The tangled web woven by biotech firms, universities, GMO lobbyists

For the first time, farmers and other citizens are gaining a glimpse of the backchannel influences orchestrated by the big biotech firms.

Part of the story broke Sept. 5 in a front-age New York Times feature by Eric Lipton: "Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show."

Lipton wrote his feature based on emails and other documents extracted, usually reluctantly, from  more than 40 universities, including land-grant universities which are the traditional home of ag research. The organization funding that Freedom of Information mining expedition is the U.S. Right to Know organization (USRTK).  Visit their site and you'll learn some details of what you've instinctively known: University research and big corporate seed/chemical contributors are joined at the frontal lobes.

Now, the rest of the story: Dr. Jonathan Latham, writing Sept. 8 on the "Independent Science News" site, reveals 'what the NY Times left out' of its front page feature. Digging still deeper into the interchange of messages extracted by USRTK researchers — plus his own extensive connections — Latham names professors and their connections and commitments to biotech firms. 

Dr. Jonathan Latham
Dr. Jonathan Latham

It's a fascinating read, and most farmers who attended a land-grant school to study agriculture will recognize the names of some of their former professors.

Most bemusing is the pathetic case of one Kevin Folta of the University of Florida, who has savaged one of the world's most respected ag scientists, Dr. Don Huber, emeritus professor of Purdue University. Dr. Huber has grown ever more explicit in his farmer seminars about the health dangers of genetically modified crops and linked herbicides — especially the complete formulations containing glyphosate.

Latham explains: "Lipton digs up further damning evidence and quotes from Folta. They include an email to Monsanto that solidly contradicts Folta’s previous denials of a relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry: “I am grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment,” Folta wrote after receiving the $25,000 check, thereby showing both a clear understanding of his role and the purpose of the money."

Latham's extended feature details the inside stories of how university researchers vigorously support the biotech agenda, and aggressively attack its critics.  One vignette revealed by Latham is how two professors tried to discredit Russian GMO critic Irina Ermakova.  Her research is one reason why Russia bars the raising of GMO crops.

We linked, in an earlier article on this site, to Dr. Latham's explanation of why he realized, after years of creating genetically modified crops, that this was a potentially disastrous adventure for millions of human guinea pigs.

There's one more unsaid, and very sad, influence which flows from intellectual dominance of ag research at our "higher learning" institutions. It also extends to controlling the lifeblood — advertising — of the major agricultural media. That applies to print and on-line media. Most of these "news" outlets receive a sustaining share of their ad revenue from firms which in turn depend on the existence and global expansion of genetically modified traits.

Only once have I seen an open challenge to Roundup, for example. That was in the March 2010 issue of No-Till Farmer, pages 6 and 7. Sources were Dr. Don Huber and crop consultant Bob Streit. They made the point that glyphosate, a powerful chelator, has the potential to gradually lock up micronutrients and make even GMO crops vulnerable to disease. (Such as Sudden Death Syndrome, et al.)  Frank Lessiter, one of the more courageous ag publishers, told me "We got a lot of flak on that one."

In April 2010, the No-Till Farmer website posted a comment leading to links by various ag university scientists, largely dismissing any problem with glyphosate decimating micronutrients. 

Our concern with the silence of ag media on any doubts about GMO crops or their chemical counterparts (such as glyphosate/2,4-D combined) is simply this: What if there is a sudden rush of public opinion, overwhelming the millions of PR dollars expended by the biotech industry? One so powerful that it pulls certain technologies off the marketplace? Farmers dependent on the narrow base of chemicals and crop genetics, and the "management in a jug" that they offered for two decades, would suddenly encounter an urgent need for intensive crop management by other means.

Some farmers, like those attending "biological farming" field days this summer, see this coming. "For 20 years, it was so simple," one central Iowa farmer sighed. "Now, we'll have to start over. But ... where?"

Posted Sept. 8, 2015 by Jerry Carlson