13 Academics Who Are Shills for Corporate Giants


7. Kevin Folta. The professor and chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida has been labeled a "Monsanto shill" by critics after the FOIA emails indicated frequent collaboration with the world's largest seed company. The plant scientist was the center of the 2015 New York Times exposé by Eric Lipton, who wrote:

Dr. Folta, the emails show, soon became part of an inner circle of industry consultants, lobbyists and executives who devised strategy on how to block state efforts to mandate G.M.O. labeling and, most recently, on how to get Congress to pass legislation that would pre-empt any state from taking such a step.

"I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like," Folta wrote in an October 2014 email to a Monsanto executive.

Folta, a Buzzfeed profile noted, corresponded with global public relations firm Ketchum, which represents the powerful Council for Biotechnology Information, to write an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, in which he claims "profiting authors, celebrity chefs and eco-terrorists" are attempting "to arrest the pace of scientific progress" in regard to GMOs. (Ketchum has a notorious reputation: Stacy Malkan, the co-director of U.S. Right to Know, notes that the firm "remains a key player in PR efforts to dampen demand for organic foods, spinning messages that tell consumers organics are over-priced and over-hyped ... [and] runs the GMO Answers website, funded by Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF").

In August 2014, Monsanto gave Folta an unrestricted $25,000 grant through the university's agricultural biotechnology communication program. The university tried returning the money to Monsanto, but the company refused. Folta, citing personal threats, later decided to donate the money to a campus food bank. Folta wrote in a recent blog post that he is neither pro- nor anti-GMO but has an "overwhelmingly positive" opinion of the technology.

8. David Shaw. According to The New York Times piece, Monsanto provided at least $880,000 in grants to Mississippi State University's vice president for research and economic development.

The FOIA emails show that Shaw was approached by both Monsanto and Dow Chemical to submit comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the former's Roundup Ready 2 Xtend GMO soybeans and the latter's Enlist weedkiller. Dow executive Larry Walton sent a June 2015 email to Shaw requesting his support for Enlist. In the message, Walton noted that the Mississippi Agricultural Industry Council, where Walton is president, has provided scholarship funds to Mississippi State students. Shaw agreed to the two requests.

Shaw, Folta and seven other professors were also included in an August 2013 group email from Sachs, the Monsanto outreach executive. Sachs asks the group to lend their academic gravitas on a series of articles touting the benefits of GMOs aimed at the general public. The Monsanto exec even assigned them topics and provided talking points and added that company-hired PR firms would plug the finished articles.

"The key to success is participation by all of you—recognized leaders with the knowledge, reputation and communication experience needed to communicate authoritatively with the target groups," the email stated.

Shaw and Cornell entomologist and professor Anthony Shelton were tasked with the topic, "sustainable crop systems" and the professors complied. The final co-authored article, "Green Genes: Sustainability Advantages of Herbicide Tolerant and Insect Resistant Crops," was published by the Genetic Literacy Project, an organization critics have labeled an agrichemical industry front group.

9. Calestous Juma. The Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government professor was also part of the Sachs group email. Juma, who is enthusiastically pro-GMO, wrote a December 2014 piece titled, "Global Risks of Rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology," a topic—and a similar headline—Sachs suggested. The piece was also published by the Genetic Literacy Project.

Citing the FOIA emails, The Boston Globe described how Monsanto connected Juma with a marketing company to promote his paper "as part of Monsanto's strategy to win over the public and lawmakers." The international development specialist defended his piece, telling the Boston Globe he was not paid by Monsanto and merely pulled material from his previously published book on the topic.

"It's not that I was trying to hide anything," Juma said.

10. James O. Hill. The University of Colorado professor of pediatrics and medicine was the former president of the Global Energy Balance Network, a nonprofit that promoted itself as a obesity research nonprofit. Exposés from the Associated Press and The New York Times in 2015, however, revealed that Coca-Cola was funding research that claims lack of exercise, not sugary soda, is to blame for the global obesity epidemic. According to the Associated Press, since 2010, the beverage giant gave $1 million to the University of Colorado School of Medicine and since 2010, $550,000 to Hill.

While the group denied its research was influenced by Coke, Hill wrote in an email to a top Coke executive, "I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in people's' lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them."

The network disbanded in late 2015, citing "resource limitations."

11. Steven N. Blair. As The New York Times described in its 2015 report, the University of South Carolina public health professor—"whose research over the past 25 years has formed much of the basis of federal guidelines on physical activity"—was the vice president of the Global Energy Balance Network. The University of South Carolina also received and kept $500,000 from Coke.

In a video launching the Global Energy Balance Network, Blair said, "Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, 'Oh they're eating too much, eating too much, eating too much'—blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on. And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause."

But as AlterNet's Reynard Loki reported, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint report of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services found that "sugary beverages are extremely popular, with soda, energy drinks and sports drinks making up the fourth highest source of calories among Americans overall—and the third highest source for children and adolescents up to the age of 18."

12. Gregory A. Hand. The former founding dean and professor of epidemiology at West Virginia University School of Public Health also helped found the Global Energy Balance Network. Hand, along with professors Hill and Blair, announcing the group's formation in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. According to The New York Times, Coca-Cola gave Hand $806,500 in 2011 for a study and another $507,000 in 2014 to establish the group. Hand's CV from August 2015 boasts funding from the Coca-Cola Company.

Hand's colleague, Walter Willett, chair of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health likened the actions of the Global Energy Balance Network to the tobacco industry's campaign to downplay the health risks of smoking.

"You can always buy somebody, it seems," Willett told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "And it's really unfortunate that some members of our academic community essentially go on the payroll of Coca-Cola, either directly or indirectly."

News emerged this month that Hand has been forced out as dean. He has been demoted to a role "in developing partnerships that enhance the mission and work of health sciences at WVU," the school is quoted as saying, according to Corporate Crime Reporter.

13. Peter Phillips. The University of Saskatchewan public policy professor was also asked by Monsanto's Eric Sachs to throw his weight behind a pro-GMO piece.

The finished piece, "Economic Consequences of Regulations of GM Crops," closely mirrored the subject matter of "burdensome" regulations that stifle biotechnology, something that Sachs had pitched. The paper was again published on the Genetic Literacy Project website in December and did not disclose Monsanto's meddling.

According to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, "Phillips said there was no need to declare his connections because he was not paid and Monsanto did not ask him to alter his research."

However, Gary Ruskin, co-director for U.S Right to Know which accessed the emails, disagrees.

"Monsanto says jump and these scientists said, how high? This is not how publicly funded scientists should behave," Ruskin told the publication, adding that Americans should trust top university scientists to disclose any conflict of interest.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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