ELLE bites back against biotech apologist Jon Entine's attack on the magazine's recent piece on GM.
NOTE: For more on Entine and his connection to biotech interests see our piece:
Manufactured scientific debate, third-party experts, and Jon Entine
Let's Discuss (Again): The GMO Food Debate
ELLE, August 9 2013
Because the issue of the safety of genetic modified food is such a deeply contentious one, when ELLE published Caitlin Shetterly’s story "Bad Seed," we expected that some might object that it unfairly maligned GMOs. And Jon Entine, the author of Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health, has done that in Slate.
In our piece, Shetterly recounts how she and her allergist came to believe that genetically altered corn was the probable cause of the debilitating, allergic illness that afflicted her, one marked by a profusion of a kind of white blood cells called eosinophils. Her point of view was clear, but at the same time she—and ELLE—were committed to airing both sides of the GMO debate.
Entine, however, ignored passages in the piece that didn’t fit his thesis that so-called “lifestyle magazines” like ELLE “credulously stoke conspiratorial fears” about GMOs. For example, Shetterly included the perspective of Amal Assa’ad, MD, a professor at the University of Cincinnati medical school, who dismisses Shetterly’s anxiety over GMO’s safety “as almost magical thinking.” The story continues: “What’s wrong with chemicals?” [Assa’ad] asked. “We’re so afraid of chemicals because they are man-made, right? A lot of chemicals have helped us—a lot of medications are chemicals.” If anything, GMO foods have been a boon to mankind, Assa’ad said. GMO seeds “produce better crops that have increased production, that are resistant to pesticides—crops that can feed the rest of the world.”
Entine also communicated with Shetterly’s sources, some of whom took issue with how their opinions were portrayed. After reviewing the work of Shetterly and ELLE’s fact-checker, who examined the transcripts of interviews with each source and/or confirmed their statements via email or by phone—we stand by our story.
Two of the people who complained when contacted by Entine are (or were) doctors affiliated with the University of Cincinnati medical school’s Center for Pediatric Eosinophilic Disorders. Allergist Karl von Tiehl, for example, told Slate that his “voice was used inappropriately to imply that there is a scientifically substantiated link between GMO foods and eosinophilic disorders in humans.”
But, in fact, Shetterly stated, precisely, that Von Tiehl did not know if such a link existed: Von Tiehl doesn’t know if GMO crops are the culprit, but he says, “you’re eating what somebody in some office has decided is good for you rather than what your grandma would have told you is good for you.”
In the course of reporting the piece, Shetterly spoke with a number of researchers and medical professionals who told her they couldn’t go on the record about their doubts about GMOs because they feared being sued by a biotech or agriculture company, or losing grant money provided by the private sector. Von Tiehl, who also told Entine that ELLE’s article wrongly suggested that he thinks “there is something scary or obviously wrong or concerning about GMO foods”, was one of those who worried about his legal exposure.
Here is an excerpt from the taped, transcribed interview between Shetterly and von Tiehl:
CS: Do you read labels and see all those hidden places where GMO corn is like xanthan gum, citric acid, ascorbic acid, natural flavorings? [GMO corn is used to make all those substances.] Would you not buy those things?
KVT: I can’t answer that question for legal reasons.
KVT: I can’t tell you how I have personally changed my diet.
CS: Because you’re afraid of being sued?
KVT: Because I’m afraid of being sued by big agribusiness.
As for Entine, he clearly believes that the science proves that GMOs are harmless, which is also the position of the FDA, which we acknowledge in our story. Based on the Slate piece and his body of work, we presume that Entine would take issue with any article that devotes sustained attention to questioning GMOs. And that’s his prerogative, of course.
I’d stop here, but Entine got a little ad-hominem, or should I say ad-feminen, in his rebuttal of our piece. Writing that, in the same issue in which Shetterly’s piece appeared, our editor in chief Robbie Myers “bragged” about women’s magazines’ commitment to serious journalism, Entine wrote, “If ELLE has the journalistic integrity that it claims for itself, Ms. Meyers [sic.] would withdraw the Shetterly piece and publish an article that sets the record straight.”
Since we’re setting the record straight, Entine also runs a consulting business called ESG MediaMetrics. “We manage and create reputations,” its website says. “We bring to every challenge our vast experience as active journalists, public relations, and media specialists, international scholars, and advisers for Fortune 500 corporations.” In other words, he’s a hired gun who, it happens, counts Monsanto, one of the biggest producers of GMO seeds in the world, as a “select client.”
Or at least that’s what his website said until at least February of last year, when "Mother Jones" reporter Tom Philpott wrote a piece about Entine called “The Making of an Agribusiness Apologist.” Philpott directly asked Entine about the Monsanto connection. “Nine years ago,” Entine responded in an email, “I did a $2,000 research project for v-Fluence, a social media company formed by former Monsanto executives. That’s the entirety of my Monsanto relationship.”
Okay, but if they were really “former” Monsanto execs, perhaps Entine shouldn’t have “bragged” on his website that Monsanto was among his “select clients.” Or perhaps the most principled act with regard to Shetterly’s piece would have been for Entine to disclose his former connection to Monsanto when he attacked ELLE's journalistic integrity.