U.S. scientist sues New York Times over Monsanto allegations

Kevin Folta, a University of Florida horticultural scientist, is suing the New York Times for libel.

Folta, a vocal defender of pesticides and genetically modified technology, filed the lawsuit in early September at a U.S. District Court in Florida.

The libel case stems from a front page New York Times story, published Sept. 6, 2015.

The piece began with the headline: Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show.

The emails mentioned in the headline originated mostly from U.S. Right to Know, a group that campaigns for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

Based on those emails acquired through Freedom Of Information Act requests, the NY Times reported that Monsanto provided financial support to Folta and other scientists who publicly talk about GM technology.

“Monsanto and its industry partners have also passed out an undisclosed amount in special grants to scientists like Kevin Folta… to help with “biotechnology outreach” and to travel around the country to defend genetically modified foods,” the article said.

In a document filed for the libel suit, Folta’s lawyers argued that the NY Times and reporter Eric Lipton deliberately portrayed Folta as a Monsanto mouthpiece, rather than a scientist who shares legitimate science about agricultural biotechnology.

“These defendants also mislead the public via its article by falsely claiming that Dr. Folta was in effect a paid operative of Monsanto, and as a covert operative of Monsanto (he) misrepresented the safety, purpose and efficacy of GMOs to advance Monsanto’s corporate goals.”

As well, the document said the defendants “refused to retract, correct or fix the misleading and false article.”

Folta, in the court document, said the article has damaged his reputation as a scientist, as hundreds of online articles have questioned his ethics or labelled him as a biotech industry shill.

The libel suit doesn’t mention a figure for financial compensation. It asks for damages “in an amount that will effectively punish the defendants for their conduct and deter them… from similar acts in the future.”

A New York Times spokesperson told the politically focused news outlet Politico that the paper will “defend the lawsuit vigorously.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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