by Ralph Nader
The Nader Page
October 2, 2015
Next year, the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will celebrate its 50th anniversary as one of the finest laws our Congress has ever passed. It is a vital investigative tool for exposing government and corporate wrongdoing.
The FOIA was championed by Congressman John E. Moss (D-CA), who strove to “guarantee the right of every citizen to know the facts of his Government.” Moss, with whom I worked closely as an outside citizen advocate, said that “without the fullest possible access to Government information, it is impossible to gain the knowledge necessary to discharge the responsibilities of citizenship.”
All fifty states have adopted FOIA statutes.
As the FOIA approaches its 50th year, it faces a disturbing backlash from scientists tied to the agrichemical company Monsanto and its allies. Here are some examples.
On March 9th, three former presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – all with ties to Monsanto or the biotech industry – wrote in the pages of the Guardian to criticize the use of the state FOIA laws to investigate taxpayer-funded scientists who vocally defend Monsanto, the agrichemical industry, their pesticides, and genetically engineered food. They called the FOIAs an “organized attack on science.”
The super-secretive Monsanto has stated, regarding the FOIAs, that “agenda-driven groups often take individual documents or quotes out of context in an attempt to distort the facts, advance their agenda, and stop legitimate research.”
Advocates with the venerable Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) do worry that the FOIA can be abused to harass scientists for ideological reasons. This is true; for example, human-caused global warming deniers have abused the FOIA against climate scientists working at state universities like Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University.
Among other suggestions, UCS recommends the following:
- “Universities should clarify their policies and procedures with regard to open records requests, ensure that their employees understand these policies, and make sure they have considered how they will respond when overly broad requests are used to harass their researchers…..
- Legislators should examine their open records laws and ensure that they include appropriate exemptions that will protect privacy and academic freedom without compromising accountability.
- The National Academy of Sciences and other research organizations should provide guidance to legislators and universities on what should be disclosed and what should be protected….”
For more on the UCS positions see: http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/protecting-scientists-harassment/freedom-bully-how-laws.
The proper response to abuses of the FOIA is not, however, to advocate blocking citizens or reporters from using the FOIA.
There are countless government and corporate scandals that have been revealed by the FOIA, but here are just two from this year.
In February, Justin Gillis and John Schwartz of the New York Times used documents obtained by the Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center through the FOIA to expose the corporate ties of the climate-change-denying scientist Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, who received over $1.2 million in contributions from the fossil fuel industry over the last ten years. Soon even called his scientific papers “deliverables” to his corporate donors.
Another area of risk to food and health was revealed by FOIA requests. There are legitimate concerns about the health and environmental perils of genetically engineered crops and food. And the concerns are mounting. For example, in March, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the herbicide glyphosate – which is sprayed as Roundup on many genetically engineered crops – as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
On August 20, in the New England Journal of Medicine, Philip J. Landrigan and Charles Benbrook wrote that “the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer.” Another study published on August 25 in the journal Environmental Health suggests that very low levels of exposure to Roundup “can result in liver and kidney damage” in rats, “with potential significant health implications for animal and human populations.”
U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer group staffed by consumer advocates, is conducting an investigation of the food and agrichemical industries, including companies like Monsanto, and how they use front groups and taxpayer-funded professors at public universities to advance their claims that processed foods, artificial additives, and GMOs are safe, wholesome, and beyond reproach.
Based on documents that U.S. Right to Know obtained through the FOIA, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Lipton wrote a front page New York Times article about how Monsanto and the agrichemical industry use publically-funded scientists to lobby, and to promote its messages and products. For example, Lipton reported on a $25,000 grant from Monsanto to University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta, who had repeatedly denied having ties to Monsanto: “‘This is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we’re looking to develop,’ Michael Lohuis, the director of crop biometrics at Monsanto, wrote last year in an email as the company considered giving Dr. Folta an unrestricted grant.”
One thing is clear; food safety, public health, the commercialization of public universities, corporate control of science, and the research produced by taxpayer-funded scientists to promote commercial products are all appropriate subjects for FOIA requests.
The use of the FOIA by citizens, journalists, and others to expose scandals is essential to ensure honest scientific inquiry and is critical to developing protective public health and environmental standards. Scientific research should not be contaminated by the inevitable biases and secrecy that come with corporate contracts at public universities.
The FOIA is a valuable tool to help citizens uncover corruption and wrongdoing, and to vindicate our right to know what our own governments are doing.
from the archives:
The World According to Monsanto – A documentary that Americans won’t ever see (video)
Vandana Shiva: Justice Begins With Seeds (#GMO #Monsanto)
Eric Holt-Gimenez: Justice Begins With Seeds (#GMO #Monsanto)
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Excellent post, admirably truthful and upstanding ~ as all such responsible advocacy should be.
The venal insidiousness of criminal imposters who masquerade as “honest, dutiful, professionals” is so habitual and expected, even accepted now, I almost despair. The United States has so much to answer for, and yet so much it could offer, if there were not such excessive institutionalised corruption, gratuitous violence and to date, an unaccounted reprehensible record of human rights’ abuses world wide.
Ralph Nader is beyond reproach for the outstanding example he has set in his lifetime. So, we may take solace from the fact that some notable Americans still maintain outstanding moral standards worthy of international emulation; and display the genuine sense of decency that is so egregiously lacking among the majority of imbeciles within the US establishment ~ how else may we best characterize this endemic affliction?
Obama laments the slaughter in Oregon, but does not hesitate to routinely incinerate families abroad (as Chris Hedges observed recently) with highly profitable, profoundly unjustifiable, remotely operated drone attacks.
What a hypocrite….we can only conclude that these tactics are designed to provoke reactionary fervour in order to perpetuate the cycle of sacrifice. The real tragedy is that he must not be aware how villainous his behaviour really is, and whose occult empire it is he is prospering so adroitly; so should we assign to him the same culpability of heinous autocratic cruelty as any other Caligula or psychopathic Asian tyrant? can he be classed as “moderate?”
So, what is in store, what new horrors will the next incumbent “Commander-in-Chief” deliver?
If only it were a Ralph Nader or a Jill Stein.
It should be noted that the Rockefeller Trusts are the long time big investors in Monsanto, and that the Rockefellers have supported and advocated for eugenics since the 1920’s.
Guadamour, so great to hear from you. Hope you’ve been well. Cheers.