FOIA'd E-Mails Open Window on GMO Lobbying by Academics

September 9, 2015

Investigative reporting in the environmental area depends on the Freedom of Information Act — and on some FOIA access to e-mails from quasi-governmental organizations. The latest exposé on GMO lobbying in the New York Times by double-Pulitzer-winner Eric Lipton is a good example.

Lipton's September 5, 2015, story detailed how Monsanto enlisted professors, researchers and scientists to support its expensive lobbying and public relations campaign against proposals to label foods using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — and how companies that sell organic foods have adopted the same tactic.

The e-mails — thousands of pages' worth — were the product of a FOIA request by a pro-labelling group, U.S. Right To Know. The Times requested some of those documents separately, and requested others for academics with ties to the organics industry.

Some academics (for example, climate scientists) have complained that excessive e-mail requests have become a form of harassment by political opponents. Yet when such scientists work at publicly-funded institutions, or conduct publicly funded research, the public has a right to know about funding and industry influence. Universities and scientific groups have pushed back, and there is little clarity on where to draw the line between what is private and what is public.

Bottom line: Lipton's story would not have existed without the e-mails.

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