University professor takes relationship with Monsanto to the next level

Kevin’s Folta’s email signature reads, “Don’t tell me it can’t be done… Tell me how you are going to help me do it.” When Monsanto representatives approached Folta in 2013 to use him as a “good public interface,” they told him exactly how they were going to help him do it… with lots of unrestricted funding.

Folta worked his graduate students into the mix, to make sure he was indoctrinating new scientists into the Monsanto fold. (In 2014, Kevin wrote, “We need students on our side, and let’s get materials in their hands.”) After all, not working with Monsanto may reduce you to being a penniless researcher. As one anonymous PhD student (at a large land-grant university, like Folta’s University of Florida) described, not playing by the rules can leave you unfunded and maybe jobless:

When I approached professors to discuss research projects addressing organic agriculture in farmer’s markets, the first one told me that ‘no one cares about people selling food in parking lots on the other side of the train tracks. My academic adviser told me my best bet was to write a grant for Monsanto or the Department of Homeland Security to fund my research on why farmer’s markets were stocked with “black market vegetables” that “are a bioterrorism threat waiting to happen.” It was communicated to me on more than one occasion throughout my education that I should just study something Monsanto would fund rather than ideas to which I was deeply committed. I ended up studying what I wanted, but received no financial support, and paid for my education out of pocket.

In 2014, one of Folta’s emails reveals his disdain for the movement away from GMO products. He lamented this fact in an email to Cathleen Enright, former Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information (the GMO industry front group that runs the propaganda website), “The whole issue is reaching a dangerous pace. The new assault on science and reason with fear marketing is staggering. Between Cheerios and Chipotle, etc, they are essentially validating the crazy concerns. We need companies to stand up to the pressure, not to bend.”

Folta’s drive to protect GMOs and corporations like Monsanto and Dow reads borderline manic. Perhaps it is his background in communications that makes Folta sound like such a driven salesman, and a pusher for the multi-national corporations who padded his research with their money. In a 2014 email, Folta said: “We need to continue to focus the discussion forward into missed opportunities, win back the emotional capital. MON, DOW, etc need to run commercials about the future products of biotech ag. Get people excited about what can be, what will be, unless some do-gooder tries to stop it.” Folta, apparently, would not describe himself as a “do-gooder.”

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Why is Folta suddenly giving Monsanto advice on how to run their PR campaign? Wasn’t he supposed to just be a scientist who colluded with them?

Folta sequenced the strawberry genome (not as interesting as sequencing the Neanderthal genome, but I digress) yet at some point in his career he began to lie in bed with Monsanto, and even became so familiar that Monsanto representatives, like Lisa Drake, turned to him for advice on how to convince the public that GMOs were safe.

In an email to Kevin, Drake of the Monsanto Company wrote, “cynical anti-GM activists – and while they say these campaigns are all about right to know, their constant hammering about safety, and what is in our foods, and kids getting sick, is driving votes. I have asked the campaign to consider a letter… that I hope many scientists will sign onto, to refute these safety allegations, not to debate labeling. What are your thoughts on such an approach?”

The blurred (or completely absent) line between Monsanto’s PR firm and Folta in the emails is apparent. Perhaps instead of sequencing small fruit genomes, Folta should switch careers to becoming a PR spokesperson for Monsanto… oh wait, he already is.


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