominick Dickerson

          you’re either being naive or disingenuous about just how much pull, economically and socially, the organic industry has.

          • SageThinker

            There is an Organic Consumers Association which is an advocacy group. There are groups like the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, who are advocacy groups. That is not hidden advocacy. That is open advocacy. To me, that is fine. It’s the hidden advocacy masquerading as objective science that bothers me. The appearance of neutrality while in reality pulling an agenda is what i take issue with. I know that Stonyfield company funds organic advocacy. You know that, we all know that. As long as we know it, then it’s fine. Monsanto funds GMO advocacy, though they’re prefer it to be under wraps, i think. Now we know a little more about that. What troubles me more is bias in science. Unpublished feeding studies reviewed by friendly agents in regulatory posts, and soft peer reviews, etc. These things chip away at the objectivity of science.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            I don’t think Monsanto or any biotech groups are trying to hide their advocacy. It’s simply that they don’t rely on a kind of populist framework that the OCA and NOFA use and instead can use their clout to more directly advocate towards policy makers.

            the fact that there are similarities between what biotech companies advocate for and what independent scientists like Dr. Folta and Dr. van eenennaam say regarding genetic engineering is not evidence of collusion or corruption of science, it’s demonstrative that the underlying science regarding genetic engineering is sound and valid. Hence the global scientific consensus on the safety of genetic engineering as a plant breeding technique.

          • SageThinker

            There is not said “scientific consensus”. There is a complex and nuanced basic science on the topic.

            I understand your statement that the industry cannot rely on a populist framework as the OCA can, but that does reflect a fundamental difference in the reality of the situation. It’s not unrelated to the nature of the underlying conflict. Monsanto is a for-profit company, while OCA is a populist advocacy group with 850,000 members, and a $4m budget.

            I do understand that correlation does not prove causation. It does, however, suggest possible causation that can be tested by other means. It’s similar to disease etiology and epidemiology. Researchers may notice a correlation between disease and other factors, and then may probe deeper, with further research and critical thinking. One case is anecdotal. Many cases may indicate a trend, if statistically significant.

      • Rickinreallife

        I don’t have an issue with the concept of FOIA. My issue with USRTK is that I don’t consider them to be an honest broker of information, any more qualified to be an arbiter of transparency than I am. They have an obvious conflict of interest. The issue to me is not the exposure of truly “incriminating” information, it is the propensity for manipulation, hyperbole, spin, misrepresentation put on innocent information.

        What is missing in the FOI equation is what, if any, responsibility FOI requester have, or those that receive FOI’D information, to be reasonable in their request and to be fair and honest in presenting what they acquire. I realize that what is reasonable in scope and fair and honest is subjective, and I don’t have a good suggestion how to draw the line. I in fact believe that what is FOIA’ble should be construed liberally.

        My other issue with FOI is that it gives access that is not available even to law enforcement without reasonable cause and judicial gatekeeping. I would welcome discussion of providing some initial judicial process, whereby a requester would have to petition a court and demonstrate a public interest in the request and that the request was essential and reasonably likely to yield relevant information. This could be done confidentially and the bar set low,. But a FOIA requester is imposing a burden on public resources, the potential for harm to individuals and other public values, like academic freedom, is real enuff that i believe there is a case that FOIA should be merited privelege, not an entitlement. Transparency is a valuable check on authority and public figures, but perfect transparency at the expense of all other values is also a formula for tyranny.

        Nothing Mr. Folta has done, reading everything thus far, suggests anything illegal or unethical, or unusual. Mr. Folta is not a lapdog, a whore, or any other word of hyperbolic excess to Monsanto. I would not characterize what we know as “deep ties”. I absolutely doubt Mr. Folta is motivated by personal enrichment. But I do agree Mr. Folta made a huge mistake not to reveal the $25,000 or reimbursements of travel expenses when asked directly. That is a duty of transparency he owed. Many of the things written about Mr. Folta based on FOI revelations have been fair, much hyperbolic and grossly unfair.

  • Jim S

    Alison is a great communicator and as a toxicologist working in biotechnology, I fully understand the struggle with those who want to use intimidation and anti-science to push their agenda. Hopefully, these intimidation tactics will only strengthen our resolve to create a better and more informed world, rather than a return to the dark ages.
    Thanks Alison, for an inspiring article written from the heart, with a mind behind it!