College Professors Told to Fork Over Email Exchanges with Monsanto

In an unprecedented use of Freedom of Information laws, an anti-GMO group wants to read the emails of forty university professors with professional associations to biotechnology firms.

The politicking of the biotechnology industry seems to have gone a little too far. 

Now, an anti-GMO group is requesting to read the professional emails of 40 university professors with alleged ties to biotech firms such as Monsanto.

Called US Right to Know, the group alleges that a select group of university professors are actively promoting biotechnology products like genetically modified crops in exchange for financial compensation.

There are no briefcases of cash here, but rather generous research grants given to outspoken proponents of GMO foods. Kevin Folta, a plant scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, for example, received an unrestricted $25,000 research grant from Monsanto last year.

It's not just large grants, however, that cause concern among anti-GMO groups like US Right to Know. Biotechnology companies are given to hiring ambitious public relations firms like Ketchum of New York, which manages the website GMO Answers.

While appearing as a neutral source for information on GMO crops, GMO Answers is managed by Ketchum and to create a well-credentialed sited, Ketchum reached out to professors friendly to the GMO industry to respond to queries posted by online users.

Ketchum even went so far as to draft responses for certain academics, including Folta, telling him it's important that his responses be "authentic" and encouraging him to alter the scripted answers to suit his preference.

US Right to Know says that when professors on the public doll are indirectly working for private companies with private interests, the public has a right to know. Hence the request to sift through the professors' email.

At least one institution, the University of Nebraska, has refused to hand over the emails requested by the anti-GMO group, which is filing Freedom of Information briefs in state courts.

Dr. Lee M. Silver, professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, gives essential context to the GMO debate, explaining the complications of defending natural foods by prioritizing natural products.

Read more at Nature.

Photo credit: Bloomberg / Contributor

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