Quantcast

Koch-Connected Dark Money Funds Much More Than Climate Denial

By Stacy Malkan

British writer George Monbiot has a warning for those of us trying to grasp the new political realities in the U.S. and the UK: "We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates," he wrote in the Guardian.

Corporate America may have been slow to warm up to President Trump, but once Trump secured the nomination, "the big money began to recognize an unprecedented opportunity," Monbiot wrote. "His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it."

This network, or dark money ATM as Mother Jones described it, refers to the vast amount of hard-to-trace money flowing from arch-conservative billionaires, such as Charles and David Koch and allies, and corporations into front groups that promote extreme free-market ideas—for example, fights against public schools, unions, environmental protection, climate change policies and science that threatens corporate profits.

Investigative writers Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway and others have exposed how "the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin," as U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse described it last year in a speech.

The strategies of the "Koch-led, influence-buying operation"—including propaganda operations that spin science with no regard for the truth—"are probably the major reason we don't have a comprehensive climate bill in Congress," Whitehouse said.

While these strategies have been well-tracked in the climate sphere, less reported is the fact that the funders behind climate-science denial also bankroll a network of PR operatives who have built careers spinning science to deny the health risks of toxic chemicals in the food we eat and products we use every day.

The stakes are high for our nation's health. Rates of childhood cancer are now 50 percent higher than when the "war on cancer" began decades ago and the best weapon is one we are hardly using: policies to limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

"If we want to win the war on cancer, we need to start with the thousand physical and chemical agents evaluated as possible, probable or known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization," wrote scientist and author Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, in The Hill.

Reducing known agents of harm has had "less to do with science and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks," Davis noted.

Chemical Industry Propagandists

When products important to the chemical and junk food industries run into trouble with science, a predictable cast of characters and groups appear on the scene, using well-worn media strategies to bail out corporations in need of a PR boost.

Their names and the tactics they use—lengthy adversarial articles, often framed by personal attacks—will be familiar to many scientists, journalists and consumer advocates who have raised concerns about toxic products over the past 15 years.

Public records requests by U.S. Right to Know that have unearthed thousands of documents, along with recent reports by Greenpeace, the Intercept and others, are shining new light on this propaganda network.

Key players include Jon Entine, Trevor Butterworth, Henry I. Miller and groups connected with them: STATS, Center for Media and Public Affairs, Genetic Literacy Project, Sense About Science and the Hoover Institute.

Despite well-documented histories as PR operatives, Entine, Butterworth and Miller are presented as serious science sources on many media platforms, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Philadelphia Enquirer, Harvard Business Review and, most often, Forbes—without disclosure of their funding sources or agenda to deregulate the polluting industries that promote them.

Their articles rank high in Google searches for many of the chemical and junk food industry's top messaging priorities—pushing the narratives that GMOs, pesticides, plastic chemicals, sugar and sugar substitutes are safe and anyone who says otherwise is "anti-science."

In some cases, they are even gaining in influence as they align with establishment institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University and the University of California, Davis.

Yet their funding sources trace back to the same "ultra free market" ideologues from oil, pharmaceutical and chemical fortunes who are financing climate science denial—Searle Freedom Trust, Scaife Foundations, John Templeton Foundation and others identified as among the largest and most consistent funders of climate-change-denial groups, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, PhD.

Those seeking to understand the dark money network's policy goals for dismantling health protections for our food system would do well to keep an eye on these modern propagandists and their messaging.

Jon Entine—Genetic Literacy Project / STATS

Jon Entine, a former journalist, presents himself as an objective authority on science. Yet ample evidence suggests he is a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to chemical companies plagued with questions about health risks.

Over the years, Entine has attacked scientists, professors, funders, lawmakers and journalists who have raised concerns about fracking, nuclear power, pesticides and industrial chemicals used in baby bottles and children's toys. A 2012 Mother Jones story by Tom Philpott describes Entine as an "agribusiness apologist" and Greenpeace details his history on their Polluter Watch website.

Entine is now director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that promotes genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The site claims to be neutral, but "it's clearly designed to promote a pro-industry position and doesn't try to look neutrally at the issues," said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

"The message is that genetic engineering is good and anybody who criticizes it is a horrible ideologue, but that's just not indicative of where the scientific debate actually is."

Entine claims, for example, that the "scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than for global warming"—a claim contradicted by the World Health Organization, which states it is not possible to make general statements about GMO safety and by hundreds of scientists who have said there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

The Genetic Literacy Project also has not been transparent about its connections to Monsanto. As one example, the site published several pro-GMO academic papers that emails later revealed were assigned to professors by a Monsanto executive who provided talking points for the papers and promised to pump them out all over the internet.

Another example: Genetic Literacy Project partners with Academics Review on the Biotechnology Literacy Project, pro-industry conferences that train scientists and journalists on how to "best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public."

Academics Review, which published a report in 2014 attacking the organic industry, presents itself as an independent group, but emails revealed it was set up with the help of a Monsanto executive who promised to find funding "while keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information." Emails also showed that Academics Review co-founder Bruce Chassy had been receiving undisclosed funds from Monsanto via the University of Illinois Foundation.

Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer? EPA Panel Meets to Find Out

From Dec. 13 - 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to evaluate "the carcinogenic potential of the herbicide glyphosate," the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup.

For years, Monsanto has claimed that glyphosate is safe. Advertising at one time that Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically non-toxic."

However, many studies contradict Monsanto's assertions. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, concluded that glyphosate is a "probable human carcinogen." Then in July 2016, an IARC scientist, Dr. Kurt Straif, defended the agency's assessment that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. Dr. Straif stated that:

"Our evaluation was a review of all the published scientific literature on glyphosate and this was done by the world's best experts on the topic that in addition don't have any conflicts of interest that could bias their assessment.

"They concluded that, yes, glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans based on three strings of evidence, that is clear evidence of cancer in experimental animals, limited evidence for cancer for humans from real-world exposures, of exposed farmers, and also strong evidence that it can damage the genes from any kind of other toxicological studies."

The SAP meetings now taking place were originally scheduled for mid-October, but the EPA postponed them only a few of days before they were to begin due to "changes in the availability of experts for the peer review panel."

According to Carey Gillam, research director for U.S. Right to Know, the EPA's decision to postpone the meetings came after an intense lobbying campaign led by CropLife America, which represents the interests of Monsanto and other agricultural businesses. CropLife initially fought to keep the SAP meetings from happening at all, then said if the meetings were to be held, "any person who has publicly expressed an opinion regarding the carcinogenicity of glyphosate" should be excluded from participating.

In a letter to the EPA, CropLife singled out epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante, who the lobbying firm felt should be "replaced with an epidemiologist without such patent bias." As the only epidemiologist slated to be on the panel, the CropLife felt that Dr. Infante may have had enhanced influence on the epidemiological evaluation on glyphosate.

Dr. Infante has testified on behalf of plaintiffs suing Monsanto over chemical exposure. Nonetheless, Dr. Infante is one of the leading experts in his field, having spent the better part of a storied career protecting the public from harmful chemicals.

Dr. Infante spent 24 years working for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, where he determined cancer risks to those working on developing toxic chemicals, including arsenic, asbestos and formaldehyde. He has also served as an expert epidemiology consultant for a number of world bodies, including the World Trade Organization and the EPA.

CropLife's letter to the EPA was sent two days before the agency announced that the glyphosate meetings would be postponed. Many accused the EPA of kowtowing to lobbyists and the businesses they represent. The accusations only grew louder when Dr. Infante's name was no longer on the list of panelists scheduled for the December meetings.

Dr. Infante told Delta FarmPress that he was "mystified" by the EPA's decision to remove him from the meetings. "I didn't choose to leave the panel," he said. "No … I was removed from the panel. I'm totally mystified by it."

The EPA's move was also surprising to environmental advocacy groups, who say it is highly unusual for the agency to remove a panelist from a Scientific Advisory Panel.

"The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren't good enough for these panels," said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union, after the SAP meetings were postponed in October. "If the EPA wants to add extra epidemiologists that is great but why didn't they do it before? They are doing this because of pressure from industry."

According to Gillam, "the delay and the maneuvering by industry to influence panel participation does little to bolster consumer confidence for the likelihood of an objective outcome."

The EPA said it will issue a risk assessment for glyphosate by spring of 2017.

Sponsored

Trump Picks 'Puppet' for Special Interests Mike Pompeo to Head CIA

By Carey Gillam

News that President-elect Donald Trump has asked U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA director shows just how dark the days ahead might be for America's burgeoning food movement, which has been advocating for more transparency and fewer pesticides in food production.

Mike Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests

Pompeo, a Republican from the farm state of Kansas, was the designated hitter for Monsanto and the other Big Ag chemical and seed players in 2014 when the industry rolled out a federal effort to block states from mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. Pompeo introduced the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" in April of that year with the intention of overriding bills in roughly two dozen states.

In bringing the bill forward, Pompeo was acting on behalf the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation's largest food and beverage companies. The bill, which critics called the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" Act, or the "DARK Act," went through two years of controversy and compromise before a version passed and was signed into law by President Obama this summer. The law nullified a mandatory labeling bill set to take effect in Vermont in July of this year, and it offered companies options to avoid stating on their packaging whether or not a product contained GMO ingredients.

Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests. If he accepts Trump's offer to head the CIA, it could spell a significant setback for consumers, according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

"The worst choice I can think of," Kimbrell said of Pompeo. "Far from draining the swamp, Pompeo is the ultimate "swamp" creature. He is little more than a puppet for the big chemical and biotech companies."

Consumer groups have pushed for mandatory labeling for years because of concerns that genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. A chief concern has to do with the fact that most GMO crops are sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and residues of glyphosate are increasingly being detected in commonly consumed foods.

The Trump transition team answer for those consumer concerns about pesticides doesn't look reassuring either. Trump has named Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead transition efforts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's happy news for the agrichemical industry because Ebell appears to be a big fan of pesticides. His group's SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website champions the safety and benefits of chemicals used in agriculture and elsewhere, and discounts research that indicates harm.

"The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency," the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.

Alarming Levels of Glyphosate Found in Popular American Foods

By Carey Gillam

Independent tests on an array of popular American food products found many samples contained residue levels of the weed killer glyphosate. The nonprofit organizations behind the tests—Food Democracy Now and The Detox Project—released a report Monday that details the findings. The groups are calling for corporate and regulatory action to address consumer safety concerns.

Food Democracy Now! / The Detox Project report

According to the report, the herbicide residues were found in cookies, crackers, popular cold cereals and chips commonly consumed by children and adults. The testing was completed at Anresco, a U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) registered lab and used liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), a method widely considered by the scientific community and regulators as the most reliable for analyzing glyphosate residues.

The announcement of the private tests comes as the FDA is struggling with its own efforts to analyze how much of the herbicide residues might be present in certain foods. Though the FDA routinely tests foods for other pesticide residues, it never tested for glyphosate until this year. However, the testing for glyphosate residues was suspended last week.

Glyphosate has been under the spotlight since the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the herbicide as a probable human carcinogen last year. Glyphosate is the world's most widely used herbicide and is the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and hundreds of other products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing a risk assessment for glyphosate to determine if future use should be limited.

Food Democracy Now! / The Detox Project report

The tests conducted by Anresco were done on 29 foods commonly found on grocery store shelves. According to the report, glyphosate residues were found in:

  • General Mills' Cheerios at 1,125.3 parts per billion (ppb)
  • Kashi soft-baked oatmeal dark chocolate cookies at 275.57 ppb
  • Ritz Crackers at 270.24 ppb

Different levels were found in Kellogg's Special K cereal, Triscuit Crackers and several other products. The report notes that for some of the findings, the amounts were "rough estimates at best and may not represent an accurate representation of the sample." The food companies did not respond to a request for comment.

"Frankly, such a high level of glyphosate contamination found in Cheerios, Doritos, Oreos and Stacy's Pita Chips are alarming and should be a wake-up call for any parent trying to feed their children safe, healthy and non-toxic food," Dave Murphy, executive director of Food Democracy Now!," said.

The EPA sets a "maximum residue limit" (MRL), also known as a tolerance, for pesticide residues on food commodities, like corn and soybeans. MRLs for glyphosate vary depending upon the commodity. Finished food products like those tested at Anresco might contain ingredients from many different commodities.

The nonprofits behind the report said that concerns about glyphosate comes as new research shows that Roundup can cause liver and kidney damage in rats at only 0.05 ppb, and additional studies have found that levels as low as 10 ppb can have toxic effects on the livers of fish.

"With increasing evidence from a growing number of independent peer-reviewed studies from around the world showing that the ingestion of glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup can result in a wide range of chronic illnesses, it's urgent that regulators at the EPA reconsider the allowed levels of glyphosate in American's food and work to limit continued exposure to this pervasive chemical in as large a section of the human population as possible," Dr. Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist from London, UK, said in reaction to the report released Monday.

"The information gathered by this glyphosate food testing project is very timely and provides valuable information for consumers, elected officials and scientists, like myself, in evaluating the toxicity of real world levels of exposure to this most widely used pesticide," Antoniou continued.

The groups criticized U.S. regulators for setting an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for glyphosate at much higher levels than other countries consider safe. The U.S. has set the ADI for glyphosate at 1.75 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight per day (mg/kg/bw/day) while the European Union has set it at 0.3. The EPA is supposed to set an ADI from all food and water sources that is at least 100 times lower than levels that have been demonstrated to cause no effect in animal testing. But critics assert that the EPA has been unduly influenced by the agrichemical industry.

The groups said that the federal government should conduct an investigation into the "harmful effects of glyphosate on human health and the environment," and the relationships between regulators and the agrichemical industry that has long touted the safety of glyphosate.

"It's time for regulators at the EPA and the White House to stop playing politics with our food and start putting the wellbeing of the American public above the profits of chemical companies like Monsanto," Murphy said.

Monsanto has repeatedly said that there are no legitimate safety concerns regarding glyphosate when it is used as intended, and that toxicological studies in animals have demonstrated that glyphosate does not cause cancer, birth defects, DNA damage, nervous system effects, immune system effects, endocrine disruption or reproductive problems. The company, which has been reaping roughly $5 billion a year from glyphosate-based products, said any glyphosate residues in food are too minimal to be harmful.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA have echoed Monsanto's reassurances in the past, citing the chemical's proven safety as justification for not including glyphosate residue testing in annual programs that test thousands of food products each year for hundreds of different types of pesticides. But the lack of routine government monitoring has made it impossible for consumers or regulators to determine what levels of glyphosate are present in foods, which has raised many questions about the safety of the chemical.

A key reason glyphosate residues persist in so many food products has to do with its widespread use in food production. Glyphosate is sprayed directly on many crops genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide, such as corn, soybeans, sugar beets and canola. Glyphosate is also sprayed directly on many types of conventional crops ahead of harvest, including wheat, oats and barley. In all, glyphosate is used in some fashion in the production of at least 70 food crops, according to the EPA, including a range of fruits, nuts and veggies. Even spinach growers use glyphosate.

The groups that released the report are calling for a permanent ban on the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest drying agent because of the residue levels.

A recent analysis done by a senior FDA chemist found glyphosate residues in several types of oatmeal products, including baby food, and in several honey samples. The glyphosate residues found in honey were higher than allowed in the European Union.

Sponsored

FDA Suspends Testing Foods for Glyphosate Residues

By Carey Gillam

Government testing for residues of glyphosate has been put on hold, slowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) first-ever endeavor to get a handle on just how much of the controversial chemical is making its way into U.S. foods.

Getting solid data on glyphosate's presence in the American food supply is more important than ever as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on the future use of the herbicide.

The FDA, the nation's chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a "special assignment" earlier this year to analyze certain foods for residues of the weed killer after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the key ingredient in Monsanto's flagship Roundup.

Glyphosate is under particular scrutiny after the World Health Organization's cancer experts declared last year that the chemical is a probable human carcinogen. Several private groups and nonprofits have been doing their own testing and have been finding glyphosate residues in varying levels in a range of foods, raising consumer concerns about the pesticide's presence the American diet.

The FDA's residue testing for glyphosate was combined with a broader herbicides analysis program the agency set in motion in February of this year. But the glyphosate testing has been particularly challenging for the FDA. The agency was finally forced to put the glyphosate residue testing part of the work plan on hold amid confusion, disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency's multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources. Equipment issues have also been a problem, with some labs citing a need for more sensitive instruments, sources at the FDA said.

FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the testing suspension and said the agency is not sure when it will resume.

"As testing for glyphosate will expand to several locations, we are currently working to ensure that the methods are validated for use in these labs. As soon as the validation is completed, testing for glyphosate will resume," she said. "We cannot speculate on timing at this point."

Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also been analyzing foods for 2,4-D residues and other "acid herbicides," according to documents obtained from the FDA. The FDA's Office of Compliance explained that the need to start such testing was partly related to the cancer concerns about glyphosate and expectations for a sharp rise in the use of 2,4-D.

The FDA work detail calls for the examination of roughly 1,340 food samples, 82 percent domestic and 18 percent imported. The foods are to be collected from warehouse and retail stores only and are to include a variety of cereal grains, vegetables and non-flavored, whole milk and eggs. Documents obtained from the agency through the Freedom of Information Act show the agency has been testing corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, sugar beets, rice and even samples of yellow popcorn and "organic white popcorn."

McSeveney said glyphosate residues were only being analyzed for soy, corn, milk, eggs and popcorn, while the other foods are being tested for residues of other herbicides.

Earlier this year, one of the agency's senior chemists analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported his results to the agency. Some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. The U.S. has no legal tolerance for glyphosate in honey, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said recently it may set one because of the FDA findings. However, according to McSeveney, the results for honey and oatmeal are not considered to be a part of the official assignment.

With the testing on hold, it is not clear when the agency might have final results on the glyphosate residue analysis. McSeveney said preliminary results showed no violations of legal tolerance levels allowed for glyphosate in the foods tested. She did not provide details on what, if any, levels of residue were found. Tolerance levels are set by the EPA for a variety of pesticides expected to be found in foods. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producer.

Monsanto said earlier this year that no data has ever indicated residue levels of more than a fraction of allowable levels and it is confident FDA testing will reaffirm the safety of its herbicide.

Though FDA annually tests domestic and imported foods for residues of other pesticides, it never tested for glyphosate before. It has not routinely tested for 2,4-D either, a fact also criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Unlike glyphosate, however, there has been some monitoring of 2,4-D residues in selected food items in the past. That monitoring showed only very low levels of 2,4-D—less than 5 parts per billion in ready-to-eat foods, according to the FDA.

The FDA testing for 2,4-D residues comes as the use of 2,4-D with food crops is expected to start increasing due to the commercialization of new formulated herbicide products that combine glyphosate with 2.4-D. These new herbicide products are designed to be used on new herbicide-tolerant crops. Safety questions have been raised about the combination. But the EPA just gave a green light Nov. 1 to a Dow AgroSciences' herbicide combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. The new products are intended to counter widespread weed resistance to glyphosate.

The agrichemical industry asserts that residues of glyphosate, 2,4-D and the array of other chemicals used in modern-day agriculture do not pose a danger to human health, but the lack of testing to determine actual residue levels of some of the most-used chemicals, has been troubling to many consumer groups.

Getting solid data on glyphosate's presence in the American food supply is more important than ever as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on the future use of the herbicide. The FDA work covers only a few foods, but is a long-needed, good first step. Consumers can only hope the testing resumes soon.

FDA Finds Glyphosate in Honey

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found residues of the weed killer glyphosate in samples of U.S. honey, according to documents obtained by the consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know through a Freedom of Information Act request. Some samples showed residue levels double the legally allowed limit in the European Union.

There is no legal tolerance level for glyphosate in honey in the U.S., so any amount of detectable glyphosate in honey could technically be considered illegal. Some of the honey tested by the FDA had glyphosate residues at 107 parts per billion, well more than the 50 parts per billion set as a maximum allowed in the European Union, the documents state.

Records obtained from the FDA, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, by U.S. Right to Know detail a range of revelations about the federal government's efforts to get a handle on rising concerns about glyphosate. In addition to honey, the records show government residue experts discussing the prevalence of glyphosate found in soybean samples and the belief that there could be a lot of "violation for glyphosate" residue levels in U.S. crops.

Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used herbicide in the world and concerns about glyphosate residues in food increased after the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Other international scientists have raised concerns about how heavy use of glyphosate is impacting human health and the environment.

Even though the FDA annually examines foods for residues of many pesticides, it has declined to test for glyphosate residues for decades. It was only in February of this year that the agency said it would start some limited testing for glyphosate residues. That came after many independent researchers started conducting their own testing on various foods two years ago, finding glyphosate in an array of products, including flour, cereal and oatmeal.

Sponsored

UC Davis Sued for Failing to Release Public Records on GMOs and Pesticides

Consumer group U.S. Right to Know filed a lawsuit Wednesday to compel the University of California, Davis to comply with requests for public records related to the university's work on genetically engineered food, pesticides and its relationship with the agrichemical industry.

Since Jan. 28, 2015, U.S. Right to Know has filed 17 public records requests with UC Davis as allowed under the California Public Records Act, but the university has provided a total of merely 751 pages in response to all of these requests, while similar requests at other universities have yielded thousands of pages each.

UC Davis has provided no estimate of when it will comply with the unfilled requests, as required by law. It originally estimated production of documents in April 2015. It has completed only one response—regarding the soda industry—but none of the 16 requests related to the agrichemical industry.

"We are conducting a wide-ranging investigation into the collaboration between the food and agrichemical industries, their front groups and several U.S. universities," Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know, said.

"So far, documents obtained from other universities have shown secretive funding arrangements and covert efforts to use taxpayer-funded university resources to promote the products of various corporations. The public has a right to know what is going on behind the scenes."

These revelations have been covered in the New York Times, Boston Globe, The Guardian, Le Monde, STAT, Mother Jones and other outlets.

To underscore the agrichemical industry's unease about U.S. Right to Know's public records requests, a law firm that is allied with the agrichemical industry, Markowitz Herbold, has taken the unusual step of filing a public records request for all of U.S. Right to Know's correspondence with UC Davis, including the responses to all public records requests.

More than 50 years ago, on July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law.

"Fifty years later, FOIA is a crucial tool for uncovering corruption, wrongdoing, abuse of power and to protect consumers and public health," Ruskin said. The California Public Records Act is the California state version of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The plaintiff for the lawsuit is Gary Ruskin, in his capacity as co-director of U.S. Right to Know.

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox