GMOanswers.com is a website sponsored by industry. I've never hid that, never downplayed that. When I talk about the website in a public talk, I say, "This is a site sponsored by industry where you can find information from experts." That's what it is.
What's my relationship with GMO Answers? How much am I paid? What's in it for me? Who's really pulling the strings? This is what US-RTK wants to know. Here are the answers.
How I got connected with GMOanswers.com
For 12 years I've answered questions on transgenic technology for concerned public audiences. People are worried about food and biotech, in part because it is science they don't understand, in part because many have painted it so negatively.
I understand the stuff, I've been studying it forever, and I know how to talk about it in ways that people can understand. However, one of the biggest frustrations was that my efforts were scattered all over internet. Even I didn't know where my answers (some with substantial time investment) sat in time and space.
When I heard about GMOanswers.com I was excited. Here would be a place where we could answer questions for the public about transgenic crop biology. One stop shopping, one place where information could gather from experts. We would not have to have endless redundancy, we'd be able to read each others' work, and most of all, we'd build a resource for people concerned about food and associated technologies.
It was a tent where teachers could teach, where experts could connect with those that had questions. Perfect.
What do I get for my time?
I've answered a few dozen questions on the site. What did I get in return?
-- I have never received any financial compensation for my time
-- They invited me to a dinner back when they first kicked off, which I attended. It was a time to meet with their leadership. They also invited people from organic farms, food banks, and others not traditionally excited about transgenic technology.
-- They bought me lunch when I was in Washington DC once.
-- Somewhere along the line I got a "GMO Answers" plastic cup.
Who influences my answers?
I have never been influenced by any company or individual to change an answer except for two instances.
1. I was told that shorter answers are more effective (I was being too detailed)
2. I was contacted by a zucchini breeder from Monsanto when I incorrectly stated that there were no transgenic zucchini. Turns out these were bred from virus-resistant squash.
My answers are 100% consistent with the peer-reviewed literature. They are not opinions. They are a synthesis of available data for the good of teaching.
What about associations with Ketchum employees?
One of their employees is a UF graduate and lives in Gainesville. She usually assigns me the questions to answer. A few professors that answer questions for GMOanswers (David Oppenheimer and Curt Hannah) were going out to get a beer and bring out laptops after work on a Friday, just to answer a bunch of questions (yes, exciting lives). She met us there.
We all helped each other answer the questions well and she assisted as a non-scientist that could help hone our answers.
And Ketchum didn't buy us onion rings or a beer. We paid it ourselves, out of our pockets, like always.
There's my relationship with GMOanswers.com. Those are the deep insidious ties that made me the target of an information request.
I appreciate, very deeply, that there is a place where I can hone a perfect answer to someone's concerns, and forever have a place where I can point others. That's a big deal for me. It is about being an effective teacher, sharing science, and helping others learn about technology.
That's the 'crime' that triggered the invasive request into my records, and likely will be used with the intent to find any way to harm my reputation in science.