Emails show anti-GMO organic activists driving food and farming policy at Consumer Reports

September 8, 2016
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

On their website, Consumers Union [publisher of Consumer Reports; Read Genes and Science’s Profile of Consumer Reports] claims to be impartial and unbiased. So why are they actively collaborating with anti-biotechnology groups and the organic industry behind the scenes?

Recently obtained emails from Washington State University via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show Senior Staff Scientist Michael Hansen [NOTE: Read Genes and Science’s Profile of Michael Hansen] using his Consumers Union email to actively participate in the gmolist—the ‘Independent’ anti-biotech scientists and activists Google Group for secret coordination and planned attacks.

Michael Hansen

In one email he describes environmentalist Mark Lynas and ex-Greenpeace turned Golden Rice promoter Patrick Moore as “puppets for industry”. He recommends using Belinda Martineau as a counter to them, being a qualified scientist critical of the technology.

If Hansen had used a private email address, one could allow for him as a private individual to communicate with people sharing his views as he chooses. But here he is seen acting in official capacity for Consumers Union.

Members of the gmolist with industry connections include:

  • Sarah Compson of the Soil Association in the UK
  • Janet Cotter of Logos Environmental, whose business offers “advice” to NGOs about biotechnology.
  • John Fagan [Read Genes and Science’s Profile of John Fagan], the original founder of Genetic ID used by the Non-GMO Project [Read Genes and Science’s Profile of Non-GMO Project] to test food.
    Jim Diamond of the Sierra Club
  • Ken Roseboro of the industry funded trade magazine, The Organic and Non-GMO Report
    Charles Benbrook [Read Genes and Science’s Profile of Charles Benbrook], organic industry consultant

This last name on the list, Charles Benbrook, is perhaps the most controversial of them all. Consumers Union has used him in many reports to promote the organic food industry and instill fear into families about eating fruits and vegetables. Most recently in 2015 he consulted with their staff scientists scientists on an article with many false and misleading claims. The report mentions that “natural” pesticides used in organic farming are generally safer than “synthetic” pesticides used in conventional farming practices, an untrue statement.

Related article:  Audio: Greenpeace, UK farmers and chemical industry square off over neonicotinoid pesticide ban

Consumers Union failed to disclose the funding Benbrook has received from industry for his consulting services as well as his research during his time at Washington State University. This is information that Consumers Union should have been aware of with Michael Hansen and Benbrook collaborating together in the gmolist.

Former United States Surgeon General Koop once described Michael Hansen’s fearmongering campaign as “baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible.” Considering that Consumers Union has always taken a pro-vaccination stance, Hansen is also a danger to public health. Steven Druker, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan on the gmolist are all part of the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation cult which was responsible for a measles outbreak in Iowa (Claire Robinson is the manager of the gmolist).

Consumers Union claims to empower “consumers with the knowledge they need to make better and more informed choices” and claim to be free of “commercial influences”. This may be true on matters such as interest rates and warning about the dangers of cigarettes. When it comes to our food supply their senior staff scientist appears to be deeply influenced by corporations with the goal to spread fear rather than knowledge.

This article originally appeared on We Love GMOs and Vaccines here and was reposted with permission of the author.

Stephan Neidenbach is a middle school teacher in living in Annapolis, MD. He holds a BS in business administration from Salisbury University and a MS in Instructional Technology from University of Maryland University College. He started and runs the Facebook group We Love GMOs and Vaccines, follow him on twitter @welovegv.

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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