Is there balance at URI on GMO Food Safety?

 Part 1 of 3 part Series on GMO Food Safety by David Dansereau,MSPT

Did the University of Rhode Island give a balanced view on the science of GMO Food Safety?

Part 1: 2014 URI GMO Food Safety Conference: “What You Need to Know about GMOs”


The tagline on their website and most of their promotional literature is “Think Big“.  Perhaps that is what the University of Rhode Island is referring to when it comes to thinking about protecting big ties with big industry as well.



[Sidebar / My Disclosures] You may already be aware that I support the efforts for GMO Labeling in Rhode Island.  I provided testimony at the Rhode Island State House explaining my position as a health professional on why GMO labeling is needed.  You can see a copy of my testimony at this link.

With that personal disclosure mentioned I approached the University of Rhode Island over a month ago when I first learned about the GMO conference they were advertising as “What You Need to Know about GMOs” by initially offering to help spread the word for the event.  Before I go any further and explain how my offer to URI was received, you should know these important points surrounding the current GMO controversy :

  • The science is divided on the subject of GMO safety, possible health and environmental effects.  No one has “proof”, but there is a vast amount of evidence causing concern.
  • PROBLEM:  Scientists disagree.  Some say GMOs are safe and productive, others claim they have adverse health effects on humans, animals, crops and farmers.
  • The FDA does not require testing of GMOs and no safety studies have been conducted on humans, animals, or the environment.
  • In America today at least 80% of all processed foods contain one or more GMO ingredient. We are completely unaware of this fact because there are NO laws requiring manufacturers to label a food as a GMO.

Since the goal of the conference as advertised was to discuss “safety, labeling, and economic impact” on this very controversial subject (GMO’s), I did some research to be sure there would be balance in the program agenda and the academic presenters. The result of this research uncovered that there was no presenter with academic or science credentials representing the public concerns about GMO safety while two of the main academic presenters(Dr. Albert Kausch of URI and Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam of UC Davis) on the program agenda had very clear conflicts of interest due to their funding connections with some of the GMO agricultural giants.  Even before reaching out to the URI program director, Nicole Richard, I had done some preliminary research available for public access that demonstrated these conflicts.  My response from Nicole was less than reassuring when I attempted to do some fact checking on the presenters and if they would be making these disclosures public prior to their presentations.  Nicole’s response is copied below directly from her email reply to me:


“If you want to know where their funding comes from you will have to ask them.”

Nicole Richard
Research Associate/Food Safety Specialist
Nutrition and Food Sciences Dept.
University of Rhode Island

Background on the URI GMO Conference and GMO Debate

The GMO Conference was held on September 15th 2014 and  the University of Rhode Island Food Safety and Education / Dept. of Nutrition and Food Science and Cooperative Extension (URI) coordinated an event with the Rhode Island Food Safety Task Force as part of their 20th Annual Food Safety Conference. The event was entitled “What You Need to Know About GMOs”.  On the surface this event looked like something I would have set aside time to attend before discovering the not so obvious unbalanced agenda.


The Bottom Line on the current GMO Debate

The genetically modified foods controversy is a dispute over the use of food and other goods derived from genetically modified crops instead of from conventional crops, and other uses of genetic engineering in food production. The dispute involves consumers, biotechnology companies, governmental regulators, non-governmental organizations, scientists and universities as you are reading about here with URI.  The key areas of controversy related to genetically modified food are: whether GM food should be labeled, the role of government regulators, the effect of GM crops on health and the environment, the effect on pesticide resistance, the impact of GM crops for farmers, and the role of GM crops in feeding the world population.


What the World Thinks About GMO Foods

In over 50 countries in the world, GMO’s are looked at less favorably.  There is good evidence to the risks associated with these untested products and the following countries indicated in green in this illustration have already said “NO” to GMO Foods.  The US and Canada however, shown in yellow, do not require labeling of genetically engineered foods.  In the US, this in part due to failed Federal policies and special deals which are allowing politics and not science to set the agenda.  Let’s save that discussion for another post….



What Big Business Thinks About GMO Foods


Here’s a quick picture of the names of many of the grocery brands that would rather keep you in the dark about what ingredients they have hiding behind their labels.  For example, PepsiCo alone has already spent $500,000 to defeat the current GMO labeling initiative in Colorado and an additional $250,000 more to oppose a similar GMO labeling measure in Oregon.  If that sounds like big bucks for PepsiCo to keep you in the dark on what they are dumping in their products, that is chump change when compared to what Monsanto is spending.  Monsanto is the giant that essentially feeds PepsiCo and many others by sourcing both the GMO “Roundup Ready” herbicide (glyphosate) for their own seeds laced with the insecticide (Bt) that make the GMO corn that turns into the sweetness (sugar, corn syrup, HFCS, and their likes) that keeps consumers addicted to their brands.  Following this?  Well to be sure this chain of supply and demand isn’t interrupted Monsanto is willing to dip into their profits and deep wallets to keep GMO labeling out of individual state control with lobbying and advertising aimed at defeating GMO labeling efforts. Turns out they also pay for their influence at universities too and if you keep reading I’ll give you an example of how URI is involved….

According to the Right to Know (GMO) Colorado campaign headquarters the final reporting for September just came in and Monsanto and their allies have dumped in over $8.15 MILLION in September to defeat GMO labeling in Colorado. And of that, almost $5 million came straight from Monsanto!

Visit Food Democracy Now

Source:Food Democracy Now

Oregon Secretary of State’s Office just reported that Monsanto contributed $1.5 million at the end of last month to try to stop GMO labeling. Combined with their $4.7 million dump in Colorado last week (shown in graph) Monsanto has now spent over $6.25 MILLION to defeat GMO labeling initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.

Similar shady anti-labeling  lobbying tactics and advertising by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the biotech industry took place in Sacramento as they fought to kill GMO labeling in California in 2012, as well as Washington state in 2013.  With all this spending it does make you wonder, what are they trying to hide????

What local New England States think about GMO Foods

Last year, Maine and Connecticut became the first states successful at passing laws requiring GMO labeling  but there  are “trigger” clauses in both legislation requiring other states in the region to pass laws before their laws take effect.   Therefore little Rhode Island could have a “Big” impact on the future of GMO labeling in New England.  The Vermont state legislature passed a GMO labeling law in April, and Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill in May. The labeling requirements would take effect July 1, 2016 and there are no “trigger” clauses in this law, however, the following organizations have already lined up to challenge Vermont : the GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Massachusetts is currently working on legislation that as drafted, would have the bill largely a reflection of the law that passed in Connecticut. It would require the words “produced with genetic engineering” to be printed “clear and conspicuous” on the package. The bill currently contains a trigger clause similar to Connecticut.

Earlier this year, New Hampshire killed a bill that was introduced to label GMO Foods.

In Rhode island, two bills, H7042 & H7093 to require labeling of GMOs are pending before the Rhode Island House Health, Education & Welfare Committee (HEW). Similar Legislation, S2226, is under consideration by the Rhode Island Senate Health & Human Services Committee.  Representative Cimini is listed as a co-sponsor of H7093 and I attempted several times to reach her by phone and email for this update as she presented at the 2014 URI GMO Conference.  Rep Cimini didn’t respond to my email or phone requests for disclosure.  I know from my testimony at the RI State House  that she is favor of GMO labeling.  I was later informed she was in the middle of a re-election bid that she lost but I was looking to be balanced and see if she would disclose any anti-GMO lobbyist contributions. To learn more about the GMO Labeling in Rhode Island please see my previous post here.


Here’s a few food tidbits to chew on that many of these manufacturers don’t want you to know about:


  • There are currently already five widespread GM Food Crops on the market:

(1) Soy; (2) Corn; (3) Canola; (4) Cotton; and (5) Sugar Beets

  • Be aware that GMO ingredients have other names and they may be difficult to spot. Some hidden GMO ingredients include; aspartame, baking soda, caramel color, corn flour, corn sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, protein, lecithin, malt, maltodextrin, sorbitol, sugar, soy sauce, soy lecithin, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and xanthum gum.  Check your food labels and you’ll quickly discover when you match up these ingredients on the list you have indeed been unknowingly filling your shopping cart and serving up your families hefty portions of GMO’s
  • In America today at least 80% of all processed foods contain one or more GMO ingredient. We are completely unaware of this fact because there are NO laws requiring manufacturers to label a food as a GMO.

Many, many more GMO plant varieties exist in the pipeline and Professor Kausch from URI  has partnered with industry to help patent and get one of his own varieties (garlic) to market.  In an upcoming video I will show where to find this public information and uncover exactly how many products are already in the USDA pipeline.

Here’s more on why this is important to URI:


What the University of Rhode Island thinks about GMO Foods

After Nicole Richard from URI advised me ” to ask them”  if I wanted to know the speakers disclosures, I started to lose faith that URI would be laying out all the facts on the table during this conference and doing the responsible thing for our community and for our future food safety in Rhode Island, surrounding “trigger” states and perhaps in igniting GMO labeling nationwide.  In response, I did indeed try and asked, and I asked often.  I did not, however, get a definitive response from the URI Ethics Department, the Office of Sponsored Projects or a response from Dr. Albert Kausch directly prior to the event.  I asked by phone and email specifically these questions:

  • What are the obligations of URI event coordinators and presenters to disclose conflicts of interest?
  • Where are URI professors awards / grants publicized with amounts and  funding contributors?
  • What is the URI policy on guest lecturers to make these disclosures?
  • Do faculty at URI have to complete an annual faculty conflict of interest disclosure form and if so, is it public?
  • To all presenters (with the exception of Earnest Julien,PhD) I also asked if they would be presenting their disclosures.

Note: Ted Myatt,Director of Research Integrity at URI  did return one of my calls on the day of the event  (Sept 15th) and said that I would  “need to call the URI Provost’s Office on this matter” as they would be better equipped to handle it.  This unclear position of URI on their current ethics policy seems confusing, especially when other universities have clearly defined policies.

For example, the University of Colorado, states under their faculty Rules and Policies:  “An annual faculty conflict of interest disclosure form must disclose all financial ties and interest, regardless of amount, including salary or payment for services, consulting fees, royally income, honoraria, payments for speaking, consulting and travel, service on boards,gifts, stock and equity interests as well as financial interests of family members must also be reported.”

According to an article by Frank Carini, Editor of ecoRI News who attended the URI GMO Safety Conference,  “Kausch told the Sept. 15 conference his work is not funded by Monsanto or any other biotechnology company. On a URI webpage devoted to his professional history and funding sources, both Bayer and Monsanto are cited, along with Big Pharma’s Pfizer.”

Carini also went on to say “Van Eenennaam also said she receives no funding from the biotechnology industry.  She worked for Monsanto from 1998-2002, and UC Davis has received tens of thousands in donations from the company.”

My research matches what Carini reports, and demonstrates what is wrong with the current balance not being offered on the science of GMO research.  URI’s website has Kausch listed as receiving  funding  for URI from Pharma,Fed (USDA and DOE) and other undisclosed sources to support his research.  From his biographical sketch, Kausch is indeed well versed in the GM arena, having secured multiple patents on GM products as well as being involved with several biotech startups.  Of interest, Kausch reports  40K received  from Monsanto for educational conferences as listed on his URI page but reports no disclosures prior to his URI presentation.

Van Eenennaam was the only academic presenter to reply to me by email.

She responded she “would be happy to provide her funding sources and in fact make them available on the internet on her website.”

Van Eenennaam added “the majority of my research is from competitive USDA grants (i.e. I write a grant application and then if it is of sufficient priority and quality according to a group of independent scientists it will be selected for funding), with some “local” University of California funding. You can go to the CRIS site and search by Investigator and it will show you the USDA funding there. Most of my work is using genomic information to improve beef cattle.”

If you look at some of her studies, she was part of some of the original genetic “frankenfish” work, looking at ways to try not to cross contaminate genes from wild and GM fish species.  Also UC Davis is listed at receiving over 40K in donations directly from Monsanto as part of  educational conferences she has been part of for UCD.

Both of the presentations by Krausch and Van Eenennaam from the Sept 15,2014 URI GMO Food Safety Conference are now online.  Their disclosures are not included in these presentations.


Published papers telling us  that GMO foods “are safe and necessary to sustain world demand for food” are most often authored by scientists that have been hired by biotech companies.  Many argue that these same authorities who are speaking in favor of GMO are being fortified through joint ventures, lucrative consultancies and sponsorship of scientific forums in university departments that ultimately compromise the academic science.

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Look ahead: Parts 2 and 3 of this Series on GMO Food Safety by David Dansereau,MSPT

Part 2: Failed federal policy on GMO and why states are stepping up

Part 3: More on GMO policies on university campuses with a spotlight this time on the URI Master Gardeners Program and how they respond to what is killing the bees and advice on GMO calls to their hotline


Be sure to grab a copy of my new book for more on GMO’s / Food Safety and Your Health

Body in Balance: Bare Naked Truth on Nutrition Fitness and Food Policies Impacting Your Energy and Your Health (Smart Moves Guidebook Series)

To Learn more about what you are Eating I suggest:


How to Tell where your Produce is Sourced by the PLU number

 A Nutrition Course to Show you how Food Really Works

See how life changes when your child gets sick from food


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