Monsanto (mon) and other biotechnology industry giants have been combating bad press regarding their genetically modified food products by recruiting academics to speak on their behalf, the New York Times reports.
In a series of emails released under freedom of information laws, Michael Lohuis, director of crop biometrics at Monsanto, proposed giving Florida professor Kevin Folta an unrestricted grant to join the company's campaign, writing: "This is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we're looking to develop."
Dr. Folta told the Times that he joined the campaign because he honestly believes that GM technologies are safe, and he had been defending them even prior to being offered a grant. He says that he was never personally compensated, but these companies paid for him to travel in order to testify in favor of GMOs.
Folta was also asked to participate in a website called GMO Answers. The goal of the website was to build trust and support for biotech agriculture. The questions were posted to the site by Ketchum, a public relations company hired by the biotechnology industry. The PR company even provided Folta and other academic participants with answers to a few dozen questions, which Folta posted almost word-for-word under his own name.
The organic industry has also been enlisting academics to fight against lobbying efforts by biotech companies. They were already successful in getting the Senate to pass legislation that bars states from requiring GMO food products to be labeled as such.
Charles Benbrook is one of the academics who works in favor of organics. Benbrook originally worked for the Organic Center, an organization affiliated with the organic industry, and says that "people were just not listening," so he left and found employment at a university. He says that both the GMO and organic industries are enlisting academics to help them influence the public:
They could conduct those studies on their own and put this information on their website. But nobody would believe them. There is a friggin’ war going on around this stuff. And everyone is looking to gain as much leverage as they can."
Correction: We originally stated that the emails were released by Monsanto. They were released after Freedom of Information Act requests.