A Public Resource Compiled by the

Ceres Trust, The

150 South Wacker Drive Suite 2400
 Chicago IL 60606
501c3 nonprofit

Donor to anti-GMO organizations as part of a broader philanthropic strategy

Key People

  • Judith Kern, Trustee
  • Kent Whealy, Trustee
  • Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director

The Ceres Trust is a major donor to anti-GMO advocacy that believes the “use of genetically engineered crops has resulted in unprecedented corporate ownership of agricultural systems, with seeds increasingly controlled by multinational corporations.” The trust also maintains that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety and blames Monsanto for creating an “epidemic” of  superweeds and superbugs resistant to the company’s pesticides. Ceres works with several anti-GMO, anti-pesticide organizations it calls “grantee partners.” These include the Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network, both of which have received more than $1 million from the Ceres Trust and lobby for bans on GMO crops and related pesticides.

In February 2018, for instance, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approving the herbicide dicamba, which is paired with GMO crops engineered to tolerate the chemical. When used incorrectly, the herbicide can drift and damage crops it’s not intended for. CFS claimed the EPA knew this would happen but “was pressured by Monsanto into approving the pesticide without any measures to prevent vapor drift.” In support of the lawsuit, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) called the situation an “exploding crisis.”

The Ceres Trust has maintained relationships with these and other prominent anti-GMO organizations for many years. Kathryn Gilje, Ceres’ executive director and sole employee since 2014, previously served as co-director of the Pesticide Action Network. While with PAN, Gilje argued in support of lawsuits against the “big 6” biotech companies (then Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow and Dupont Pioneer), alleging that the “agrochemical industry …. operates with impunity while over 355,000 people die from pesticide poisoning every year.”

Kent Whealy, one of two Ceres trustees, is a lifelong advocate of organic agriculture. In 2012, Whealy contributed $1 million to support California’s GMO labeling proposal, Proposition 37, making him one of the largest contributors to the cause. Anti-GMO activist Gary Ruskin managed the Yes on 37 campaign, and went on to co-found U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) in 2014, an organization that claims to have “uncovered secret financial arrangements and close collaborations” between corporations and academics who study crop biotechnology. Along with the progressive activist groups Sum Of Us and MoveOn.org, Ceres was one of the three biggest donors in 2014 to Vermont’s anti-GMO legal defense fund, established to defend the state’s GMO labeling law against challenges in court.

Financial Data


Annual Revenue: $2,748,912 (2016)

Total Assets $19,259,511 (2016)

Major Recipients (total contributions 2012-present)

Center for Food Safety $1,838,289

Pesticide Action Network $1,495,000

Beyond Pesticides $1,230,000

Practical Farmers of Iowa $450,356

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service $351,445

Xerces Society $300,000

Hawaii Seed $393,281

Physicians for Social Responsibility $275,000

Friends of the Earth $270,000

The Cornucopia Institute $120,000

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Note that there are three “levels” of both donors and recipients.

Donations to advocacy groups are sometimes designated to support a specific cause, such as organic agriculture or mitigating climate change. There is no way for us to know from publicly-available documents on what the money will be spent, as we can only see the total amount donated. When we assign the levels below to donors and recipients, we assume that all donations are available to the recipient for all advocacy, including anti-GMO advocacy.

  • Level 1: Donates primarily to dedicated anti-GMO organizations
  • Level 2: A large portion of donations go to anti-GMO organizations; some donations go to organizations without a position on GMOs
  • Level 3: A small portion of donations go to anti-GMO organizations
    * Most donations go to organizations without a formal position on GMOs but which have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activists

For Level 1 recipients, all donations are used for anti-GMO advocacy. For Level 2 and 3 recipients, we don’t know how much of each donation is used for anti-GMO advocacy.

  • Level 1: Dedicated to anti-GMO advocacy
  • Level 2: Involved in anti-GMO advocacy along with other causes
  • Level 3: No specific anti-GMO advocacy, but general support
    * Organizations without a formal position on GMOs but which have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activists
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