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“Expert” Detractors on California Prop 37 are Shills for Big Biotech

October 30, 2012 | 166,952 views
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By Dr. Mercola

All eyes are on California where Proposition 37, which, if passed, would require labeling of foods produced using genetic engineering. It will be put to voters on November 6th. In recent weeks, the battle over GMO labeling has taken an ugly turn. In a true David versus Goliath battle, the opposition will apparently stop at nothing to defeat the measure.

What are they so afraid of?

A common corporate tactic, well-honed by the tobacco industry, is to hire "third-party experts" to bring your message to the public, especially through the media. The idea is that academic types carry much more credibility than the likes of Monsanto when it comes to defending genetically engineered food.

University of California at Monsanto?

It's no accident that the "No on Prop 37" campaign has many academics on its side at the University of California at Davis. The school enjoys millions of dollars in research grants and other largesse from the biotech industry.

A 2004 story in the Sacramento Bee1 describes UC Davis as a research incubator for Big Biotech:

"You name it, and biotechnology companies help pay for it at UC Davis: laboratory studies, scholarships, post-doctoral students' salaries, professors' travel expenses, even the campus utility bill."

According to Bill Liebhardt, former director of the UC system's sustainable farming program:

"'The public is having a hard time figuring out where the corporate door ends and where the university door begins.' And UC Davis cell biologist Eduardo Blumwald says that biotech companies 'are influencing the way we do research.'"

That would certainly explain why so many UC Davis professors profess support for the "No on 37" campaign.

One article, co-authored by University of California at Davis professor Colin Carter,2 not only defends genetically engineered (GE) foods, but also makes unsubstantiated claims while mischaracterizing the language of Prop 37, as Tufts professor Parke Wilde pointed out in August.3 Another pair of UC Davis professors were paid by the "No on 37" campaign, which released their report4 with this dramatic headline:

"UC Davis Professors of Agricultural Economics Release New Report that Shows Proposition 37 Will Increase Costs for California Farmers and Food Processors by $1.2 Billion."

The Los Angeles Times5 reported that the No campaign paid UC Davis professors Julian Alston and Daniel Sumner at least $30,000.

"This article would never stand to peer-review scrutiny, which explains why the report isn't published anywhere but on the 'No on 37' website,"6 he says.

Professor Alston is no stranger to Monsanto largesse. According to the Sacramento Bee:7

"In July 2002, UC Davis farm economics professor Julian Alston found a patron in the private sector: Monsanto, one of the world's five largest crop biotechnology firms. The official announcement came in the form of a letter. 'Dear Dr. Alston,' it read. 'Please find enclosed a check for $40,000 that represents an unrestricted gift in support of your research program.'"

Next, UC Davis Professor Kent Bradford penned a curious op-ed in the Woodland Daily Democrat8 opposing Prop 37 that listed talking points bearing striking resemblance to the "No on 37" campaign's arguments.9 That similarity just might be explained by Bradford's deep ties to Monsanto. According to the Sacramento Bee,10 Branford is "director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, and a leader of Seed Central, a university-led initiative to attract seed industry to the Davis area." He recently trumpeted Monsanto's $31 million expansion at the Woodland, California campus, saying the investment, "capitalizes on UC Davis and the research capacity of the companies."

Most recently, two UC Davis professors appeared on an episode of the Dr. Oz show defending genetically engineered foods.11 One of them, Martina Newell-McGloughlin is director of the University of California Biotechnology Research and Education Program,12 while the other, Alison L. Van Eenennaam, has worked for Monsanto.13

It's no wonder the funders of "No on Prop 37" would keep dipping into the UC Davis deep well of alleged academic experts. They obviously made an excellent investment, and it's payback time.

Monsanto Expert, Henry Miller: "I am Not a Stanford Professor, But I Play One on TV"

"No on Prop 37" has been putting Henry Miller front and center of its campaign. Miller has a long and sordid history14 of defending toxic chemicals such as DDT, in addition to working for Big Tobacco. He also tends to misrepresent himself quite a bit. As the Los Angeles Times15 reported, a "No on 37" ad had to be pulled off the air because Miller was identified as, "Dr. Henry I. Miller M.D., Stanford University, founding dir. FDA Office of Technology." Behind him in the shot was Stanford's recognizable vaulted campus walkway.

Just one problem: Miller is not a Stanford professor but a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank that happens to be housed on the Stanford campus. Adding insult to injury, Stanford has a policy to not take positions on candidates or ballot measures, and does not allow political filming on campus.

Oops. The campaign admitted its error and edited the ad.

But the Stanford deception did not end there. Recently, the "Yes on 37" campaign complained16 that Stanford's policy was being violated once again, this time in at least two different "No on 37" flyers sent to California voters that identify Miller as, "Henry Miller, MD, Stanford University." The campaign claimed it wouldn't happen again... Right.

False Claims and Misrepresentations Used to Mislead Voters

The "No on 37" campaign has been caught using fraudulent misinformation to confuse voters again and again over the past several months. For example, on October 18, the "California Right to Know Yes on 37" campaign requested the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a criminal investigation of the "No on 37" campaign "for possible fraudulent misuse of the official seal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration." According to the press release:17

"'The Justice Department should investigate this fraudulent dirty trick perpetrated by the 'No on 37' campaign,' said Gary Ruskin, campaign manager of 'California Right to Know Yes on 37.' 'They are running a campaign of lies, deceit and trickery, and some of it may be criminal.'

The 'No on 37' campaign affixed the FDA's seal to one of the campaign's mailers. Section 506 of the U.S. Criminal Code states: 'Whoever... knowingly uses, affixes, or impresses any such fraudulently made, forged, counterfeited, mutilated, or altered seal or facsimile thereof to or upon any certificate, instrument, commission, document, or paper of any description... shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.'

The letter also provides evidence that the 'No on 37' campaign falsely attributed a direct quote to the FDA in the campaign mailer. The quoted attribution, which appears below, is entirely false and fabricated. The FDA did not make this statement and does not take a position on Prop 37."

FDA on Prop 37

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the world's largest organization for food and nutrition professionals), "No on 37" also misled the public about the Academy's stance on genetically engineered foods in the Secretary of State's Official California Voter Information Guide.

The press release18 issued by the Academy reads in part:

"...the California Official Voter Information Guide regarding Proposition 37... inaccurately states that the Academy 'has concluded that biotech foods are safe.' The statement is false... We are concerned that California voters are being misled... Voters need accurate information in order to make an informed choice."

Fuzzy Logic Used to Confuse You on the Basic Issues

The anti-choice campaign likes to claim that Prop 37 was written by trial lawyers in order to hit small grocers and growers with lawsuits. The truth is that "Yes on Prop 37" is a grassroots effort, started by a concerned California grandmother who saw that there was no way of avoiding genetically engineered foods even if we wanted to, since they didn't have to be labeled.

The labeling campaign is about having the right to know what's in your food – just like you're informed about the nutritional content, and the presence of peanuts (important for those with allergies) and other food additives. Whether genetically engineered ingredients are good or bad for your health is really beside the point. Aspartame is not good for you, yet it's on the label, and people have the right to consume it as they please. That's all this is about – just state what it is on the label.

The Monsanto campaign claims Prop 37 is "anti-science" and would ban safe foods. This is nonsense, as Prop 37 doesn't ban anything. It simply requires the label to state whether the food contains genetically engineered ingredients or not. You're still free to sell it and buy it.

The only thing it prohibits is the mislabelling of GE foods as "all-natural," a term that many tend to associate with more organic standards – which GE crops cannot comply with. You're currently paying a premium for "all-natural" foods that actually use GE ingredients, thinking you're getting something better than conventional! THAT'S hurting your wallet. Accurately labeling these foods will not.

As for their argument that genetically engineered foods have been around for many years without health problems, this is another nonsensical claim, as there's no way of tracing any potential health problems back to the food without labelling! The potential truthfulness of their claim in fact hinges on GE foods remaining unlabeled. Without labelling there's simply no way to know, because there's no way to track or trace side effects like people can now do with aspartame, or any other food allergy.

Science Media Centre aka Big Biotech Spin Control

A related tactic to hiring academic experts one at a time to do your bidding is to corral them all into one really important sounding organization; often, an "institute." The Tobacco Institute was an arm of Big Tobacco that according to its own description,19 acted "as official spokesman for the industry, always reflecting official [strategy] position agreed upon by all members."

Moreover, spinning science through a sophisticated public relations campaign was paramount. The institute's main mission was:

"[P]ublicizing scientific research funded by the industry which produces counter evidence to unfavorable findings or, at least, helps to keep the question open."

Sounds unbelievable now, but for decades this strategy was so effective that it delayed policy action while millions died. Enter the Science Media Centre.20 Headquartered in the UK, there is also a US-based outlet.21 Their mission (like their name), sounds innocuous enough:22

"Our aim is to ensure that when a major science story breaks, we can quickly offer news desks a list of scientists available to comment, a summary of the main scientific points involved and details of which press officers or web sites to go to for further information."

They also provide handy tips in this document23 called, "Communicating risks in a soundbite: A guide for scientists," on how to respond to media questions by downplaying problems. For example, if a reporter asks, "Is it risky?" the scientist should get the journalist to instead ask about the benefits by replying, "the benefits outweigh the risks." Another suggested answer: "It is a very small risk. So small that I believe it is safe."

Why would a "science media center" put words into scientists' mouths?

Just take a look at the sources of funding, which include:24

  • BASF
  • Bayer
  • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences and Research Council
  • CropLife (pesticide and biotech trade group)
  • Monsanto
  • Novartis
  • Syngenta

Not exactly players with an objective view of science. This might explain why the center pounced25 on the recent French study showing organ damage and massive cancer tumors in rats fed GE corn. This was the first lifetime feeding study that has ever been conducted with GE food, so it was sure to be a major embarrassment to Big Biotech.

The very same day the French report was published came a press release26 from the Science Media Centre claiming "anomalies throughout the paper" despite the authors having been through the usual peer review process.

The main statement from the center was authored by Professor Maurice Moloney, head of Rothamsted Research, which was the target of a protest earlier this year.27 (A counter group formed at the time, calling itself "Sense about Science." This is a common tactic, to portray those who object to tinkering with nature as anti-science luddites.) Moloney is certainly not an objective scientist when it comes to genetically engineered foods, as his Porsche license plate with the letters GMO indicates.


Image Courtesy of SpinWatch.org

His bio28 includes working at biotech incubator Calgene (which was later bought by Monsanto), "where he developed the first transgenic oilseed plants using canola as the model crop," which became the basis of Monsanto's Roundup Ready and Liberty Link canola products."

How nice. So the man who gave us Monsanto's premiere product – Roundup Ready – doesn't think an independent study demonstrating harm from eating genetically engineered food is valid? Why am I not shocked?

Have You Fallen for Falsehoods?

Here is what should be shocking: that it's so easy for opponents of GMO labeling to insert such obviously biased scientific spin into the public discourse. According to GM Watch,29 Moloney's critique was picked up in numerous media outlets, at times, just attributed to unnamed "independent scientists." Mission accomplished.

In addition to using experts for hire as spokespeople, the "No on 37" campaign has engaged in numerous other underhanded tactics, getting caught each time.

For example, the "Yes on 37" campaign recently sent letters to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting a criminal investigation for possible fraudulent misuse of the official seal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.30 "No on 37" included the FDA logo on a mailer31 sent to California voters, along with a quote falsely attributed to FDA saying the agency was opposed to Prop 37.

"No on 37" has also misrepresented the positions of several health and nutrition organizations,32 even going so far as to deceive Californians in the official voter guide.

How sad that Monsanto and friends must stoop so low to keep consumers in the dark about what they are eating. What are they trying to hide?

Vote with Your Pocketbook, Every Day

Remember, the food companies on the left of this graphic spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two labeling campaigns—in California and Washington State—to prevent you from knowing what's in your food. You can even the score by switching to the brands on the right; all of whom stood behind the I-522 Right to Know campaign. Voting with your pocketbook, at every meal, matters. It makes a huge difference.

I-522 poster

As always, I encourage you to continue educating yourself about genetically engineered foods, and to share what you've learned with family and friends. Remember, unless a food is certified organic, you can assume it contains GMO ingredients if it contains sugar from sugar beet, soy, or corn, or any of their derivatives.

 

If you buy processed food, opt for products bearing the USDA 100% Organic label, as organics do not permit GMOs. You can also print out and use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks. Alternatively, download their free iPhone application, available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications. For more in-depth information, I highly recommend reading the following two books, authored by Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology:

For timely updates, join the Non-GMO Project on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Please, do your homework. Together, we have the power to stop the chemical technology industry from destroying our food supply, the future of our children, and the earth as a whole. All we need is about five percent of American shoppers to simply stop buying genetically engineered foods, and the food industry would have to reconsider their source of ingredients—regardless of whether the products bear an actual GMO label or not.

[+] Sources and References