November 6, 2013

Natural Foodie: Extolling corn-free diet draws backlash, raises questions

A Maine writer gets lots of media attention from a variety of sources.

By Avery Yale Kamila

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Caitlin Shetterly has adopted a corn-free lifetstyle because of her concern about the effects of derivatives of genetically modified corn on her health.

Contributed photo

For the Slate piece, Entine contacted the sources Shetterly quoted in her story. He found that many of these sources were uncomfortable with how they were quoted, with one saying Shetterly “totally twisted what I said.”

But there seems to be a deeper and more disturbing aspect to these after-the-fact retractions. Are those in the scientific and medical communities afraid to cast doubt on products made by the powerful biotechnology and chemical industries?

ELLE RESPONDS TO CRITICS

On Aug. 9, Elle published a rebuttal to Entine’s Slate piece. The rebuttal points out that Entine ignored passages in Shetterly’s story that cast doubt on the GMO corn allergy theory. Yet the most troubling information comes at the end of the rebuttal.

Elle’s editors write: “In the course of reporting the piece, Shetterly spoke with a number of researchers and medical professionals who told her they couldn’t go on the record about their doubts about GMOs because they feared being sued by a biotech or agriculture company, or losing grant money provided by the private sector.”

This will come as no surprise to those who see a massive conspiracy involving researchers, government and corporate America. Yet, for the rest of us this assertion raises serious concerns about a field that is viewed by many (both inside and outside of scientific research organizations) as pure and free of bias.

The Elle rebuttal also questions whether or not Entine is an independent journalist. Turns out Elle isn’t the first publication to do so.

In early 2012, Mother Jones magazine published a story by Tom Philpott called “The Making of an Agribusiness Apologist,” which examined Entine’s work defending the herbicide atrazine. The Mother Jones piece looked at Entine’s ties to atrazine maker Sygenta. According to Philpott, Sygenta provides funding to the American Council on Science and Health, which published a book by Entine titled “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health.”

Philpott wasn’t able to prove Sygenta paid for Entine’s pro-atrazine writing, but he raises legitimate concerns about Entine’s independence.

Of particular interest to the current attack on Shetterly is what Philpott found on Entine’s consulting website. While the text is no longer there, Philpott wrote that the website listed Monsanto as a “select client.” Entine explained it away, saying years ago he did work for a company created by former Monsanto executives. Monsanto is one of the largest producers of gene-altered corn.

I contacted Entine by email and asked if biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto, fund any of his work. He said “no,” but didn’t elaborate on who pays for his writing.

“I challenge you to find analyses by me that are not grounded in empirical science,” Entine said in his email.

JOURNALIST OR PR SPIN MASTER?

Whether or not his work is grounded in science isn’t enough for some media watchers.

“Jon Entine can assert that he is not funded by any biotech firms, but quite frankly there is no way for anyone to actually verify that claim,” said Lisa Graves, executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit which works to expose corporate spin masquerading as legitimate journalism.

Philpott relied on a Center for Media and Democracy report on Sygenta for much of his reporting on Entine.

Graves goes on to discuss Entine’s connections to organizations including the American Council on Science and Health, the American Enterprise Institute and the STATS organization at George Mason University. She said these organizations either don’t disclose full information on funding sources or obtain funding from biotechnology companies directly or from nonprofits funded by biotech money, such as the Searle Freedom Trust.

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