27 Examples of Journalists Failing to Disclose Sources as Funded by Monsanto
Following a Columbia Journalism Review article on whether science journalists should accept money from corporate interests and whether there is adequate disclosure of sources' corporate ties and conflicts of interest, U.S. Right to Know reviewed recent articles to assess how often journalists and columnists quote academic sources without stating that they are funded by the agrichemical giant Monsanto.
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Our review found 27 articles quoting (or authored by) university professors after they received Monsanto funding, but without disclosing that funding.
This is a collapse of journalistic standards. When reporters quote sources about food issues such as GMOs or organic food, readers deserve to know if the sources have been funded by Monsanto or have other conflicts of interest.
The principal effect of failing to reveal these conflicts of interest is to unfairly enhance the credibility of Monsanto-funded academics and their support of GMOs and criticism of organic food, while detracting from the credibility of consumer advocates.
Our review found that many top media outlets quoted either University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta or University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy without disclosing that the professors received funding from Monsanto. According to documents published by the New York Times, Professor Folta received Monsanto funding in August 2014 and Professor Chassy in October 2011, if not before.
Many of these journalistic failures occurred at influential news outlets: newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune; science publications such as Nature, Science Insider and Discover; magazines such as the New Yorker, Wired and The Atlantic; as well as broadcast outlets like ABC and NPR.
Following is a list of news articles quoting (or authored by) Professors Folta and Chassy—after they received their Monsanto funding—but failing to disclose that they had received the Monsanto funding.
- New York Times: "Taking on the Food Industry, One Blog Post at a Time." By Courtney Rubin, March 13. (Also ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune).
- New York Times: "Foes of Modified Corn Find Support in a Study." By Andrew Pollack, Sept. 19, 2012.
- Washington Post: "Kraft Mac & Cheese Just Got Duller. You Can Thank (Or Blame) 'The Food Babe'." By Michael E. Miller, April 21. (Also ran in the Chicago Tribune).
- Washington Post: "Proof He's the Science Guy: Bill Nye Is Changing His Mind About GMOs." By Puneet Kollipara, March 3.
- Nature: "GM-Crop Opponents Expand Probe Into Ties Between Scientists and Industry." By Keith Kloor, Aug. 6.
- NPR: "Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out." By Maria Godoy, Feb. 10.
- New Yorker: "The Operator." By Michael Specter, Feb. 4, 2013.
- The Atlantic: "The Food Babe: Enemy of Chemicals." By James Hamblin, Feb. 11.
- Wired: "Anti-GMO Activist Seeks to Expose Scientists Emails with Big Ag." By Alan Levinovitz, Feb. 23.
- ABC News: "Scientists Developing Hypo-Allergenic Apples." By Gillian Mohney, March 22, 2013.
- Science Insider: "Agricultural Researchers Rattled by Demands for Documents from Group Opposed to GM Foods." By Keith Kloor, Feb. 11.
- Columbia Journalism Review: "Why Scientists Often Hate Records Requests." By Anna Clark, Feb. 25.
- Discover: "Open Letter to Bill Nye from a Plant Scientist." By Keith Kloor, Nov. 10, 2014.
- Discover: "How to Balance Transparency with Academic Freedom?" By Keith Kloor, Feb. 27.
- Discover: "Anti-GMO Group Seeks Emails from University Scientists." By Keith Kloor, Feb. 11.
- Forbes: "Zombie Retracted Séralini GMO Maize Rat Study Republished To Hostile Scientist Reactions." By Jon Entine, June 24, 2014.
- Forbes: "Did The New Yorker Botch Puff Piece On Frog Scientist Tyrone Hayes, Turning Rogue into Beleaguered Hero?" By Jon Entine, March 10, 2014.
- Forbes: "You Can Put Lipstick On A Pig (Study), But It Still Stinks." By Bruce M. Chassy and Henry I. Miller, July 17, 2013.
- Forbes: "Anti-GMO Scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, Activist Jeffrey Smith Withdraw from Food Biotech Debate." By Jon Entine, May 29, 2013.
- Forbes: "Malpractice On Dr. Oz: Pop Health Expert Hosts Anti-GM Food Rant; Scientists Push Back." By Jon Entine, Oct. 19, 2012.
- Forbes: "Scientists Smell a Rat In Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study." By Henry I. Miller and Bruce Chassy, Sept. 25, 2012.
- Forbes: "The Science of Things That Aren't So." By Bruce Chassy and Henry I. Miller, Feb. 22, 2012.
- Des Moines Register: "Consumers Are Misled About Organic Safety." By John Block, Oct. 10, 2014.
- Gainesville Sun: "Genetically Modified Foods Face Hurdles." By Jeff Schweers, June 29, 2014.
- Peoria Journal Star: "Hybrid Crops That Used to Offer Resistance to Rootworm No Match for Mother Nature." By Steve Tarter, June 21, 2014.
- Gawker: "The 'Food Babe' Blogger Is Full of Shit." By Yvette d'Entremont, April 6.
- Louis Post-Dispatch: "California Labeling Fight May Raise Food Prices for All of Us." By David Nicklaus, Aug. 19, 2012.
This is merely one example of two professors who were not identified as received funding from Monsanto and yet these two professors received major traction in the media as “independent" experts on GMOs and organics. The only reason the professors admitted to receiving Monsanto funding was due to emails uncovered by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by U.S. Right to Know, a consumer group.
How often does it happen that journalists present other academics funded by food or agrichemical companies as “independent" sources and without disclosing their corporate funding?
One remedy for this problem is that when journalists write about food, that they carefully ask their sources whether they have any conflicts of interest, where they get their funding from and whether they receive any funding from food or agrichemical companies like Monsanto or their PR front groups.
That, however, may not be enough. Professor Kevin Folta received Monsanto funding, yet repeatedly denied ties to or funding from Monsanto. Reporters—and readers—should be aware that such deceit by Monsanto-funded academics has recently occurred and be on their guard against it.
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What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
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Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
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Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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