A few months ago, an article in the journal Nature revealed that Florida University Professor Kevin Folta had received 25,000 USD from Monsanto in what appears to be a move for damage limitation. The journal also mentions that the money was paid in form of a grant with the postscript of “using it as per your (Mr.Folta’s) discretion for research and outreach projects”.
Instead of keeping mum, Kevin Folta went on Twitter and other social media platforms lying outrageously about his Monsanto ties. The secret was out in the open when someone, quite hilariously, posted this story on, of all places, Craigslist!
Folta often writes for the website GMOAnswers which is funded by DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow Agro Sciences and other members of the Council of Biotechnology Information. The collaboration between Folta and Monsanto was also further revealed in nearly 5000 pages worth of emails through an investigation carried out by the US Right To Know food (FOIA) transparency campaign.
Also, according to this newsreport on Buzzfeed, Folta also gave an interview through a podcast with Vern Blazek of the Science Power Hour wherein Folta severely criticized anti-GMO activists for making misguided attempts of tying scientists with the Agricultural Biotech Giants. Some people are now saying that Vern Blazek was none other than Kevin Folta’s alter ego. When this matter came to light, Kevin allegedly killed the show with the following tweet:
“Sad news. Vern Blazek was found hunched over his microphone mid-interview tonight. He apparently choked on a piece of gluten-free pizza. The soft, structure-free gooey crust lodged in his windpipe, and by the time the paramedics arrived he had expired.
Thanks to all that followed him. Maybe his work will rise again.”
It was 2 weeks after this incidence that the FOIA discovered those emails between individual scientists , namely Folta, working on projects related to food and Biotech companies especially Monsanto. After mining through nearly 4600 pages of correspondence between Folta and Monsanto, the group discovered financial dealings between the two. Also, Kevin had been supposedly emailing Ketchum which happens to be the PR firm for the Council of Biotechnology Information of which Monsanto is a member. Earlier, Monsanto had also commissioned Kevin to speak to Colorado farmers about GMOs when they had been skeptical about dealing directly with the Biotech Company.
But what angers the public the most is the fact that Kevin Folta denied receiving $25,000 to use as he saw fit. Public anger especially escalated against Folta when NYT exposed him last month. It is not surprising that Folta has been on the receiving end of all the anger with even strangers calling him a liar and whore to his face. The attack on Craigslist Gainesville has also been of a personal nature with people suggesting that Folta’s (dead) mother would be ashamed of him.
Kevin continues to maintain his surprise and innocence about how his choices are causing so much upset and anger. A few weeks after this, he re-launched Blazek’s social media accounts and even added a profile picture of himself in ‘disguise’ complete with photo-shopped sunglasses and a wig. The portal also went on to give a disclaimer that the host of the show is not a ‘real person’. This is not surprising given the fact that all those who are pro-GMO have always had to make death threats and hate mail a part of their lives.
What we must highlight here is the fact that his attempts to hide his podcast’s real origins definitely indicate that he has always had something up his sleeve.
The entire episode also drew attention to the increasingly blurring lines between politics, Universities, Science and Big Corporations. Where medical science has set strict parameters Agriculture Science has not yet learnt to handle the interaction between Industries and Academicians. Also, it is very imperative that the field sets these parameters and also gives vital explanations to the public about the delicate relationship between Industries and researchers.
In the nasty fight in between the public and the GMO companies, FOIA has been a key player. But one thing is clear here: Kevin Folta is clearly one of the groups of scientists that believe GMOs are the solution to ending world hunger.
Naturally, GreenPeace and Organic consumers Association disagree vehemently over this. They claim that many tests have clearly indicated GMOs to be the root cause of many lifestyle diseases including cancer. Folta has been very active in promoting the safety of GMO crops-from answering hostile comments on his blog to doing live “Ask Me Anything” events on Reddit, Kevin Folta is a loyal soldier who, we are sure, Monsanto feels blessed to have on its side. For more than 2 years now, Kevin has maintained loose ties with Ketchum and Monsanto and conducted ‘individual’ research on the safety of GMO.
In April 2013, Folta allegedly received an email from Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, who ranted against GMOs and in particular, against their major weed killer Glysophate. Folta had criticized Honeycutt saying there is no scientific evidence that GMO is harmful.
Monsanto naturally approved of this saying that “The Company appreciates when individual scientists attempt to educate the people”.
On June 4 2015, Folta made the statement: “I have nothing to do with Monsanto. “
By Fall 2015, the news broke out that Kevin had received grants from the company.
We aren’t saying that all relationships between Academia and Industry are bad. But what we do know for sure is that most of the time, the industry is only in it for the money. Companies like Monsanto have also increasingly made farming a corporate dependent field. With scientists like Folta heading the University Horticultural Department, it is evident that they depend on the industry for Grants. In many cases, if researchers cannot pull grants, they actually lose their jobs.
Some scholars believe that it is not entirely the researchers’ fault: many times they simply cross the line and stop being true to themselves.
Throughout the so called “Kevin-Blazek podcast interview”, Folta kept bringing up the fact that it is a “huge myth that all scientists are paid puppets of industry corporations.
People who have been in touch with Kevin personally believe that his only intention behind creating those podcasts was to have some innocent fun. Folta later also gave a teary eyed talk saying people were always trying to connect him with Monsanto. He also admitted to using the grant money for only his outreach workshops. He also tried to return the money to Monsanto but the company refused to take it back so it went to the campus food pantry.
Kevin regrets the way the situation has turned out. Said Folta recently in an interview, “I will try to do things differently, had I been given another chance”. He ended the interview with tears in his eyes saying: ““The only reason [for] any of these things that we’ve talked about is because I tried doing the right thing,” he said. “I really do.”
Monsanto crybaby? We think so!
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