Anti-biotech group uses big tobacco strategy to refute GM research

In 1839, in the historical play Cardinal Richelieu, playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Since 2014, in both the United States and Canada, the pen has been progressively attacked by the sword.

Academic freedoms of biotech researchers have been attacked by an organization known as the US Right to Know (USRTK).

The USRTK is a U.S. shell organization (funded by more than $400,000 per year from the organic industry) created to attack academic research on the benefits of biotechnology and genetically modified crops. The organization works to attack, discredit and scare academics.

So far, more than 40 academics have been publicly accused of being corrupted by the biotech industry.

The USRTK has also demanded access to academics’ and researchers’ work emails in attempts to discredit them.

The USRTK has adopted a method used by the big tobacco companies to establish distrust in scientists.

In their book Merchants of Doubt, authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway identify how the tobacco industry organized targeted criticisms of the American surgeon general and scientists that reported the health dangers of smoking.


Tobacco companies in the 1960s funded shell organizations to refute the research on the dangers of smoking. In addition, these organizations attempted to tarnish the reputations of the authors (scientists and academics) of this research.

Like big tobacco, USRTK (or perhaps big organic) has adopted the strategy of “killing the messenger.” By attacking academics researching the impacts and benefits of GM crops, USRTK is creating a negative environment and trying to scare the academic community to step back from future involvement on this research area.

This is an issue because it threatens the freedoms of academics to probe, explore and research the good and the bad of the leading issues of the day.

Using an actual sword today is rather passé. Instead, the USRTK sword is access to email requests, used to damage the reputation of respected and credible academics.

In its latest sword thrust, the USRTK has launched an attack on the University of Saskatchewan by accusing professor Peter Phillips and myself.

In my case, hundreds of hours will be spent sifting through my emails, time that I could better spend mentoring students or working on important agricultural projects, such as those in developing countries.

Led by Gary Ruskin, it seems that the USRTK firmly believe that academic freedoms should not exist in our society.


Instead, they would prefer that special interest groups (like organic companies) dictate what re-search should be allowed to be conducted by academics.

There’s no honour in riding their steeds into university offices, waving their swords around and terrifying those who follow academic professionalism in GM crop research.

Such campaigns of fear and intimidation have failed countless times throughout history and I hope it fails again.

While frustrating, the “Big Tobacco” strategy that the USRTK is employing doesn’t work. It didn’t work for the large tobacco companies in the 1960s and 1970s be-cause most of them were sued for the health problems caused by their product.

Ruskin and the organic industry are terrified that the message about the health and environmental benefits from GM crops is gaining acceptance by the public and are mounting up, swords in hand, to strike fear into the hearts of those of us that undertake this research.

It would appear that Bulwer-Lytton’s words are as true today as they were 180 years ago. There’s strong evidence that the academic pen is indeed mightier than Ruskin’s USRTK organic sword.

Stuart Smyth is an assistant 
professor in the University of 
Saskatchewan’s agricultural and resource economics department and holds the university’s Industry Research Chair in Agri-Food 
Innovation. This blog appeared on the SAIFood website.


  • RobertWager

    Thank you Stuart. It is past time the public finds out about the tactics used by some in the food industry to drum up sales. It is true fear sells but only until people learn the truth. Then watch out as the public will not take being lied to lightly. Building a business model based on fear marketing is definitely a house of cards. This one is shaking.

    • sir_ken_g

      … Same garbage Bog Tobacco used to spew.
      “Cigarettes are good for you – GMOs too!”

    • Harold

      You must be speaking of the GM and biotech industry because the facts do not support the testimony.

    • You have to be kidding me. The only fear tactics being used is by you guys. The truth will win out and you will be on the losing side. It’s only a matter of time.

  • richard

    What a waste of space in an otherwise good edition of WP……Are you guys obliged to air this nonsense?

    • Harold

      Are you obligated to read it? Perhaps the WP invitation to the public to join the discussion (the area you click on) and the provided space to do so has created a bit of a mystery. Perhaps you were referring to the Article. Your complaint was unclear and going by the word “edition” you must have been referring to the article as nonsense, but the added dots…… you could have been referring to those who commented. Crying nonsense is also cried by those who do not have the capacity to understand the content. I further noticed that your cry did not appear with any corresponding corrective content. A child will cry out nonsense when the child cannot figure out how to tie their own shoe laces. A child does not prove anything by crying out nonsense because the child is as the child was and the shoes unlaced. The crying of nonsense without a correction is a “nothing burger”.
      I can shoulder hearing or reading nonsense and seeing a waste of space and even shoulder insults without melting like a snowflake; can you?
      I challenge people’s opinions and they challenge mine and that is exactly what a discussion is and what the WP invites in plain language.[join the discussion]
      Those who wish to silence are not mentally fit or fit in knowledge for any discussion or they are concealing a lie or a conspiracy.
      I do not write to silence anyone or to make anyone look stupid; I write for the sake of a meaningful discussion and it is my determination, if anything, that others do the same in kind.

  • Monkeeworks

    I bet not many people actually worry to much about your consideration. I don’t.

    • Harold

      What do you get if you win the bet? Self-gratification? Is that the most important thing to you? I’ll give it to you now. YOU WIN !!!!!
      Don’t wait for the words in my previous comments or future comments to change; they won’t. If you thought you could pass me your “worry”- you failed. With that off the table, what will we talk about next? Perhaps some facts or do you need a little more self-gratification; a blue ribbon?

  • Kissing optional

    ‘…RightToKnow is a shell company…”
    So I checked out opinion writer, Stuart Smyth, talk about a funded shell…, this guy sucks up every chemical company dollar available. What is known as a shill of a shell.

    • Andy

      Proof? Got some published financial records or something to share with us?

  • Kissing optional

    A quick google of Smyth’s webpage will verify the erroneously removed reply to RobertWager is, in fact, not slanderous. It is true.
    That is why this shill is under the WP heading ‘opinion piece’
    Every chemical company contributes to his bank account.’
    Have no fear WP,
    It’s only libellous if it isn’t fact.
    The chemical company advertising dollar ‘chill threat’ isn’t likely as you are the foremost publication of ag news

    • KO,

      I removed your comment because it did nothing but attack the individual who chose to share his opinion.

      Take exception to what Smyth has to say, share your own contrasting opinion, point out a shortcoming in his argument – focus on the issue, not the individual. Simple name calling accomplishes nothing and comments of this nature will continue to be deleted.

      Paul – WP web editor

      • Kissing optional

        While I beg to differ, by pointing out that the opinion was wholly funded by the chemical industries, readers can then make an objective decision on the merit of his opinion.
        But alas, it is your comments board…

    • Verna Lang

      Of course it was not slanderous. The legal definition of slander refers to spoken defamation. Written defamation is libel. Two different legal terms you might need to keep straight.

  • Monkeeworks

    After a short time reading the comment sections of the Western Producer I am finding the user ‘Harold’ pops up everywhere and never has anything nice to say about anything or anyone unless they agree with his comment, then eggs them on. …

    • Harold

      Why wouldn’t you ask me directly instead of spreading falsehoods about me? I do not employ emotional “blackmail and in fact I detest those who try it.
      We both agree that a man-made climate change is a fabricated hoax.
      I am sure that others don’t see our comments on climate in a good light. (nice)
      Do we agree on climate due to the facts as presented or are they based upon how nice we and others can be? Is it nice to say that: facts are not supported by emotions, and if facts were, that there wouldn’t be any? Too many emotional warriors today; is this “nice” or is it a fact, because if it isn’t “nice”, perhaps we should bury the fact. Are you trying to be nice or are you trying to be informative. Nice words or being nice can be evil when they are used to deceive and often they are used for such. I do not focus myself upon nice. A tractor is replaced after the not so “nice” words have been spoken. Incompetence has been replaced with competence after the not so “nice” words have been spoken. all good comes from bad being there first, and not the other way around. Facts can be downright nasty to those who wish to avoid them against those who wish to uphold them. Like you, I say things only when others have not said them. When I truly want or need you to agree with any of my comments, I will ask you to sign my comments at the bottom of the page in wet ink with your signature. The comment section is not a contract section so therefore you are not under any personal threat whatsoever. There is no blackmail. In fact it is the other way around: when I disagree with others, they such as you hold me in contempt. MY comments are for the purpose of a evoking a conversation and nothing more. I am focused upon clarity and not agreements. Agreements are left to the eyes of the beholder. Moreover, I can only grow as a human being with the more often that I am proven wrong, so therefore I welcome it with both arms; To be otherwise is to remain stagnant.
      If agreements were important to me, I would have the same as you do; a section tabulating my public opinion agreement votes.
      The topic is Biotech, and not Harold, but thanks for egging me on with your “nice” comments about me.

  • Harold

    Thanks for your comment and i enjoy a conversation.
    Is playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton who wrote that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” a fact witness to what goes on at USRTK. Are authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway fact witnesses? Are tobacco companies Fact Witnesses to what is going on at USRTK? “There’s no honour in riding their steeds into university offices, waving their swords” and we believe that this is actually taking place? “Swords in hand, to strike fear into the hearts of those of us that undertake this research” and we believe this is true? Who do they need to fear and for what concrete reason? A information request? Public oversight? Swords and horses; “exactly what Stuart Smyth is describing”? Sounds like theater to me and I would question why theater tactics and hyperbole are even necessary when facts can always stand alone. Stuart Smyth’s assertion is that the Industry he represents is 100% legit and requires no public oversight. If that were true and honest he would welcome public oversight. The right to know is not an industry driven right; it is a basic and fundamental individual human Right and especially if a product is intended to enter into the body. Who is the boss of what enters into your mouth; you or industry? If a group wishes to examine the evidence (USRTK) on behalf of individuals it is not a dishonorable or an illegal activity and it is not done with horses (steeds) or “swords”. A request for information or email information is not an “attack” unless someone is hiding something; it is a request for information only. Has the USRTK been sued for defamation? This Article would be thrown out of Court.
    Furthermore, if Stuart Smyth’s assertions had the backing of the University of Saskatchewan his name would have been titled and it is not. Stuart Smyth and Peter Phillips are not the University of Saskatchewan and are both capable of being fired. An examination of the two is not an examination of the University. Sifting through email confirmations is not a sword attack it is called work. Stuart Smyth would have us mentally conjure up a picture of criminal activity by his description and have us arrest them and in my opinion that is exactly what he has attempted to do.
    As I said, the article was full defections, of drama, theatrics, and hearsay, and no fact evidence. If you can find any fact evidence in this Article please let me know.

    • Andy

      Researchers report to trained safety and ethics oversight committees – try getting approval to do any kind of experiment on mice or try getting someone authorization to work in a lab with any hazards and you’ll know that there is a great deal of oversight in place. After that, researchers publish their findings, which are then reviewed by other researchers, who look for indicators of falsified research, and who point out flaws and areas of improvement. USRTK offers no useful insights or oversight with their Freedom of Information Requests. All they do is disrupt researchers and take up large amounts of time.
      Such requests can be intimidating because opponents of biotech can take select sentences, string them together and frame it in a deceptive way. It is much easier and less time consuming to disseminate false information than to counter it. Even a perfectly honest and ethical man can be undermined by smear campaigns, which are not constrained by truth.

      • Harold

        Thank you for your comment. You have proven by your comment that the use of novel’s, tobacco, drama/theater, are merely empty space fillers and are indeed unnecessary when focusing upon the heart of the matter. Your opinion was far closer to the point and more reasonable than that of Stuart Smyth’s entire comment and I appreciate that; you have in fact offered something to work with.
        Canadians are the public and the Freedom of Information Act is given to ALL Canadians making all Canadians the oversight committee and to any individual who so chooses. The Oversight committee is not the fragmented Industry handpicked select oversight committees. To have this Canadian Right, comes with it, ALL of the grief that is necessary to defend it and to uphold it. The Law Courts deal with any wrong doings and they are not Stuart Smyth’s Court of the Industry led fancies. Those who are intimidated can be offered a Tissue, Meds, or a Lawyer.
        To believe that the BIO-TECH is incorruptible is to believe that truth is determined by nothing more than a mere company logo. What you claim about the deeds of the USRTK can be easily done by the Bio-tech industry and the Universities as well. Within every human there is the will to do either right or wrong and monetary reward is often the motivator of a wrong-doing. “Whistle blowers” refusing the monetary rewards are often times jailed; hence Freedom of Information ACT.
        Where are the Court imposed Restraining Orders, Class Action Law Suits, Defamation, Fraud, Perjury, or Conspiracy claims that have been moved forward in a Court of Law located that support Stuart Smyth’s or your claims? Each of the aforementioned is pursuant to unlawful activity. All that I have read so far are the underpinnings of finger wagging and finger pointing mixed with theater and non-issue events. The only story that I can see is that the USRTK expressing its own due diligence lawfully requested information and that Stuart Smyth expressing his due diligence is lawfully providing it; a story so ordinary and so ordinarily expected that the event was hardly even news worthy. How the USRTK or anyone interprets the information rests solely upon them and so does liability for any wrong-doing.
        Did you have to obtain a freedom of information request before reading everything on the USRTK web site? If the USRTK obtains a document via FOIR are you not interested in seeing it for yourself? Do you have to get a FOIR to get documents from the university? Who then is more secretive and therefore more hidden from the public’s scrutiny? Obviously USRTK is going to be heavily criticized while the doors of the University remain closed in its secrecy out of the public eye. (so ordinary) Why is a learning institution run so secretively that a FOIR is needed to obtain information? To be clear, I am not supporting USRTK, I am supporting my right to know and every avenue that uncovers the truth and I am sure that I am not a lone Canadian and that there are many others seeking the same.

  • Robert Schooler

    It is because of those FOIA requests that I found out my Cornell professors were emailing Monsanto (along with most of the “guest lecturers”) … Because of this, I hosted my own GMO course in respons on campus, featuring credentialed scientists like Michael Hansen (over 3 decades of GM/agribusiness science expertise).

    None of this would be a problem if what you guys were saying was actually true. But alas, it isn’t.

    Why do my PhD professors lie to me about golden rice, glyphosate, Bt protein science, etc? I’ll leave you to decide.

    F*** this silly trash article. If you guys weren’t lying at every turn about GMOs and agriculture, we wouldn’t have to expose it all.