ActivismScienceSkepticism

#KavinTruthers: GMO Opponents Connect me to Koch Brothers, Question My Identity

My regular readers know that I’ve been accused of a diverse litany of wrongdoing by the anti-biotech camp. I’ve been called a shill by internet users far and wide, and a hate group spokesperson by none other than Vani Hari herself. I’ve even been deemed a “fake mom,” because apparently no real mother would knowingly feed her children genetically engineered food and boycott the organic industry. I try to take these allegations in stride, as I know these types of attacks are unavoidable.

Nevertheless, I traversed an arc of emotions from outrage to bemusement, and have now reached the amused phase after viewing a video in which a group of anti-GMO mothers claimed that I’m connected to Big Biotech, speculated about my connection to the Koch brothers, and even questioned whether Kavin Senapathy is my real name.

Freedom of Information Act, U.S. Right to Know, and Moms Across America

A bit of background before I show you the video. The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) website describes “a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.”

FOIA is a sound means of upholding an open and transparent government. Yet, FOIA requests can be exploitative. As wired.com reported:

“On January 28, US Right to Know sent out a FOIA request targeting 14 scientists at four universities, including [Kevin] Folta, requesting that they all turn over their email correspondence with industry representatives. Gary Ruskin, the executive director of USRTK, says the move is essential for uncovering the food industry’s efforts to manipulate scientists into advancing pro-genetically-modified propaganda.”

Dr. Kevin Folta, well-known writer and independent scientist wrote on his Illumination blog,

“The first thing I did was pick up a phone, call Gary Ruskin, and say, ‘What can I tell you?’

We spoke for 10 minutes, he seems like a decent guy, but what’s the deal with assuming that I’m guilty of something before even talking?  I’m not one to do things the hard way, the expensive way.  I’m glad to talk openly about anything.

Those closer to the situation tell me I’m naive, and that US-RTK wants nothing more than to see me removed from the discussion on ag biotech.  In their estimation, US-RTK does not just want truth, they want words.  They want emails.  It is not about a scientists and what he or she does– it is how they can make public records into something they are not.

This is an expensive fishing trip to harm public science.”

I’m not making this up, my parents named me “Kavin Senapathy”

A few days ago, Kathleen Hallal and co-host Esther Grondahl spoke with Stacy Malkan (co-founder of US-RTK) and Zen Honeycutt (founder of anti-GMO group Moms Across America) for The Weekly Women’s GMO Free News. They began by questioning Kevin Folta’s affiliations, wondering how he possibly has time for his social media science advocacy unless he’s paid off by “Monsanto and the chemical industry.” Feel free to watch the whole thing, but I’ve started the video at the point where they begin the #KavinTruther discourse.

You only have to listen for two or three minutes to get the gist, but it’s like 6 degrees of Koch brothers up in here:

Ladies, do I have to produce my birth certificate? Do you GMO Free Women realize how utterly comical this sounds? In addition to delving solidly into conspiracy theory, and even birther territory, this whole video reeks of classism. These women claim that scientists like Kevin Folta and others subjected to these FOIA requests, or science writer moms like me can’t possibly have the time to speak and write about these issues unless we’re paid by Big Agrochemical. Yet they have the time and means to host WWGFN like Kathleen and found organizations like Moms Across America and US-RTK like Zen and Stacy? They can make time to take courses like Lobbying 101, and serve as admin for the “Food Babe Army” Facebook page like Esther? Girls, I don’t think you see the caricature of hypocrisy you’re painting. Either all people have equal ability to budget time and energy, or one group just has sugar daddy husbands while the rest of us proles have to be paid by big industry. Has it never occurred to them that there are privileged individuals outside their circles who can also afford similar amounts of time and energy? Sorry, but their attempt at logic isn’t cutting it.

You can read more about why I deem “Shill Accusation Syndrome” lazy and irrational here. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a thousand times – I spend a lot of my free time on writing and science advocacy because I authentically care about spreading accurate, evidence-based information. I know that GM technology is inherently benign, and is a powerful tool to help improve agriculture and feed the world in as environmentally-friendly a manner as possible. I care about my country’s epidemic of science illiteracy and do my part to improve its collective critical thinking.

The women on this video spread misinformation that I can’t abide. After Honeycutt’s recent appearance on the Dr. Oz show, I wrote a piece called, “Organic food can cure autism caused by GMOs? More ‘quack science’ from Dr. Oz.” From that article:

‘The first guest was the founder of Moms Across America, Zen Honeycutt. With a very dire expression she stated, ‘not only are GMO foods sprayed with pesticides, but non-GMO foods are as well.’ She continued by implying that organic foods are pesticide-free saying, ‘we went not only GMO free but organic, to avoid pesticides.’ This is patently false; organic farmers do, in fact, use pesticides on their crops.

Ms. Honeycutt proceeded with an obviously embellished if not totally fabricated story. She claimed that her son had been experiencing autism symptoms. Because her doctor saw no reason to test him for glyphosate levels, Honeycutt used a private lab which detected glyphosate levels ‘8 times higher than found anywhere in Europe urine testing.’ Unfeasibly, she claimed that within six weeks of going ‘completely GMO-free and organic, his autism symptoms were gone and the level of glyphosate was no longer detectable.’

Make no mistakes – this is utter hogwash. There is no known cure for autism. If it were as simple as avoiding GMOs and pesticides, the affected foods would have been recalled. Furthermore, dietary treatment of autism has no basis in scientific evidence. If and when recommended, dietary approaches are based on adjustment of vitamin and mineral levels, or on avoiding allergens. Elimination of GMO foods is not a recommended dietary approach.”

 

Sending urine to a lab does not a valid study make

Indeed this is the very hogwash to which I referred in the Facebook post Esther Grondahl so indignantly reproached. This past winter, Moms Across America urged readers to send urine and water samples to Microbe Inotech Laboratories along with a specially-negotiated, discounted fee just for MAA customers. Yes, I’ll admit I was harsher than I could have been in that Facebook post. Nevertheless, the essence of the criticism was apt. The idea that one should simply accept data from testing with conditions ripe for human error and bias is farcical. Second, Moms Across America are notorious for not understanding that correlation doesn’t equal causation. I mean, they use an infamous Stephanie Seneff double y-axis graph to demonstrate that autism rate is increasing with rising use of glyphosate. Further, they either don’t understand or neglect to address that diagnostic criteria for autism has changed drastically over the years. They fail to address the complex genetic interactions that contribute to autism, which I briefly addressed here. Later in this particular video, Zen goes as far as to link mental illness with glyphosate use. She doesn’t address the complex genetic and environmental interactions that lead to mental illness, which I have addressed in several pieces including here.

These women aren’t mom shaming…they’re just shaming certain moms

Grondahl claims toward the end of the video that she’s “not mom shaming at all,” like I’ve rightly accused GMO opponents of doing. She claims she just wants to “help” moms change to an organic diet in an economical manner they can afford. “Let me help you,” she gushes vehemently. “Just switch one thing, just change out one thing, and start and then next week change out your butter to organic butter, then the week after change to organic cheese, and just do it. And here’s how to do it economically. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t afford it, that’s another angle that the PR firms are trying to push.”

I see. You don’t want to shame moms in general, you just want to shame moms who won’t make unnecessary albeit small sacrifices in order to switch item-by-item to an entirely organic diet. I won’t delve into the minutia of why I boycott the organic industry, but feel free to read my take. I’ll stop short at calling these women big organic shills because I don’t play that dirty game.

Kathleen, Zen, Stacy, Esther:  While I doubt you’ll take me up on this, I’m open to dialogue in any forum of your choosing with any participants you’d like to speak with. If you have questions, just ask. Rather than chatting amongst yourselves, why not invite Kevin Folta, me, and/or other biotech-proponents to a Google chat? This way, you don’t have to speculate. Tell you what, I’ll even show you a copy of my passport or my birth certificate!

I’ll leave you with Karl Haro von Mogel’s 2012 Biology Fortified interview with Stacy Malkan during the “Yes on 37” campaign. If you listen in its entirety, note how she deflects very pertinent questions about whether products of non-“GMO” genetic enhancement techniques should be labeled. These non-GMO techniques include hybridization (which essentially takes two inbred genomes and slams them together willy nilly to create a more robust variety), induced polyploidy or triploidy, and chemical or radiation mutagenesis. For those short on time, start at 19 minutes in, when Malkan’s tendency to enter conspiracy territory emerges.

Author’s note:  Shortly after publication of this post, I was made aware of a petition by the Cornell Alliance For Science, in support of the 14 public sector scientists being bullied by agenda-driven, anti-science FoIA requests. Please see the petition here, and sign if you agree.

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

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7 Comments

  1. March 4, 2015 at 11:49 am —

    I couldn’t listen to more than a few minutes of that video, but yikes. I know they’re trying to do what they think is best for their families, but there’s a whole bunch of just plain ignorance mixed with some real conspiracy mentality there. I hope they take you up on your offer for a more fair and open discussion; it might not ultimately convince them, but maybe it can at least deliver some thought-provoking truth to some who are listening but still sitting on the fence.

  2. March 4, 2015 at 12:44 pm —

    It’s hilarious to me how SHOCKED! SHOCKED I SAY! they are that the National Geographic cover put GMOs + anti-vaxxers in the same group. They are saying this from a hangout hosted by the same outfit that just hosted Andrew Wakefield and Barbara Loe Fisher.

    Their complete lack of self-awareness would be funny if it wasn’t so harmful to others. But their complete failure to tether to facts is really just so sad.

  3. March 4, 2015 at 1:48 pm —

    #teamkavin

    (Can we have a hashtag? We need a hashtag.)

  4. March 4, 2015 at 2:06 pm —

    I can do the six-degrees shit too. Let’s try Zen Honeycutt (if that’s her real name, sounds made up).

    OK, so Zen Honeycutt is Founder of Moms Across America who’s marches are covered on Sustainable Pulse one of who’s editors is one Radostin Nonkin who is a member at redrocker.com which is owned by Sammy Hagar who broke up VanHalen.

    Why does Zen Honeycutt hate VanHalen? Is she in the pocket of Def Lepard? We need to know.

    Maybe she should show everyone her e-mails to allay any doubts.

    See how that’s done?

  5. March 4, 2015 at 3:10 pm —

    Well done Kavin. Thanks for putting my stuff out there. These attacks are just crazy.

    By the way, I’ve been a Skept-Chuck for a long time.
    http://skepchick.org/2010/04/reader-rant-science-needs-women-kevinf/

    These folks are just awful. The flat out lies, and the joy they take at the harassment from US-RTK… I feel so sorry for them and am sad that they live with such cynical rage. Take care. #standupforK*vin

    • March 4, 2015 at 3:55 pm —

      Thanks, Kevin. I liked your response, too. I read your piece today and I also noticed how much glee they derived from speculating about you.

      And nice to know you’re a Skept-Chuck :) I read that story on Illumination awhile ago. Great story. It really shows your passion for science and education. #standupforKvin might actually work as a hashtag!

  6. March 5, 2015 at 5:40 pm —

    I’m suggesting a new subtype of ad hominem now: Ad illuminatos. The argument to Them, since They control everything.

    It’s a wonderful argument, since if no one buys your bullshit, you can say it’s because of the evil Monsanto/Big Pharma/whatever conspiracy.

    (And one should note, Libertarians love alternative medicine. Health freedom, everybody! Hey, if practicing without a license is good enough for Rand Paul…)

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