Union of Concerned Scientists are only concerned if they are paid to be
In a response to anti-GMO campaigners requesting endorsement, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) promised to look into it in exchange for funding.
With heavy funding from all sides of the issue (with most funding from both sides coming from out of state), the 2012 election in California involved the question of whether or not food that contained ingredients derived from biotechnology should be labeled.
Leading the campaign in favor of labeling was Gary Ruskin of California Right to Know. Given UCS’ prior negative reports of biotechnology, it more than likely seemed logical for Mr. Ruskin to reach out to them for endorsement.
Margaret Mellon, UCS Senior Scientist until 2014, responded that it wasn’t on their agenda. But because Andrew Kimbrell (founder and executive director of Center for Food Safety) was a donor, they would consider it based on the idea that it would get them more funding.
Director of the UCS Food & Environment Program, Ricardo Salvador, found the idea of funding from Kimbrell to be very “useful to know”. He went on to say that they would “take it up internally on those terms”.
The email in question was posted on Medium as part of a rebuttal by Paul Thacker, who has been in a war of words with UCS for the past several years over FOIA requests. UCS believes Mr. Thacker, and his ally Gary Ruskin, are abusing FOIA requests. Thacker and Ruskin appear to be confused as to how any government transparency can be a bad thing.
Gary Ruskin who runs U.S. Right to Know says he finds the whole thing baffling. His organization is funded in part by organic food consumers, leading to charges of bias. But emails show that UCS seems to have its own financial conflicts of interest on issues of food. When the group was approached to sign on to a campaign in favor of GMO labeling, a UCS employee emailed back that it would hinge on funding. “GMO labeling is a major issue for Andy Kimbrell, one of our funders, and doing something on it here might enhance the program’s prospects for getting funding from him,” the UCS employee wrote.
When Ruskin first started investigating the food industry, he asked UCS for advice on how to make public information requests that would not be perceived as harassment or bullying. In an email, UCS advised him to only ask for documents about a scientist’s funding, a suggestion that he promptly ignored. Documents his group gathered have led to stories in Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Chicago Public Radio, BMJ, Mother Jones, Le Monde, The Nation, and The Intercept.
UCS even promotes Kimbrell’s Center for Food Safety on their web page without disclosing this conflict of interest. Doug Gurian-Sherman, another UCS Senior Scientist, also worked for Kimbrell’s organization both before and after his time with UCS. Again, funding from Kimbrell does not appear to be disclosed despite this connection.
According to their web site, one goal of UCS is to:
fight back when powerful corporations or special interests mislead the public on science
Given that as far back as 1997 Andrew Kimbrell famously told a reporter, “We are going to force them to label this food. If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it”, is UCS really living up to their own objectives in fighting special interests that mislead the public?