6 Ways This Ivy League University Is Acting Like a PR Firm for Junk Food, GMOs and Pesticides

Consumers lose when professors get their marching orders from Big Ag and Big Food.

If a scientist has a relationship with a large company, how can the public fully trust the statements they are making about that company’s products? When these relationships aren’t made public, things get even murkier.

But that’s exactly what’s happening in the U.S. food industry, where large corporations enlist university academics to provide their imprimatur on a host of consumer products—some of which may actually be unhealthy and even unsafe.

Like so much else, it comes down to money: Big agriculture and food companies like Monsanto and Coca-Cola are able to procure influence among academics by providing research funding—and sometimes even research topics. The danger is that the resulting “research” could amount to little more than corporate-funded marketing that, to the unwitting public, has the stamp of approval from a prestigious university.

In particular, relationships between food companies and academia has caused professors to take sides on controversial issues, swaying the “science” on issues that matter to Big Food and Ag—like junk food, GMOs and pesticides—issues that also have the potential to have a profound, and possibly negative impact on human health.

Laura Schmidt, professor of health policy at the school of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said monetary relationships between academics and food corporations, like sugary beverage and junk food companies, are destructive to both the credibility of science and public health.

“I would go as far as to say that it is immoral,” said Schmidt, whose research focuses on addiction, poverty, obesity-related metabolic disease. “We’re talking people getting sick. And the idea that scientists are allowing themselves to be purchased by corporations … is a big problem.”

One repeat offender is Cornell University, several of whose professors have been lured into the propaganda machines of Big Ag and Big Food. One professor, Brian Wansink, the director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab, is facing allegations of self-plagiarism and possible data misrepresentation in multiple papers and studies. The Journal of Sensory Studies even retracted one of Wansink’s studies because it contained a “major overlap” with another study he published.

Cornell is a prestigious Ivy League school. So when their professors support junk food, pesticides and GMOs, it can have a damaging and potentially lasting impact worldwide.

Here are six ways Cornell has become a PR agency for Big Food and Big Ag.

1. Cornell professor Tony Shelton followed a Monsanto executive’s suggestion to write a pro-GMO paper.

Anthony Shelton, professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell, co-wrote a paper published on a pro-GMO site, the Genetic Literacy Project, about the sustainability benefits of herbicide and insect tolerant plants as a part of a special report titled “Beyond the Science.”

It was later revealed through emails obtained through FOIA requests by U.S. Right To Know, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in the food system, that Eric Sachs, a Monsanto Outreach Lead, had contacted eight academics, including Shelton, to author the papers in this pro-GMO series. Though the professors weren’t paid to write these papers, the email provided the researchers specific topics with suggested backgrounds to keep in mind while authoring their work.

The email stated that the paper topics were chosen based upon their impact on consumer acceptance and public policy—and that the goal was to increase the public’s understanding of the benefits of GMO crops.

If a scientist has a relationship with a large company, how can the public fully trust the statements they are making about that company’s products? When these relationships aren’t made public, things get even murkier.

But that’s exactly what’s happening in the U.S. food industry, where large corporations enlist university academics to provide their imprimatur on a host of consumer products—some of which may actually be unhealthy and even unsafe.

Like so much else, it comes down to money: Big agriculture and food companies like Monsanto and Coca-Cola are able to procure influence among academics by providing research funding—and sometimes even research topics. The danger is that the resulting “research” could amount to little more than corporate-funded marketing that, to the unwitting public, has the stamp of approval from a prestigious university.

In particular, relationships between food companies and academia has caused professors to take sides on controversial issues, swaying the “science” on issues that matter to Big Food and Ag—like junk food, GMOs and pesticides—issues that also have the potential to have a profound, and possibly negative impact on human health.

Laura Schmidt, professor of health policy at the school of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said monetary relationships between academics and food corporations, like sugary beverage and junk food companies, are destructive to both the credibility of science and public health.

“I would go as far as to say that it is immoral,” said Schmidt, whose research focuses on addiction, poverty, obesity-related metabolic disease. “We’re talking people getting sick. And the idea that scientists are allowing themselves to be purchased by corporations … is a big problem.”

One repeat offender is Cornell University, several of whose professors have been lured into the propaganda machines of Big Ag and Big Food. One professor, Brian Wansink, the director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab, is facing allegations of self-plagiarism and possible data misrepresentation in multiple papers and studies. The Journal of Sensory Studies even retracted one of Wansink’s studies because it contained a “major overlap” with another study he published.

Cornell is a prestigious Ivy League school. So when their professors support junk food, pesticides and GMOs, it can have a damaging and potentially lasting impact worldwide.

Here are six ways Cornell has become a PR agency for Big Food and Big Ag.

1. Cornell professor Tony Shelton followed a Monsanto executive’s suggestion to write a pro-GMO paper.

Anthony Shelton, professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell, co-wrote a paper published on a pro-GMO site, the Genetic Literacy Project, about the sustainability benefits of herbicide and insect tolerant plants as a part of a special report titled “Beyond the Science.”

It was later revealed through emails obtained through FOIA requests by U.S. Right To Know, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in the food system, that Eric Sachs, a Monsanto Outreach Lead, had contacted eight academics, including Shelton, to author the papers in this pro-GMO series. Though the professors weren’t paid to write these papers, the email provided the researchers specific topics with suggested backgrounds to keep in mind while authoring their work.

The email stated that the paper topics were chosen based upon their impact on consumer acceptance and public policy—and that the goal was to increase the public’s understanding of the benefits of GMO crops.

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