Billing itself as the “birthplace of American organic agriculture,” the Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by J.I. Rodale to combat “the nutrient poverty and poor health of the nation’s soil” in the wake of World War II. Today the institute is one of the foremost defenders of organic farming and critics of conventional agriculture, maintaining close relationships with high-profile anti-GMO advocacy groups in the United States.
Maria Rodale, former chairman and CEO of Rodale Inc. and granddaughter of J.I. Rodale has served as an advisory board member to the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Organic Consumers Association (OCA), both vocally anti-GMO outfits known for their aggressive public relations and litigation tactics.
Center for Food Safety, funded largely by the organic food industry, frequently sues the US Environmental Protection Agency and biotech companies to restrict or ban the use of synthetic pesticides and GMO crops. The advocacy group says its work is meant to counter the “widespread misconceptions regarding GMOs, some of which have infiltrated supposedly objective information purveyed by government agencies.”
For many years, OCA was the largest donor to U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), a California-based advocacy group that harasses agricultural scientists who defend crop biotechnology. Using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, USRTK gains access to the private communications of academic researchers, regulators and journalists and leaks the information online, alleging collusion between biotech companies, the US government and media. The group’s investigations have been used as evidence in a series of lawsuits against Bayer claiming its weed killer Roundup (glyphosate) causes cancer.
Rodale takes a similarly dim view of glyphosate. It endorses the view of Dr. Zach Bush, an alternative medicine proponent and supplement salesman, that Roundup damages the human gut microbiome, causing inflammation and “leading to an abundance of neuro disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and autism.” Bush has been criticized by other physicians for his poor understanding of genetics and human health, and experts reject the idea that glyphosate has any negative impact on gut health.
The Rodale Institute is funded in large part by the Rodale Family Foundation. From 2015-2018, the institute received more than $5 million from the foundation, according to its IRS filings. In 2017 the William Penn Foundation donated nearly $6 million to the Rodale Institute, which helped support the institute’s ongoing study comparing organic and conventional farming systems.
Launched in 1981, the study shows that “organic management practices match or outperform conventional,” Rodale claims. However, this conclusion is contradicted by multiple independent studies. The William Penn Foundation also supported openly anti-GMO groups including the Sierra Club ($300,000) and Natural Resources Defense Council (16,000) in 2017.
Annual Revenue: $11,649,116 (2018)
Total Assets:$ 28,836,323 (2018)
Major Donors (total contributions 2012-present)
William Penn Foundation $5,994,500
Rodal Family Foundation $5,051,560
Wyncote Foundation $1,000,000
Government grants $330,000
Barnwood Foundation $70,000