In DepthBiotechnology

Agricultural researchers rattled by demands for documents

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Science  13 Feb 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 699
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6223.699

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The fierce public relations war over genetically modified (GM) food has a new front. A nonprofit group opposed to GM products late last month filed a flurry of freedom of information requests with at least four U.S. universities, asking administrators to turn over any correspondence between a dozen academic researchers and a handful of agricultural companies, trade groups, and public relations firms. The scientists—many of whom have publicly supported agricultural biotechnologies—are debating how best to respond, and at least one university has already rejected the request. The group, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) of Oakland, California, says it targeted only researchers who have written articles posted on GMO Answers, a website backed by food and biotechnology firms, and work in states with laws that require public institutions to share many internal documents on request. USRTK is interested in documenting links between universities and business and is "especially looking to learn how these faculty members have been appropriated into the PR machine for the chemical-agro industry," says Executive Director Gary Ruskin.

  • * Keith Kloor is a freelance journalist living in New York City.

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