A lawsuit could uncover the deepest, darkest secrets of the food and agrichemical industries.
The food and agrichemical industries have over decades funneled billions of research dollars into the nation's universities—a relationship that has led to observable bias in industry-funded university studies, as well as concerns that findings favorable to the sponsor’s interests are cherry-picked for public consumption. An impending court case involving the University of Florida could further lift the veil on the particulars of this dynamic.
Back in 2015, food industry watchdog U.S. Right to Know requested certain emails from the University of Florida, including exchanges with the pro-agrichemical industry list-server "AgBioChatter." Though the university released some of the requested emails (which provided the backbone of a damning New York Times article), it didn’t release all of them.
This prompted USRTK, a nonprofit that receives funding from the organic food industry, to file a lawsuit last year forcing the university to comply with its public records request. The university’s attempt to block the suit recently failed, and the trial is scheduled to begin the end of February.
“This is an effort to uncover the deepest, darkest secrets of the food and agrichemical industry,” said Gary Ruskin, founder and co-director of USRTK.
The University of Florida isn't the only public institution targeted by USRTK to disclose its relationship with the food and agrichemical industries. In 2016, Ruskin filed a complaint against the Regents of the University of California, alleging that UC Davis hadn’t released all of its requested emails. "Taxpayers pay the salaries of these researchers," Ruskin said. "They work in public institutions, and just like other public employees, we should know what they do with our money."
The University of Florida would not comment on pending litigation. While UC Davis "continues to work with Mr. Ruskin on his ongoing requests," a university spokesperson wrote in an email, adding that "its researchers are the utmost professionals who are driven by the evidence the science presents. That scientific evidence is what is presented to funders, regardless of whether they are public or private entities."