Dr. Chuck Benbrook is an economist who may be an adjunct at Washington State University but calls himself a research professor and tells the public he is an expert in biology. Why so many organic food proponents believe a guy about something as complex as genetic modification when he can't even get his own title correct is a mystery we can't solve today but we know his credibility sure won't be bolstered up by an op-ed he just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

You may already be wondering why I am discussing an op-ed in NEJM by ironically using an op-ed on Science 2.0, and the simple reason is because there isn't much science to discuss - and what little there was had been thoroughly debunked days before the piece came off embargo. In reading the NEJM article, I was more surprised that a competent editor, much less a doctor or scientist, was able to resist asking the awkward questions about why so much conjecture was included by Benbrook and his pediatrician co-author.

Where's the evidence? Instead, they go after the National Academy of Sciences but that group once fired Benbrook for proselytizing too much so it isn't a shock he engages in a bit of a vendetta. Since he specializes in unweighted random effects meta analyses we can see why he has been the driving force behind papers declaring organic food superior, but we can't see why they take a random walk to butterflies and then lurch to GMO food labeling in their work. 

Yet by my noting any of those flaws in the piece, no one in the $100 billion Big Organic movement will stop and think about why he isn't taken more seriously, they will claim I am a shill for Monsanto.(1)

As we noted at the American Council on Science and Health, Monsanto's $14 billion in sales is impressive and that may be why organic food proponents feel like the company can "buy" me or a prominent scientist like University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta with all of that revenue, but if that is possible, it makes Benbrook look far worse. Group Danone ($24 billion), General Mills ($18 billion), Whole Foods Market ($13 billion) and United Natural Foods ($6 billion) have all funded his efforts to boost organic food and undermine science. If billions in revenue are all that count, just the Big Organic parent companies funding him could also buy Michael Pollan and Alex Lu and Marion Nestle and then tack on a whole bunch of other people just to be sure. 

But they don't ask about funding for anyone on their side, they only ask about expert scientists who form the consensus. If the issue is truly our "right to know" about funding sources, why wouldn't Gary Ruskin, who runs US Right To Know, and who created the recent Freedom Of Information Act actions against dozens of scientists, including some at Washington State University, exempt Benbrook, despite the fact that his corporate funders total $61 billion in annual revenue, almost 4X as much as Monsanto?

The dirty truth may be that transparency isn't the goal at all.  Those giant corporations fund Organic Consumers Association, which funds Ruskin, and it would be a bad idea to link them.

If NEJM were publishing serious work about GMOs, I would be all for it, but this kind of paper is just red meat for NRDC and Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Mother Jones and whoever else tries to claim Benbrook is a serious part of the science community.

What is serious is the credibility downturn Benbrook seems to be taking with his blatant advocacy. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller wrote of a post-apocalyptic world where religious devotees protected relics of mankind after, ironically, mankind had ruined the world with them. "The miraculous contraptions of the ancients were not to be carelessly tampered with, as many a dead excavator-of-the-past had testified with his dying gasp," he wrote. That religious devotion sure sounds like organic food acolytes and their worries about science. But the dying gasp we may be witnessing could be that of Benbrook's career, especially if the science community does what the anti-science community does so well and starts creating FOIAs about him.


(1) It's such a bizarre claim that legitimate science media has even embraced a term for that logical fallacy, Argumentum ad Monsanteum.