Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Journalist Mouthpieces (Victims) of USRTK

It has been well established that the activist group US-RTK advances it agenda by using public records requests to obtain emails from public academic scientists at great taxpayer expense.  They then selectively pass stories along to willing (lazy) journalists that see an easy story and a quick paycheck if they publish the story that US-RTK wants told. 

We've seen it several times already.  Thacker and Seife wrote a story about me that was false and retracted.  The New York Times and Eric Lipton wrote a damaging, libelous piece about me that time has shown holds minimal truth. Other stories are written by people on the USRTK payroll, posing as unbiased reporters.

All of these stories started with USRTK passing along the emails to journalists. Journalists failed to do their own homework, instead, ironically doing the bidding of a well-financed activist group. Some did the homework but decided to perpetuate falsehoods.  Still others saw through the attack and would not comply with RTK, maintaining their integrity and standards. 

Sadly, some journalists are used and manipulated, drawn by the allure of an apparently sexy story and a few shekels, not actually thinking about the content or the people that could be affected. Sometimes it is so poorly done that it reflects an abject abortion of journalistic standards. 

Let's look at the piece by Alex Orlov on Food.Mic.

"Leaked email" ???  Leaked? You mean, emails freely provided through public records requests at significant taxpayer cost?  This is the level of disingenuous rhetoric that Orlov uses to frame this article. 

The article is about Registered Dietitian Mary Lee Chin, a professional that is really interested in communicating concepts around food risk and safety to other dietitians.  I've seen her in action a few times now.  She's small in stature but fills the room, always deliberate and articulate, dressed perfectly and always hyper-professional. Here words flow with a catchy slowness, delivered with unending poise and strength. She captivates an audience and provides beautiful analogies about food, food safety and risk. She freely acknowledges her associations with a number of organizations, including Monsanto. 

****ADDED 3/23- Read Mary Lee's Response! 

When I read this article I was pretty sad. Mary Lee is a kind person I always like to watch perform. I learn from watching her teach others about food and food safety.  

But Alex Orlov is the next victim of US-RTK, a credulous journalist that accepted the emails from these corporate-financed activists, and then followed the RTK narrative to the letter without a whole lot of other critical evaluation.  

The article claims that "leaked emails" show Mary Lee and Monsanto fail to disclose their relationship, and implies that her discussion of dietary concepts cannot be trusted because of this top-secret link. But if you look at the graphic below, you can see that the paragraph contains a link to "Monsanto's site" where Chin is mentioned as one of their consulting RD's. 

That's some top-notch journalism. Including a link in the article that freely discloses the information that is claimed to not be disclosed.  D'oh.

This is the best part. 

Mic "obtained" emails.  You mean, US-RTK sent emails and a story to tell? 

Wait a minute... the next paragraph...

Ahhhh, there it is!  USRTK "shared" (e.g. provided the emails and a story to tell) to Mic after obtaining them to the University of Florida in 2014. 

No, US-RTK got these from me last week and promptly packaged them for willing dupes to communicate.  That's 2017.  They needed someone to do their work, and Alex Orlov fell for it. They didn't make the records request in 2014.  Their endless harassment of professors at public expense started in 2015 and continues to this day. They got another 15,000 pages from me last week, including this one. That's some solid journalism there. 

Ultimately the thing Orlov fails to show is that Mary Lee Chin said something, or did something that was wrong.  What rules were broken?  What did she say that was inconsistent with the scientific evidence and vast consensus?  

Hint:  Nothing. 

And here's Orlov's smoking gun (highlights hers).

A dietitian excited to leverage her training to teach others and have impacts!  For shame! Full disclosure-- Source is US-RTK, not Mic. 

I'm sad because this goes after Mary Lee.  At the same time I'm sad because this hurts Alex Orlov.  She joins a group of victims, journalists duped by an activist organization with a mountain of industry funding and a handful of well-cherry-picked emails. She's also a victim because she did their bidding-- and it is dead wrong. 

So add her name to those that scientists should not trust, in the same hopper as Infowars' Alex Jones, Natural News' Mike Adams, Eric Lipton, Alison Vuchnich, Brooke Borel, US-RTK's own Carey Gillam, Thacker and Charles Seife and the other "journalists" that do the bidding of activists instead of telling the truth. Time has shown them to be wrong, and that trend will only continue.

The trend will continue until journalists stop being the mouthpieces of activist organizations, trading their integrity for a paycheck and a website that dies in an irrelevant echo chamber. 

There is an irony here that is so incredible that it gives me an ice cream headache. 

Journalists, if someone comes to you with a hot-story of a scumbag scientist working for Monsanto, look at it carefully and follow up with the scientists targeted. 

Most of all journalists, are you the shill selling out for a paycheck? Are you telling the truth?  How you decide to parrot RTK's claims will dictate your journalistic legacy. And sadly, they have shown that they are interested in destroying scientists, even if that means destroying the careers of a few journalists along the way. 

**This work is uncharacteristically angry and direct.  However, as someone that has survived this type of assault on my reputation, I feel an obligation to stand up for others enduring similar persecution.  This is how I stand up for science. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Corn Kernels and Cancer Cells

This story summarizes recent work in my department by my friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Settles. Full story at The Conversation

Driving down a country highway in the Midwest can seem an endless ribbon flanked by green walls of corn, neatly planted in stately rows. But who would guess that a plant that feeds a planet might hold clues that could help us better understand, or perhaps cure, insidious human diseases?
Recent research from Dr. Mark Settles at the University of Florida describes a deep evolutionary link between the processes that govern cell identity in a kernel of corn and those that turn a blood stem cell into a cancerous threat to human life.
Over my three decades as an academic researcher, I’ve been constantly amazed at how discoveries about fundamental cellular processes in plants parallel, or sometimes precede, discoveries in animals. While we share remarkably similar genetic blueprints, plants and animals are obviously quite different. Learning how two very different life forms draw from a similar set of instructions to meet threats or stop disease could lead to breakthroughs in both agriculture and medicine. It reminds us of why close examination of life in animals needs coinciding research tracks in plants.

Full story at The Conversation

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Anti-Ag U.N. Report Written by Attorneys Argues for Big Ag

(This is long, but don't miss the punch line)

I was speaking with a reporter and she asked me about the February-March 2017 "pesticide and GMO report" from the United Nations. She told me that it basically said that pesticides are killing mountains of people and that GE crops were a problem.  I think she was reading from a website that took this angle. 

I had no idea, but I asked her to send me the report and I'd provide a synthesis. She kindly did that.

The report is actually by the U.N. Human Rights Council, a special report on the "right to food".  That's a good thing-- right? 

U.N. Experts (all two of them, both attorneys with no evidence of scientific or agricultural training) present their opinions, yet it is reported as a United Nations Report. 

Actually it is a thinly-veiled promotion of agroecological methods to produce all food, trashing conventional agriculture as "industrial farming".  It does so by focusing on the downside of pesticides (pesticides = insecticides + herbicides + fungicides). 

Pesticides are a great wedge. Those that oppose the companies that make seeds hate any chemistry that can help food be produced on a large scale.  Farmers don't want to spend money on pesticides. Consumers are scared to death of them, even minor residues, because of activist websites and fear-mongering strategies. 

Everybody agrees that agricultural chemistry must be used responsibly, emphasizing safety to applicators and consumers, and sensitivity to the environment.    

I called it right from the beginning.  This would be a document loaded with examples from the developing world, a place where the poorest people farm to eek out a daily living, perhaps selling or trading a portion of their crop.  The crop they raise is extremely valuable-- it separates their family from absolute hardship. Therefore, many take radical measures to protect it.

I once spoke to a farmer from Nigeria. He said, "Why don't farmers have their families just pick off the bugs and move them somewhere else?"

That is what he does.  He has no chemical controls.  His family walks the fields and manually kills bugs they find on the plants. 

But others have chemistry at their disposal, and they use it liberally without good personal protection equipment.  The brinjal (eggplant) in Bangladesh requires 80-120 sprays per season to protect it from the fruit and shoot borer.  Farmers rely on old-school pesticides like organophosphates and carbamates, and apply the chemicals with backpack sprayers and little/no protective equipment.  The eggplants they produce have a visible layer of insecticide on them. 

This practice ended with the introduction of the genetically engineered brinjal, which cut sprays to 1-2/year. 

Parts of the world overdo it on chemistry-- because it works and it is what separates life from death. 

The problem is that it creates a human and environmental disaster.  That is the point of the first part of the report.  They cite 200,000 acute poisoning deaths, 99% in the developing world.  They note that these are places where safety has not caught up with application. I agree. 

But then the authors of the document present an argument from ignorance.  They continually claim that we just don't know the effects on humans and our ecosystems and therefore should adopt the Precautionary Principle and agroecological methods of farming.  That is the general gist of the rest of the piece.

The paper then discusses incidents of poisonings, one of which is when in 1999, twenty-four children died after drinking parathion (a highly toxic organophosphate) because it was confused for powdered milk.  I don't know why this is evidence against chemicals used in agriculture.  It is evidence against use of agricultural chemicals in the diet. 

The paper continues to talk about how those applying the chemicals are often child laborers, and that all applicants have insufficient personal protective equipment.  

The bottom line-- while the report talks about the evils of ag chemicals, their evidence is the improper use of ag chemicals.

We already know that's not good.  

However, the report has now tarnished the lay reader with the conclusion that chemicals are evil.  They then move on to #27 in their list, consumers.  They talk about cocktails of chemicals, systemic pesticides that are internal to the plant, and their presence in water.  

They attempt to connect a hazard to an exposure. That's called manufactured risk

Ecological risks are represented by a few limited examples and statistics that are truly noteworthy-- no problem there. 

Then it tuns to neonics, and it gets the science wrong. It even states, "Neonicotinoids are accused of being responsible for 'colony collapse disorder' of bees worldwide."

Yes, they are being accused of that-- by people that don't understand what is happening with bees.  Colony Collapse Disorder has not even been observed in years, yet bee declines continue, and most science points to varroa mite. It has been credibly suggsted that neonics could have a role in decreasing bee resistance to mite problems in some cases. But that has yet to be shown definitively, and farmers have adjusted practices with neonics in the last decade to minimize pollinator exposure. 

Look at the citations throughout- lots of blogs, not a lot of peer review. One of their sources is Friends of the Earth Europe. There is an unbiased interpretations of science #NOT. 

This science-free U.N. Report, by two attorneys, provided red meat for organizations like Eco Watch to manufacture more fear.  Read this tweet. Does the data presented in that report justify this alarm?  No. Not at all. 

Number 37 goes to genetic engineering (GMO).  The paragraph retreats to an argument from ignorance, claiming that we just have no idea and that we need to study it further. Why don't scientists feel that way?  They also say there is controversy around Bt, but I've never heard it. Organic growers use it all the time. 

They then go on to cite the IARC conclusion of glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" and fail to cite the dozens of other evaluations by independent federal organizations worldwide that show there is no credible evidence connecting glyphosate to cancer. 

They then then urge the precautionary principle based on the "probable grave effects on health and the environment".

No citation provided. Because there is not one that supports that conclusion. 

The next part of the report is stuff about law, then the next part confirms my earlier beliefs-- more statements are made about children being the primary users of ag chemicals, without personal protective equipment, using old-school chemicals, and applying too much. 

Next, and most offensively, the report states that "there are serious claims of scientists being "bought" to restate industry talking points" and other tired arguments that only erode trust in scientists that make honest, independent assessments that are counter to activist beliefs.

The next part is the reveal-- SECTION V. Alternative to extensive use of pesticides: agroecology. 

Now I see the authors' motivations. 

Their conclusion emphasizes implementing the precautionary principle. 

I hate the precautionary principle. It is elitist. It assumes that the poor share the affluent policy maker's tolerance for risk. 

The article also states, "The most effective, long-term method to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals is to move away from industrial agriculture."

This is important. 

If anything, the arguments presented show why human rights and safety require a move to MORE industrialized agriculture. The egregious and unacceptable examples they present of how humans are harmed by pesticide use almost exclusively occur in the developing world.  Over exposure, harm to the environment-- these are NOT happening on large farms in the industrialized world.  Misuse mostly occurs on small holder operations in the developing world. They are not bound by regulation and personal protections.  There is no industry, no oversight, no government control.  Those aspects come with industrialization as we saw in this nation, and continue to see as regulations grow and adapt based on evidence. 

Of course, everyone wants to use fewer agricultural inputs, and what is being learned in studies of agroecology are valuable, and could inform those advances. But continued innovation in plant breeding to bring new genetics, supplemented with a little help from genetic engineering, new production practices and improved insect and weed management will be critical to making these adjustments.  We'll also see new chemistries with more specificity and fewer environmental impacts. 

The Author Team

Such documents have great influence and credibility. This document must have been assembled by a team of diverse scholars with great breath of interest and expertise in the subject area.


The author was Hilal Elver, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  She holds a J.D. and Ph.D. in Law and was trained in Ankra and in the USA at UCLA.   She has no clear training in food, farming or associated technologies, so it explains why the work was so poorly cited and disconnected from scientific evidence. You can read her philosophies here, and it explains a lot why her opinions shaped content of this report. 

The other author is Baskut Tuncak, a Washington attorney, now serving as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Toxics.  He heads this a group at the U.N. that focuses on toxic chemicals in the environment and has a great focus on childhood exposure, etc. That's great.  Ideas presented on the associated website are the same as just about every scientist's, and my own. 


Two attorneys cite the Monsanto Tribunal as a legitimate source of information.  How do !!!!!!******TWO ATTORNEYS****!!!!! not realize that this was a fake trial?  They actually cite a  contrived, non-binding, activist-driven trial

*stop screaming* 

The problem is Elver and Tuncak's proposed road map to limit harm. They wish to eliminate the use of safe and effective tools that help people have food, nutrition and quality of life worldwide, and resort to old concepts long replaced. 

I'm guessing that neither of these attorneys have worked on a farm or raised their own fruits and veggies.  

As a scholarly document the U.N. Report lacks in many ways, mostly in its horrible citations. 

But look at the rhetorical setup, which is quite disingenuous, perhaps a product of having attorneys spin the flow.   They:

1.  Present real evidence of pesticide harms which are rampant in the developing world.  

2.  Discuss presence in food, but fail to address quantity present, which are far below physiological relevance.
3.  Disparage genetic engineering technologies with no evidence.
4.  Claim scientists are just bought off and all industry is crooked.
5.  Present alternatives that are impractical for the majority of farmers.

Bottom line-- The U.N. Special Report on the right to food is a highly motivated opinion, poorly cited and with numerous claims not supported by evidence and not consistent with the scholarly literature and the scientific consensus. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

SPECIAL ISSUE: Fighting the Yellow Dragon- The War to Save Florida Citrus

The website Science 2.0 will host a special series of articles written by faculty from my department on the subject of Citrus Greening Disease. This disease, also known as Huanglongbing or HLB, is an insidious infection of the tree's vascular system, leading to death within years. This disease is in 90% of Florida's groves. 

You can access my pilot article here, and please follow the rest of the series. 

Most of all, share the stories with others. Awareness is an important step towards a solution. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fake News-- Before It Was a Thing

Yesterday I was reading my Twitter feed and discovered that the story contrived by Alison Vuchnich at Global News Canada in December of 2015 was surfacing again.  Lately there is an uptick in anti-Folta chatter. 

Back before fake news was a thing, anti-GMO activists were creating false drama with the interest of harming me and my 30-year career as a public scientist, and at the very least destroying my credibility.  The story by Vuchnich was reasonably even handed in content, but the entire premise was, well, bullshit. 

The story was titled "Documents Reveal Canadian Teenager a Target of GMO Lobby" and claimed that I was a centerpiece in harassing Rachel Parent, a young woman that is quite vocal around issues in food and farming.  Unfortunately, she has ideas that are not consistent with science. 

Others have accused her as having motivated reasoning because her family owns a natural food monstrosity that benefits from denigrating conventional ag. However, I simply choose to note that her opinions reflect tired talking points that resonate only in the echo chamber and are not of interest to the scientific community. 

So what's the real story?  

I was in Washington DC and visiting the offices where the GMO Answers website is produced.  The website offers independent scholars and other experts a place to answer questions for the public regarding genetic engineering.  I'm glad to participate because concerned people go there looking for science-based answers. I have evidence-based answers. 

They asked me if I'd answer some questions on video, and I was glad to do that.  One was about Ms. Parent.  I certainly have an opinion about her, so I jotted a few notes and answered the question.

My answer was fair and reasonable.  Watch it here. 

This is the video from the GMO Answers website. (I always look like I just rolled out of bed) 

Now here is how the internet responds to that video:

1. On Global News Canada, Vuchnich places this video in the context of an unused donation to my extensive outreach program, the one that sends seeds to kids and teaches scientists how to talk to people.  She implies that the money was provided to harass Rachel. 

Did she even watch the video? How is Parent a "target"? 

2.  Others like GMO Inside called this video "Monsanto's attack dog"

There is no attack here. I'm quite gracious. 

3.  Even yesterday a guy on Twitter continues the "Monsanto mouthpiece" garbage and says I "hound" Rachel.  

Hounds?  If anything I was complimentary. And I have no relationship whatsoever with the Monsanto Company (I know people that work there, some friends).  

4.  And not to let an opportunity to be construed as a victim pass, Rachel herself repeats the false narrative that this was some sort of coordinated, personal attack. Sadly, she too fails to realize how propagating this story harms her brand, not mine. 

Because being a victim is more important than telling the truth, even if it hurts a public servant. 

The facts are very simple.  I'm a scientist that answers questions for the public in many areas of agriculture and science. It is part of my duty, my job, and something I enjoy.  I speak from the basis of a peer-reviewed literature.

I was in DC and asked if I could answer questions live. I was glad to do that. I was not paid, despite what others imply.  I was grateful for the forum, as always. 

I answered this question honestly.  I'm sad that a bright young woman would be swayed to not investigate evidence, at a time when we should be teaching STEM to kids, and encouraging more women to participate in science.  

Such a monster. 

But read the hateful responses and the false narrative (fake news) that surrounds them. These are people consumed in hate for scientists that speak truths they don't wish to hear.  

It is not about learning, listening and thinking-- it is about hurting the professional reputations those that they disagree with. 

The good news is that time has shown the story to hold no credibility. 

And of course, I always would welcome Rachel to reach out if she has questions.  I would be glad to answer them honestly and teach the science she should consider as part of her synthesis.