Oct 162015

By Jason Warick

The University of Saskatchewan logo can be seen in this StarPhoenix file photo


The University of Saskatchewan logo can be seen in this StarPhoenix file photo

Photograph by: Greg Pender , the StarPhoenix


A University of Saskatchewan professor is one of several prominent North American academics under fire for undeclared connections to agri-business giant Monsanto.

At Monsanto’s request, the scientists wrote papers supporting the global use of genetically modified crops, which were then disseminated widely by a marketing company hired by Monsanto.

Peter W.B. Phillips, graduate chair at the U of S Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, said there was no need to declare his connections because he was not paid and Monsanto did not ask him to alter his research.

Others disagree.

“Monsanto says ‘Jump’ and these scientists said ‘How high?'” said Gary Ruskin, co-director for US Right to Know, an advocacy group funded by American organic farm groups.


“This is not how publicly funded scientists should behave.”

According to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know, Phillips and several other top agriculture experts were solicited to write articles by a senior Monsanto executive in 2013. They were asked to write pieces to correct the overwhelming amount of negative information about geneticallymodified organisms (GMOs) in the public sphere, according to the email.

“The key to success is participation by all of you – recognized leaders with the knowledge, reputation and communication experience needed to communicate authoritatively with the target groups,” the Monsanto email stated.

Monsanto suggested topics and headlines for each scientist. Once they agreed, a Monsanto-hired public relations firm informed them of their deadlines and how their papers would be “merchandised” and promoted widely.

In the end, the papers closely mirrored the pitch by Monsanto, Ruskin said.

Phillips was asked to write about the “burdensome regulations” that “stifle innovation” in the biotech industry.

“Critics might lead you to believe that genetically engineered crops are not tested or regulated. That is wrong,” read the opening line of the finished article by Phillips.

In his conclusion, Phillips stated: “Increased regulatory costs and an expanding approval process stifle innovation – the innovation that is needed to secure an adequate supply and, appropriate quality of food at affordable prices.”

A public relations firm hired by Monsanto emailed Phillips and the others to give them proposed deadlines and inform them of efforts to disseminate the papers.

Phillips’ eventual article, entitled Economic Consequences of Regulations of GM Crops, was published on agri-food and biotechnology websites. Phillips’ titles at the University of Saskatchewan and Johnson-Shoyama are mentioned at the top of the article, but there is no mention of Monsanto’s involvement.

Phillips said the information gathered in the paper is serving as the basis for a paper he’s submitted to an academic journal.

Phillips, holder of appointments to several other schools and departments at the U of S, said there was no need to declare his collaboration with Monsanto. In an interview, Phillips said he was not paid and works with a host of corporations, governments and non-governmental agencies.

“That’s part of my job,” he said. “The research world has changed.”

Ruskin, whose group accessed thousands of pages of emails and other documents linking the scientists and Monsanto, said North Americans should be able to trust their top university scientists, and that’s not possible when significant connections to corporations such as Monsanto are not disclosed.

The University of Saskatchewan was one of several universities, including Harvard, the University of Florida and Penn State, with undisclosed links to Monsanto revealed in the documents.

“I think it shows how universities are increasingly corporately controlled, and how science is under increasing corporate control,” Ruskin said.

Phillips admitted there is tension within universities and among academics about their role. Some believe research should not be affected at all by outside organizations, governments or the public. Phillips said he believes academics should be responsive to the needs of stakeholders. He said Monsanto holds the dominant market share in its industry, so it would be foolish to not communicate with the company.

Phillips said he was free to submit whatever he concluded, and that there was “pushback” by the academics to the suggested topics. When asked to provide any emails or names of other academics who disputed the topics, Phillips replied, “It’s not worth my effort to cover my back here.”

Ernie Barber, vice-president academic at the U of S, said researchers should definitely declare financial interests and it would be unethical to let outside officials or corporations dictate any research content. However, U of S researchers are expected to “share” their research widely, he said, adding he did not know all of the details of the Phillips case, since the details have only come out relatively recently.

“There should be no attempt whatsoever to mislead the public,” Barber said.

Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan said the company partners with community groups, academics and others. She said Monsanto often works with academics, but “We don’t have any control over their message.”


  10 Responses to “2015-10-03 Group questions U of S prof’s Monsanto link, The Starphoenix”

  1. Enough of industry sponsored science that benefits the shareholders of corporations at the expense of the health of Canadians. Peter Phillips should have been transparent and let the public know that he collaborated with Monsanto . It is disgusting that the Conservative government uses industry sponsored science to formulate their agricultural and health policies and allows Monsanto to influence the science at our Canadian Universities. It is equally disturbing to hear Conservative MPs say they do not support GMO labelling at the recent election political forums. Liberals, NDP and Greens all want labeling of GMOS and said it is a our constitutional right in Canada to know what we are eating .
    Mr Phillips says , “Critics might lead you to believe that genetically engineered crops are not tested or regulated” The issue is not with the tests Mr Phillips — it is with who does the testing and regulating and did they have ties with Monsanto ?.Why have over 64 countries banned GMOS and why is Canada ignoring the fact that the WHO has said glyphosate is a probable carcinogen? Even Mr Putin says he won;t feed this poison to his people in Russia. Canadians are waking up and the tide is changing which will be evident on October 19th ( Election Day)

  2. We live in a world of illusions and lies, where corporations have free reign to study and approve their own products, many of which have, over the course of time, proven to be detrimental to our health and environment… Looking back on history, let’s take a peek at all the corrupt, corporate owned “Doctors” and “Scientists” who fought for: the tobacco industry, the cancer industry, fluoride (now recognized as a neurotoxin) GMO’s, pesticides (think DDT) and more recently glyphosate and systemic pesticides that seem to be wiping out our pollinators, not to mention negatively impacting soil ecology, birds, amphibians, and fish…Such are the products approved by the kind of “Doctors/Scientists” our government and ill informed consumers trust and believe in…But there have always been the ethical Doctors and Scientists who have brought into question “tobacco/corporate paid science” (such as Árpád Pusztai, Tyrone B. Hayes, Gilles-Éric Séralini, Ignacio Chapela,Stephanie Seneff, and, Thierry Vrain, to name a few,) who put their reputations and careers on the line to denounce corruption and warn us of the risks and hazards. Of course these people are often branded “quacks”. However, because they are equally qualified, it comes down to an individual’s logic and common sense on who they would rather trust and believe…Consumers should simply have the right to choose, and to know what is in/on their food. GMO should be labelled as such instead of being stealthily crammed down our throats without our knowledge or consent.

  3. A story worth sharing: Bees, Food Supply, Health, Environment, Science, and Politics. By Vida Cropas 2014

    “Man did not weave the web of life –he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” ~Chief Seattle, 1854

    Whenever I read something about bees in peril or dying fish, I remember the day we left Saskatchewan, my husband Julien, carrying our paralyzed daughter to the car in his arms. It was another drought year, and we were unable to sell, yet there we were, farm chemical refugees fleeing a toxic environment. Our youngest daughter, Madeleine, would literally paralyze every summer, when aerial spraying began; we had no choice. After batteries of tests, doctors, clearly not trained in pesticide poisoning, had diagnosed: “Yet another summer virus or, maybe the onset of juvenile arthritis…” However, little by little, especially after hearing a pilot, in casual conversation, laugh about doused deer not making it out of the field alive, I connected the dots. Later, a friend gave me the “Pesticide Safety Handbook” put out by Saskatchewan Agriculture and Foods (and not doled out to farmers,) which confirmed that pesticide exposure was indeed to blame. It reads, Emergency preparedness: “Pesticide application is a very serious business. Pesticides can cause illness; and they can kill. Their great usefulness rests on their ability to interrupt the life process of insects, fungi, rodents or plants. But many toxic chemicals can have dangerous effects on humans and other animals…Emergency Action –Severe poisoning: Vomiting, loss of reflexes, inability to breathe, uncontrollable muscular twitching, constriction of pupils (to pin point pupils), convulsions, unconsciousness, severe secretion from respiratory tract, fever, thirst, and increased rate of breathing. NOTE: Not all of these symptoms may be evident and they may vary according to the poison and the exposure.” And though all this was known since at least 1996 when the brochure was published, precious little of this information has trickled down to the general public or to farmers who still cavalierly spray around neighbours houses, school yards, wetlands, streams, and bee yards. Even now, while lack of pollinators is becoming a serious issue, our corporate friendly –some would say owned- politicians make sure that corporate interests supersede our health, safety, and food supply -not to mention how it negatively impacts our children’s development and learning abilities. In 2001 (the year we moved,) The Nature of Things presented the Effects of Pesticides On Human Development in which, anthropologist Elizabeth Guillette compared the children of a pesticide heavy agrarian region to the children living a traditional lifestyle in the foothills. Suffice to say that Madeleine’s issues are not uncommon and, that the pesticides that negatively impact honey bees, are more far reaching than what we have been lead to believe.

    Spray doesn’t fall like lead. It hovers in the air and, once caught up in drafts, travels with air currents. It falls in water ways, catches on clothes hung to dry, and is breathed in by the unwary while adjuvants designed to “stick to, penetrate and kill cells”, insidiously go to work. How could substances that are able to kill deer –and farmers- not negatively impact human health, child development, soil ecology, (bacteria, fungi, algae, yeasts, worms, etc. needed for a living healthy soil), amphibians, birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects like bees? –Yet some would scream: “If it wasn’t safe it wouldn’t be on the market!” And “-Where’s the science!?” Or again: “We need GMO’s to feed the world!” -Yet according to Frances Moore Lappé who has studied world hunger and food distribution for decades, there is no lack of food on this planet; there is a lack of ethics, distribution, democracy, and fair trade –that biotech companies only exacerbate. Given the amounts of known carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and allergens in our food supply, the lack of scientific research is a genuine concern. The way I understand it, is that our politicians are so corporate friendly, that they have granted these companies the authority to police themselves as in: determine what they want studied, how the study is conducted, for what length of time, and by whom, and whether or not their products are safe to market. -Conflict of interest!? Scientists in other countries certainly think so! Some have even taken it upon themselves to conduct independent studies on companies like biotech giant, Monsanto’s GMOs -without Monsanto’s knowledge or consent! This was done both in France and Egypt. Although Monsanto cried foul, and tried to discredit these studies, other scientists and yet other countries endorsed them. This is why GMO’s are banned, labeled -or heavily restricted in Europe, with some countries burning GMO fields, while others have mandatory labeling and designated growing areas. This awareness is spreading; Russia declared GMO’s and the farming there of as, “an act of terrorism” -that should be punishable by law. Haiti stated that they, didn’t need another “disaster”! Mexico has banned GMO corn and Peru has banned them altogether. What I find interesting is the number of prominent PhD scientists who publicly speak out against GMO’s and Roundup. The likes of world expert Arpad Pusztai, who according to Wikipedia is: “a Hungarian-born biochemist and nutritionist who spent 36 years at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is a world expert on plant lectins, authoring 270 papers and three books on the subject”. Shiv Chopra, a drug evaluator for Health Canada, David Suzuki, Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Russell Blaylock, etc. all with numerous Youtube links for those who want to learn more, or, catch many of them on: Seeds of Death -a documentary that in my opinion should be seen in schools. And, while French scientist, Giles-Éric Séralini and his team’s paper was recently peer reviewed and republished denouncing GMOs and their accompanying chemicals, President Obama signed the Monsanto Protection Act, absolving the company of any wrong doing and, even if further research shows that GMOs or GE seeds cause significant health, or environmental damage, the US federal courts no longer have any power to stop their spread, use, or sales. Hence, it comes down to whom do YOU trust: -Corporate owned scientists and lackadaisical leaders, or the scientists who stick their necks out to denounce corruption? Yet consumers remain confused as if hypnotized by dishonest advertising, which if truthfully reiterated would sound more like this: “For your un-optimum health, be sure to negatively impact your meals with GMO products doused with their accompanying chemicals, so that doctors can prescribe the necessary antidotes, (which may or may, not work,) and, big pharma -owned by the same biotech giants that produce the toxic food- can continue to profit from your family’s ill health!” –No longer a “conspiracy theory” -just the way it is. It has gotten to the point where I no longer fear social backlash for speaking the truth. I simply answer: “Do the research, do what you can to make a difference, and look out for your loved one –as no one else will.”

    As I reflect upon the spirit of the age that has blessed us with complacent politicians, corrupt corporations, and an over trusting, misinformed public, I have come to realize that if our children are to have any kind of a worthwhile future, we will have to all wake up and make a personal effort. I am confident that like Madeleine, who was laughing and running around, by the time we reached Ontario -and has never relapsed since- that once the poisons are removed or heavily regulated, the bees, birds, butterflies, amphibians, environment -and humans- will fare a lot better.

  4. Thank you so much to both Vida and Ruth for taking the time to write down your experience and knowledge. Others will benefit greatly.

    A little over a decade ago, when we brought Dr. Elizabeth Guillette to Saskatchewan to present her research, scientists and others (activists) were afraid of the chemical companies. Corporations like Monsanto destroyed the careers of scientists whose work did not support the industry propaganda. Thank-you for remembering the names of Hayes, Chapela, Vrain and others. Activists, myself included, were warned to keep our names below the radar screen.

    Look at the progress! Today, there is no fear. And why is that? The number of corporate collaborators is tiny compared with the number of us. Today, we put the fear in them.

  5. This is pretty amazing! “Hundreds of thousands shut down Berlin to protest “Trojan Horse” – Monsanto’s dream trade deal”


  6. Sad that it is necessary for folks to hold so called esteemed places of education accountable. Maybe U of S should not just be renamed Univesity of Cameco after all, perhaps University of Monsanto and Cameco!

  7. The University has placed its money on the losing horses. Both industries, nuclear and industrialized food, are threatened globally. Military police won’t stop a hundred thousand people determined to save their lands. (BTW: if you can, see Naomi Klein’s new film, “This Changes Everything”. It’s very well done, and hopeful, specifically because of citizens uniting and standing their ground. Putting their lives on the line, so their kids won’t be reduced to living in urban poverty.)

    The Brad Wall Govt is writing the cheques to the University to pay for the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation (Cameco/Bruce Power) and they write the cheques for the “Global (in name only) Institute for Food Security” (Monsanto and the other biotech corporations). They might get away with it for now.

    In 2009, in spite of controlling the agenda at public meetings with very biased professional presentations the Govt-University-corporate trio could not convince the people of Saskatchewan to accept nuclear expansion. Wait until people see the way in which the public will is being circumvented..

    I had to laugh heartily – – at meeting of University Senate Saturday past, the new head of the Nuclear Centre repeated three or four times the idea that fear and ignorance prevail in the province. That’s the only reason that nuclear is rejected!

    In one-on-one conversation with Ernie Barber, acting Provost, I tried to make him see that the University is backing the wrong horses. This in relation to the Institute for Food Security (corporate controlled agriculture/food supply).

    My guess is that most households associated with the University seek out organic food. WHO, when offered a choice would say, “No! I want the industrialized food.”?

    They assume that no one makes the connection between 50 years of chemical applications (known endocrine disruptors, teratogens, carcinogens , , , ) and continuously increasing numbers of children with developmental problems, cancers – and adults with cancer and other diseases.

    It seems to me that the University will be forced to change, at some point.

    If the welfare of the people they are supposed to serve (NOT corporate!) had priority they would move rapidly into the removal of the causes of the ills that beset us. (What is not understood? … reduce cigarette use, the costs of treating people for lung cancer goes down, along with funeral costs.)

  8. I didn’t think to draw this to attention of University – – they should stay on top, it directly affects their reputation:

    Class Action LawSuits Against Monsanto (false advertising, glyphosate) http://sandrafinley.ca/?p=15545

  9. I notice that this same campaign by Monsanto to buy scientists has included major media figures like Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson, so it’s no surprise they’ve been able to get control of rather low paid researchers here. It’s sad, and difficult to figure out how to counter.

  10. Thanks for pointing out the media sell-outs, Daniel. RE your comment, How to Counter.

    There is too much happening to post it all, let alone keep abreast of it all. My sense is that we are in a time of tremendous, well-informed uprising. The worst of the corporations, Monsanto one of them, face connected hostility around the planet. There are huge organizations intent on cleaning up.

    We have shared interests in issues of corruption, democracy, and stopping the poisoning. In the USA, there’s Public Citizen, Corporate Accountability, Organic Consumers, very large and relentless organizations. There are very active groups in almost every country of the world. The fight against the Trade deals (beneficial for Monsanto and other corps, not us) unites another whole round of protestors. (Did you see http://sandrafinley.ca/?p=15514 – Hundreds of thousands in the streets in Berlin. And the class action lawsuits against Monsanto ?)

    The day is not far off when the quislings are going to wake up, and realize that they are on the wrong side of the road, at risk of being run over. In the meantime, the networks of resistance just keep adding more people every day. . . . Patience, keep up the good fight, the day is coming!!

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