The Big Money Behind the Environmental Scare Movement –the attack on atrazine replays the alar scare

In April, the National Resources Defense Council issued an update in its all-out campaign to demonize and ban the herbicide atrazine.  The scope of its attack shows that the NRDC has learned a thing or two from the 1980s, when it ginned up a successful campaign to demonize the apple growth regulator, alar.

After the alar ban, investigative journalist Robert Bidinotto uncovered just how flimsy the science behind that scare actually was.  In a recent update [http://biggovernment.com/rbidinotto/2010/05/17/son-of-alar-the-new-pesticide-scare-campaign/#more-121062], he says that “many people—echoing the rock group The Who—concluded that ‘we won’t be fooled again’ by environmentalist fear-mongers.”

Well, guess what . . . A lot of people are being fooled again.

In the NRDC report, “Poisoning the Well,” a reasonable person who knew nothing about atrazine would be alarmed, chocked full as it is with many pocket descriptions of studies alleging ill effects from atrazine on humans, wildlife and the environment.  Such reports and the studies they publicize are routinely—and uncritically—the source of news stories that in turn do what they are intended to do: Inflame public opinion against atrazine, just as NRDC once successfully did against alar.

This time, the stakes are much bigger than alar.  The attack on apple growers was a one-time hit.  The Wall Street Journal [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703630404575053510187558820.html] reports that the environmental lobby “figures that if it can take down atrazine with its long record of clean health, it can get the EPA to prohibit anything.”

The activists at NRDC are nothing if not entrepreneurial.  Knowing they can’t pull off another alar on the shoulders of a celebrity endorser like Meryl Streep before a jaded public, this time they come armed with a plethora of serious-sounding, peer-reviewed studies.  Exposed to this kind of advocacy for the first time, reporters and policymakers alike might be forgiven for stampeding in panic.  This is the NRDC, however.  Given this NGO’s checkered history, journalists should ask the NRDC and its allies a few questions—

Why do you have so much money and time to spend on an all-out campaign against an herbicide that has been safely used for more than fifty years?  Why are you so motivated in overturning the findings of the EPA in 2006, the governments of Britain and Australia, as well as the World Health Organization?  In short, who are you and what are you really about?

And should activists get a free ride when it comes to full disclosure?

Let’s take these questions each by each.

Who Are These People?

The official filings of the National Resources Defense Council reveal the outlines of an NGO behemoth.  According to its most recently available tax return from 2007, the NRDC received revenues of more than $100 million.  It has net assets of more than $187 million.  According to the Green Tracking Library, former NRDC president and founder John H. Adams had a combined 2006 income of $757,464.
Just because the NRDC is officially non-profit does not mean it cannot make money from its attacks.  In going after alar, the NRDC caused apple farmers to lose more than $100 million.  In the aftermath of this campaign, PR strategist David Fenton said, “We designed [the alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the National Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the Donahue show.  And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”

And these are the pure ones not tainted by the dirty fingers of commerce?

While often portraying industry meetings with federal regulators in the most sinister light, the NRDC itself is financially intertwined with the federal government.  By 2004, this 501(c) (3) non-profit had received nearly $6.5 million in discretionary grants from the EPA since 1993.  (The EPA concedes that all the discretionary grants awarded to NRDC were awarded without competition.)  Tax returns show NRDC received $350,000 in government money in 2007.  The allied Land Stewardship Project also gets about 14 percent of its money from government grants.

So while taking in money from the government, the NRDC lobbies that same government with its 501 (c) (4) and 527 political organizations.  Could a critic infer a conflict of interest here?

Corporate competitors also fund NGO attacks, though you will rarely see a charge of a conflict of interest here, either.  NRDC’s ally, PANNA, (whose stated goal is “moving persistent pesticides toward global elimination,”) owes much of its roughly $3 million budget to financial support from organic food companies that presumably would be interested in scaring consumers away from the competition.

PANNA, NRDC and LSP share one very powerful, controversial funding source: the Tides Foundation, a far-Left philanthropy powerhouse that helped start and nurture the now-defunct, scandal-ridden ACORN.  The related Tides Center also supports the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which frequently weighs in on the NRDC’s anti-pesticide stories.  The Huffington Post calls the fund “our fiscal sponsor” which “provides administrative support” for its journalists.

The Tides Center, which spent more than half-a-billion dollars as a fiscal sponsor to 677 projects, does not release the identity of its donors.  (Tides founder, Drummond Pike, told The Chronicle of Philanthropy that “Anonymity is very important to most of the people we work with.”)  It is widely believed that Tides receives significant donations from wealthy trial lawyers—possibly the same trial lawyers who have a moneyed interest in lawsuits against the very pesticides these organizations are characterizing as unsafe.

In the case of atrazine, as Bidinotto writes, the attack on atrazine (and by inference, the whole corn economy of the Farm Belt) is being “led by the notorious Texas law firm of Baron & Budd” and “attorney Stephen Tillery, operating in the litigation paradise of Madison County.”

These people are no strangers to junk science.  Is it fair for reporters to ask if they are strangers to the Tides Foundation, either?

# # #

n April, the National Resources Defense Council issued an update in its all-out campaign to demonize and ban the herbicide atrazine.  The scope of its attack shows that the NRDC has learned a thing or two from the 1980s, when it ginned up a successful campaign to demonize the apple growth regulator, alar.
After the alar ban, investigative journalist Robert Bidinotto uncovered just how flimsy the science behind that scare actually was.  In a recent update [http://biggovernment.com/rbidinotto/2010/05/17/son-of-alar-the-new-pesticide-scare-campaign/#more-121062], he says that “many people—echoing the rock group The Who—concluded that ‘we won’t be fooled again’ by environmentalist fear-mongers.”
Well, guess what . . . A lot of people are being fooled again.
In the NRDC report, “Poisoning the Well,” a reasonable person who knew nothing about atrazine would be alarmed, chocked full as it is with many pocket descriptions of studies alleging ill effects from atrazine on humans, wildlife and the environment.  Such reports and the studies they publicize are routinely—and uncritically—the source of news stories that in turn do what they are intended to do: Inflame public opinion against atrazine, just as NRDC once successfully did against alar.
This time, the stakes are much bigger than alar.  The attack on apple growers was a one-time hit.  The Wall Street Journal [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703630404575053510187558820.html] reports that the environmental lobby “figures that if it can take down atrazine with its long record of clean health, it can get the EPA to prohibit anything.”
The activists at NRDC are nothing if not entrepreneurial.  Knowing they can’t pull off another alar on the shoulders of a celebrity endorser like Meryl Streep before a jaded public, this time they come armed with a plethora of serious-sounding, peer-reviewed studies.  Exposed to this kind of advocacy for the first time, reporters and policymakers alike might be forgiven for stampeding in panic.  This is the NRDC, however.  Given this NGO’s checkered history, journalists should ask the NRDC and its allies a few questions—
Why do you have so much money and time to spend on an all-out campaign against an herbicide that has been safely used for more than fifty years?  Why are you so motivated in overturning the findings of the EPA in 2006, the governments of Britain and Australia, as well as the World Health Organization?  In short, who are you and what are you really about?
And should activists get a free ride when it comes to full disclosure?
Let’s take these questions each by each.

Who Are These People?
The official filings of the National Resources Defense Council reveal the outlines of an NGO behemoth.  According to its most recently available tax return from 2007, the NRDC received revenues of more than $100 million.  It has net assets of more than $187 million.  According to the Green Tracking Library, former NRDC president and founder John H. Adams had a combined 2006 income of $757,464.
Just because the NRDC is officially non-profit does not mean it cannot make money from its attacks.  In going after alar, the NRDC caused apple farmers to lose more than $100 million.  In the aftermath of this campaign, PR strategist David Fenton said, “We designed [the alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the National Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the Donahue show.  And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”
And these are the pure ones not tainted by the dirty fingers of commerce?
While often portraying industry meetings with federal regulators in the most sinister light, the NRDC itself is financially intertwined with the federal government.  By 2004, this 501(c) (3) non-profit had received nearly $6.5 million in discretionary grants from the EPA since 1993.  (The EPA concedes that all the discretionary grants awarded to NRDC were awarded without competition.)  Tax returns show NRDC received $350,000 in government money in 2007.  The allied Land Stewardship Project also gets about 14 percent of its money from government grants.
So while taking in money from the government, the NRDC lobbies that same government with its 501 (c) (4) and 527 political organizations.  Could a critic infer a conflict of interest here?
Corporate competitors also fund NGO attacks, though you will rarely see a charge of a conflict of interest here, either.  NRDC’s ally, PANNA, (whose stated goal is “moving persistent pesticides toward global elimination,”) owes much of its roughly $3 million budget to financial support from organic food companies that presumably would be interested in scaring consumers away from the competition.
PANNA, NRDC and LSP share one very powerful, controversial funding source: the Tides Foundation, a far-Left philanthropy powerhouse that helped start and nurture the now-defunct, scandal-ridden ACORN.  The related Tides Center also supports the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which frequently weighs in on the NRDC’s anti-pesticide stories.  The Huffington Post calls the fund “our fiscal sponsor” which “provides administrative support” for its journalists.
The Tides Center, which spent more than half-a-billion dollars as a fiscal sponsor to 677 projects, does not release the identity of its donors.  (Tides founder, Drummond Pike, told The Chronicle of Philanthropy that “Anonymity is very important to most of the people we work with.”)  It is widely believed that Tides receives significant donations from wealthy trial lawyers—possibly the same trial lawyers who have a moneyed interest in lawsuits against the very pesticides these organizations are characterizing as unsafe.
In the case of atrazine, as Bidinotto writes, the attack on atrazine (and by inference, the whole corn economy of the Farm Belt) is being “led by the notorious Texas law firm of Baron & Budd” and “attorney Stephen Tillery, operating in the litigation paradise of Madison County.”
These people are no strangers to junk science.  Is it fair for reporters to ask if they are strangers to the Tides Foundation, either?
# # #

Peering Into Peer Review on Atrazine – industry studies are often better and more transparent

In a recent blog, I outlined some of the big money behind the activist assault on modern agricultural technology, particularly the safe and effective herbicide, atrazine. Much of that money probably flows directly from trial lawyers through activist “laundering” operations such as the Tides Foundation (specifically set up so that the billions they distribute to activists can’t be traced to its source).
I suggested that reporters, if they really want to fulfill their watchdog function, maybe ask some of these activists where their funding comes from.
This is particularly important, as the activist campaign against atrazine is based largely on discrediting the “industry based” science on which regulatory approval has been at least partially based.
So here I suggest some additional questions reporters should never fail to ask scientists who put out these flimsy studies on atrazine:  Can you please name all the sources that funded your study?  And if you won’t, why not?

Industry Funded Vs. Peer Review
The NRDC’s whole case against atrazine rests on their argument that to get a true scientific appraisal of a chemical and its health effects, one must survey the literature of peer-reviewed studies not funded by industry.  Before this gold standard, industry-funded studies are dismissed as so much deceptive PR.
This trope not only permeates the promotional literature of activist organizations.  It has also begun to effect the way in which the press and journals approach studies.  In 2005, The Journal of the American Medical Association announced a new policy of refusing to publish industry-sponsored research unless there was at least one other author with no ties to the industry who would formally vouch for the data.  Since then, journalists have tended use the phrase “industry-funded” in a dismissive fashion, while uncritically touting the often sensational findings of peer-reviewed studies whose funders are often unknown.

Full Disclosure?
“Why are journalists and ethics boards so quick to assume that money, particularly corporate money, is the first factor to look at when evaluating someone’s work?” asks John Tierney of The New York Times.  “One reason is laziness.  It is simpler to note a corporate connection than to analyze all the other factors that can bias researchers’ work: their background and ideology, their yearnings for publicity and prestige and power, the politics of their profession, the agendas of the public agencies and foundations and grant committees that finance so much scientific work.”
By comparison, the typical peer-reviewed study undergoes no such audit.
“Keep in mind that peer review is a volunteer enterprise,” writes Janet Raloff in Science News writes:  “No one gets paid.  So there is little incentive for a reviewer to spend weeks or more anonymously ferreting out potential errors from a gargantuan manuscript.”
In fact, there is every reason to believe that industry-funded studies are superior to those not financed by industry.  Tierney reports [http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/misleading-research-from-industry/] that a study funded by the National Institute of Health found that the industry-sponsored clinical trials met significantly higher standards than the non-industry ones.
Also lost in the discussion is that industry-funded studies are mandated by law.  For atrazine, some studies have cost more than $12 million.  They are designed under the guidance of the EPA.  They are stringently audited by EPA.   In contrast, many of the studies that are regularly cited by the NRDC have been either rejected as seriously flawed by the EPA, or are bigger-than-a-breadbox “ecological” studies in which atrazine itself was not included.
“It’s naïve to caricature scientific disputes as battles between ‘industry’ and the ‘public interest,’ as if bureaucrats and activists didn’t have their own selfish interests (and wealthy, powerful allies like trial lawyers),” writes Tierney.  “Too often, corporate conflict-of-interest accusations have been used as smear tactics to silence scientists who ended up being correct.”
Tierney offers a suggestion that scientists list all their public and private donors on their Web pages, allowing journalists and readers to decide for themselves which ones are potentially corrupting.
If the default assumption is that money is the root of all evil, then transparency should be the price of being taken seriously by journalists and policymakers.

About Alex Avery

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