10/05/2012 04:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 05, 2012

Are Monsanto's Fingerprints on This Op-Ed Signed by a UC Davis Professor?

As I recently explained, University of California at Davis agriculture researchers are heavily influenced by the funding they receive from Monsanto and other big biotech players. This conflict of interest explains in part why we are seeing several UC Davis professors author reports and op-eds opposing California's Proposition 37, which would require labeling of foods containing GMOs.

The latest example was published last week in at least two small California newspapers, including the Daily Democrat in Woodland. The article is authored by UC Davis professor Kent Bradford but the paper fails to mention the professor's deep ties to Monsanto. This seems like an odd omission considering those ties include a facility located in Woodland, Calif.

According to this Sacramento Bee article from just last month, Monsanto is vastly expanding its current Woodland-area facility:

Monsanto is embarking on a $31 million expansion of its Woodland vegetable seed research and development headquarters... [t]he 90,000-square-foot expansion will add laboratory and office space, nearly doubling the size of the Monsanto campus on Woodland's outskirts to 200,000 square feet.

And trumpeting the expansion was none other than Professor Bradford:

"It's an important signal that this is a great place to be," said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis, and a leader of Seed Central, a university-led initiative to attract seed industry to the Davis area. "It capitalizes on UC Davis and the research capacity of the companies."

Even more troubling than not mentioning this conflict of interest, Bradford's op-ed sounds an awful lot like the talking points from the "No on 37" campaign. For example, Bradford says (identical words are in bold):

Prop. 37 would ban of (sic) tens of thousands of perfectly safe, common grocery items made with genetically engineered ingredients unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled, or remade with higher-cost, non-GE ingredients.

And the "No on 37" campaign says:

Proposition 37 would ban the sale of tens of thousands of perfectly-safe, common grocery products only in California unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or made with higher cost ingredients.

And by the way, the statement is hyperbole. The purpose of Prop 37 is simply to provide labeling, not ban products. Of course food companies will have to comply with the law, but that's true now of numerous labeling requirements. The Sacramento Bee recently called out the "No" campaign for using this misleading argument in a radio ad.

Bradford also says:

Biotechnology, or genetic engineering, has been utilized for nearly two decades to grow varieties of corn, soybeans and other crops that resist diseases and insects and require fewer pesticides. Thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech crops with no health or safety issues.

While "No on 37" says:

Biotechnology, also called genetic engineering (GE), has been used for nearly two decades to grow varieties of corn, soybeans and other crops that resist diseases and insects and require fewer pesticides. Thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech crops.

In fact, increasing scientific research disputes Monsanto's claims that GMO crops use fewer pesticides and herbicides. Indeed a new, first-of-its-kind study out just this week from Washington State University, professor Charles Benbrook found the use of herbicides has increased in the production of three genetically modified crops: cotton, soybeans and corn.

"Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent," Benbrook said in a press release about the study. Moreover, the federal government does not require any safety testing of GMO foods, so we have no idea what the long-term human health effects are.

Bradford also says:

Food sold in grocery stores requires a label, but the same food sold in restaurants does not. Pet food with meat requires a label, but meat for human consumption does not. Foods imported from China and other foreign countries are exempt if sellers simply declare on the honor system that their products are "GE free." Unscrupulous foreign companies could game the system, to the disadvantage of California's farmers.

"No on 37" says:

Food sold in a grocery store requires a label, but the same food sold in a restaurant is exempt. Food imported from China and other foreign countries are exempt if sellers simply claim their products are "GE free". Unscrupulous foreign companies can game the system.

Many food regulations apply to food sold in grocery stores but not in restaurants, including the nutrition facts label on packaged foods. Our government regulators have a hard enough time overseeing foreign imports without additional burden. Again, many laws apply differently to foreign versus domestic foods.

Finally, Bradford says:

However, a close read of Prop. 37 reveals a complicated and deeply flawed measure that includes special-interest loopholes, would increase grocery bills for California families, open a floodgate of shakedown lawsuits, and increase state bureaucracy -- without providing any health or safety benefits.

The "No on 37" page says:

Prop 37 is a deceptive, deeply flawed food labeling scheme that would add more government bureaucracy and taxpayer costs, create new frivolous lawsuits, and increase food costs by billions -- without providing any health or safety benefits.

Of course none of this is true but these are the best scare tactics the "No on 37" campaign could come up given that 61 percent of Californians favor the measure.

I emailed Professor Bradford on Monday to ask him if the No on 37 campaign paid or even just asked him to write the op-ed, and if he in fact wrote the article himself or if the "No" campaign drafted it for him. I have not heard back yet.

Shame on the Daily Democrat and The Reporter (Vacaville) for publishing Monsanto's talking points disguised as legitimate opinion from a university professor of plant biology. The industry tactic of relying on third-party experts to do its bidding is nothing new, but newspapers should not facilitate such deception. It only took me minutes to figure it out. What's their excuse?

Postscript: Kent Bradford wrote on October 4 to tell me that he was not paid to write the op-ed. But he didn't say if the No campaign asked him to, or helped him draft it.