Who would not trust the opinion of "a non-profit association of academics, researchers, teachers and qualified authors from all over the world", committed against "falsehoods, rough statements, theories and claims not subject to a rigorous review »?
This is how paper is presented - still - on its websiteAcademics Review, a panel of "independent experts in the field of agriculture and food sciences" formed in January 2010 by Bruce Chassy (at the time a professor at the University of Illinois) and David Tribe (associate professor at the University of Melbourne).
In April 2014, the organization published a 30-page study entitled "The Organic Marketing Report" which bluntly attacks the "decades-long public disinformation campaign" aimed at convincing consumers of the higher quality and food safety of organic products than conventional ones.
The report, thanks to the authoritativeness guaranteed by its status of "independent research", gains considerable media coverage. On the other hand, Academics Review ensures the absence of conflicts of interest in research and specifies that the group "only accepts donations not bound by restrictions and from sources not related to industry".
All clear? Yes. Indeed no, because it will only be discovered later that Academics Review is nothing more than the coverage of a broader an operation orchestrated by Monsanto to discredit organic agriculture - along with a host of bulky enemies.
"Keep Monsanto in the shadows"
The story began in March 2010 with an exchange of emails between the professor Bruce Chassy, a food science professor known for his strong commitment to GMOs, and Jay Birne, a former member of the administration and campaign staff of Bill Clinton, then head of communication for Monsanto and finally founder of a public relations agency.
Chassy immediately declares his intentions: "I would like to have a leading name in the bio world to which to launch ballistic missiles ...", he writes to the interlocutor, adding, however, "I certainly don't have the money".
Byrne suggests to work "first of all and quickly on money (for all of us)!" And explains that he is about to discuss the Academics Review project with Val Giddins (former vice president of BIO, the lobby of the biotechnology industry) and ready to seek financial support from the Center for Consumer Freedom.
The latter body is the emanation of Rick Berman, a character who seems to have come out of the film Thank you for smoking: nicknamed "Doctor Male", Berman is a lobbyist known to have worked in favor of the tobacco industry and other economic interests masked behind the cover of innocent research groups.
In addition to his knowledge, Byrne also puts on a plate list of objectives including personalities, organizations and critical content towards GMOs and Monsanto: blacklisted famous activists such as Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell and Ronnie Cummins, the Sierra Club (the oldest American environmental association), Greenpeace, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Michael Pollan's book "In defense of food" , the documentary films "Food, Inc" and "The world according to Monsanto", as well as a number of themes defined as "risk areas for agro-biotechnology (contamination, bees, butterflies, human safety ...)".
"All these individuals, organizations, content and thematic areas mean money for a number of well-established companies," explains Byrne, adding: "I think Val [Giddins, Editor's note] and I can identify them and provide the appropriate commercial (non-academic) means by which these entities can be connected to the project in order to guarantee the credibility and independence (and therefore the value) of the authors ".
"Sounds good - Chassy replies - I'm sure you'll let me know what you're discussing."
In another e-mail exchange dated November 30, 2010, Monsanto's public relations officer Eric Sachs discusses with Chassy how to support Academics Review by "keeping Monsanto in the shadows."
Lo scandal it will emerge only years later: the last post published on the Academics Review website is dated September 2, 2015 and challenges the decision of the NGO US Right To Know to appeal to the Freedom of Information Act to obtain correspondences between Chassy and men from the university of Monsanto.
In March 2016, journalist Monica Eng of WBEZ radio publishes documents demonstrating how Monsanto paid Professor Chassy more than $ 57 over a 23-month period as consideration for a series of conferences and publications (and related travel expenses) on the GMO theme.
The money is part of a larger flow, never declared and quantifiable in at least 5,1 million dollars, which through the foundation of the University of Illinois has funded academic researchers and study programs between 2005 and 2015.
Both Monsanto and Bruce Chassy (retired in the meantime in 2012) have declined to comment and provide further explanation.
Lies have long legs (almost always)
Il j'accuse of the Academics Review, as was said, had wide echo at the time of publication. Even after the discovery of the scandal, authoritative media continue to cite Chassy as an authoritative source: it happened for example in two different articles published by the Associated Press during 2016.
On the New York Post, Naomi Schaffer Riley will build from Chassy's report a piece against «the tyranny of mommy mafia organic "and the culture of alarmism. John R. Block, former Secretary of State for Agriculture under the Reagan presidency and agribusiness lobbyist, greets the research that has finally revealed the "black marketing" techniques underlying the success of organic products.
Among the most convinced supporters of the theses expressed by the Academics Review there is Henry I. Miller, physician and popularizer with hundreds of publications to his credit, as well as leading columnist on numerous American press organs: Newsweek, National Review, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Forbes to name only the most prestigious.
Miller, like Chassy, is also a champion of deregulation and corporate interests in research. It is famous for example for having claimed that nicotine "is not particularly harmful" and for having repeatedly asked for the reintroduction of the DDT, but it is also one of the best known and most prolific defenders of genetically modified organisms.
Fortunately, lies don't always have long legs. On August 1, the New York Times spoke of "documents showing that Henry I. Miller asked Monsanto to write an article for him, largely reflecting a piece that appeared in his name on the Forbes website in 2015. Forbes he removed the story from the website and said he ended his relationship with Miller following these revelations. "
Along with the offending piece, the articles co-authored by Miller along with other agribusiness supporters such as Julie Kelly, Kavin Senapathy and Bruce Chassy himself have also been removed. All had declared their "independence" by speaking out in defense of pesticides and GMOs.
In the emails, the aforementioned Eric Sachs asks Miller, on behalf of Monsanto, to write something about the decision of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Iarc) to classify the glyphosate as a possible human carcinogen. Miller replies, "I would do it if I could start from a high-value draft." Sachs provides him with what he thinks is "a good starting point for your magic." A few days later it will appear, with few alterations, on the columns of Forbes.
We tell you all this because it is news of last week that Monsanto, pending a final decision by the European Union on the possible ban on glyphosate, has decided to bring Iarc to court accusing him of not having considered two studies carried out in Germany that would demonstrate that the carcinogenic potential of the substance is "extremely low or non-existent". Until proven otherwise, there is no reason to doubt it, but it is legitimate to wonder how many more Bruce Chassy and Henry Miller are needed before starting to ask some serious questions about the links between science, large industry and information.