A Public Resource Compiled by the

John Merck Fund

31 St. James Avenue Suite 888
Boston, MA 02116
501c3 nonprofit

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

Key People

  • Christine H. James, Executive Director
  • Nancy Stockford, Director of Operations
  • Ninya Loeppky, Program Associate
  • Karen R. Harris, Clean Energy Program Consultant

Established in 1970, The John Merck Fund (JMF) supports efforts to reform America’s energy system, cut chemicals use, and improve food production. It’s overarching goal is to protect “children with developmental disabilities, victims of climate disruption, families suffering from air pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals, and communities without access to healthy food ….” Through its “health and environment” and “regional food systems” grant programs, the fund contributes millions of dollars to anti-GMO and organic food advocacy.

JMF views agricultural pesticides as a major contributor to “a wide range of reproductive, neurological, developmental and immunological health impacts.” The fund further contends that “America’s industrialized and massive-scale agricultural system contributes to climate change, water scarcity and pollution, food-borne illness, antibiotic resistance, loss of wildlife and habitat, obesity and other disease and food insecurity.”

Operating under this paradigm, JMF has donated more than $1.5 million to the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a consumer and environmental nonprofit that believes “Monsanto [is] destroying farms and food worldwide.” VPIRG lobbied heavily in support of Vermont’s 2014 GMO labeling law, the first of its kind in the US.

The group also endorses the retracted research of geneticist Gilles-Eric Séralini, which alleges that GMO corn treated with the weed killer glyphosate could cause cancer. The study was fiercely criticized by experts immediately upon its publication, but VPIRG backed Séralini, arguing that his “study questioned the safety of GMO foods finding solid scientific evidence that the herbicide glyphosate, prominent in Roundup Ready GMO crops …. has toxic effects in blood, liver and kidneys, and is associated with an increase of cancerous tumors in rats.”

JMF has contributed just over $1.3 million to the New Venture Fund, a donor-driven nonprofit that supports the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders (SAFS). SAFS is a network of “mission-driven” donors and investors that supports organic agriculture. Partnering with the anti-GMO Center for Food Safety, SAFS has claimed that biotech crops “have potential implications for human health, as well as negative effects on justice and food sovereignty.” It counts among its members the Clif Bar Family Foundation, Gaia Fund, the New Field Foundation and the Marisla Foundation—each a substantial donor to organic farming anti-crop biotechnology advocacy in its own right.

Financial Data


Annual Revenue: $2,669,836 (2017)

Total Assets:$40,438,285 (2017)

Major Recipients (total contributions 2012-present)

Vermont Public Interest Research Group $1,625,000

New Venture Fund $1,313,500

Washington Toxics Coalition $955,000

Kitchen Table Campaigns $800,000.00

Health Care Without Harm $620,000

Toxics Action Center $460,000

Silent Spring Institute $330,000

BlueGreen Alliance Foundation $285,000

Natural Resources Defense Council $275,000

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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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