As far as bullies stand, there are few bigger in the corporate world (at least on camera) than Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank fame, who also happens to be a proponent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
But O’Leary met his match in the summer of the 2013 when he welcomed then-14-year-old Canadian activist Rachel Parent to a debate on CBS News surrounding the controversial topic – and was thoroughly beaten, as shown in this video.
Parent has since gone on to become an influential figure in the organic food and non-GMO movement, speaking at the annual March Against Monsanto and other events while gaining a large following on social media and online with her website Kids Right to Know.
But with her newfound influence came scrutiny, and it began to make many in the GMO and Biotech industries uncomfortable – causing them to go to surprising lengths to target and counter this growing threat to their businesses.
Internal Emails: Monsanto Frightened by 14-Year-Old’s Message
In a recent article by the website Global News, it was revealed that a Monsanto executive contacted scientists and academics from various universities with the goal of “holding activists accountable,” as one email to University of Florida scientist and Biotech proponent Kevin Folta was titled. The documents were obtained by U.S. Right to Know through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Folta, who has repeatedly said in the past that he is an “independent scientist,” was reportedly given a $25,000 grant by Monsanto in order to support his speaking tours to paint a rosy picture of GMOs and Biotechnology. In this case he was solicited by Monsanto to “Demonstrate how activists’ messages and tactics regarding Genetically Modified (GM) crops and plant biotechnology undermine worldwide efforts to ensure a safe, nutritious, plentiful and affordable food supply using responsible and sustainable agricultural practices.”
The Monsanto rep also wanted Folta to show that “activist campaigns… spread false information that goes unchallenged and results In further erosion of the public’s confidence in agricultural innovation.”
(For more on the emails, check out the Global News article here)
Eventually, the communications with academics began to bear fruit for Monsanto in the form of op-eds in newspapers and other industry PR pieces disguised as independent journalism, as revealed by FOIA requests. In the case of Folta, the goal was to use his credentials as a scientist in an attempt to discredit Parent’s stance that GMOs haven’t been adequately tested (see this link for more info as to why) and should be labeled at the very least so that consumers can decide for themselves.
Folta continued to correspond with Monsanto, the News report said, and offered this response.
“I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like….I’d be happy to write the op-ed on making decisions on facts,” Folta wrote to Monsanto in October 2014.
According to Global News, Folta was also contacted by Ketchum, a PR firm hired by the pro-Monsanto Council for Biotechnology Information.
Eventually Ketchum asked Folta to make a video about the teenage activist, requesting him to state “How do you agree/disagree with 14-yr old GMO Labeling activist Rachel Parent, who is, in her own words ‘not anti-science’ but ‘for responsible science and ethical progress?’” adding that they “try to refrain from personally attacking folks.” A little over a week later, a video was posted by Folta titled “How do you agree/disagree with 14 year old GMO Activist?”
Folta also suggested to Ketchum that a counter-website to Parent’s “Kids Right to Know” site be created; he offered to provide content for it as well.
It seems clear from these email correspondences that the multi-billion dollar industry felt threatened simply by one teenage activist for speaking out on social media. And once again they solicited the help of trusted academics to provide an “independent” counter-voice that was anything but independent.
“It’s mostly scientists that they attack, but Rachel is a standout. The agrichemical industry is plainly quite threatened by this teenage schoolgirl, so that’s why they’re after her,” USRTK Co-Director Gary Ruskin said.
For more on what Parent thought of the reports as well as Monsanto’s response, check out the Gobal News article here, and their video report below. You can also watch the O’Leary video that made her a household name by clicking here.