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Pro-Biotech Columnist Caught Taking Monsanto Money

From Business Week Online
JANUARY 13, 2006
NEWS ANALYSIS by: Eamon Javers
A Columnist Backed by Monsanto

Michael Fumento's failure to disclose payments to him in 1999 from the agribusiness giant has now caused Scripps Howard to sever its ties to him

Scripps Howard News Service announced Jan. 13 that it's severing its
business relationship with columnist Michael Fumento, who's also a senior
fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. The move comes after inquiries
from BusinessWeek Online about payments Fumento received from agribusiness
giant Monsanto (MON ) -- a frequent subject of praise in Fumento's opinion
columns and a book.

In a statement released on Jan. 13, Scripps Howard News Service Editor and
General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento "did not tell SHNS editors, and
therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson recieved a
$60,000 grant from Monsanto." Copeland added: "Our policy is that he should
have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers." In the Jan. 5
column, Fumento wrote that St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in
the pipeline that will aid farmers, "but also help us all by keeping prices
down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land."

He listed some of the products Monsanto has on tap: drought-resistant corn,
crops that could reduce the need for environment-damaging fertilizers, and
soybeans that might reduce heart disease.

"YOU SHOULD CONTRIBUTE." In his career at Hudson, Fumento has carved out a
specialty debunking critics of the agribusiness and biotechnology
industries. In 1999, he says, he solicited $60,000 from Monsanto to write a
book on the business. The book, entitled BioEvolution was published in 2003.
A spokesman for Monsanto confirmed the payments to the Hudson Institute.

Asked about the payments, Fumento says, "I'm just extremely pro-biotech." He
says he solicited several agribusiness companies to finance his book, which
was published by Encounter Books. "I went after everybody, I've got to be
honest," Fumento says of his fund-raising effort. "I told them that if I
tell the truth in this book, the biotech industry is going to look really
good, and you should contribute."

The Monsanto grant, he says, flowed from the company to the Hudson Institute
to support his work. A portion went to overhead and "most of it" went into
his salary. He says the money was simply folded into his salary for that
year, and therefore represented no windfall to him personally.

"STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS." The book's acknowledgements cite support from The
Donner Foundation and "others who wish to remain anonymous." Fumento didn't
disclose the payment from Monsanto either in the book or in at least eight
columns he has written mentioning Monsanto since 1999. He explained in his
recent column that he focused exclusively on Monsanto due to a "lack of
space and because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was
hunting for a column idea."

The author says he sees no conflict of interest in his recent columns
because the grant came several years ago. "If you're thinking quid pro quo,"
he says, "I think there's a statute of limitations on that."

BioEvolution argues that advances in biotechnology are overwhelmingly
positive for humanity, and it quotes Monsanto scientists, along with those
from other companies, at length. In one section, Fumento writes that
Monsanto allowed outside researchers to use plant patents it had developed
without a licensing fee, to help alleviate suffering in the Third World.
"Has this all been good PR for Monsanto?" Fumento asks in the book. "Yes it
has, as headlines have made clear. But a good deed is a good deed."

ONGOING RELATIONSHIP. Monsanto spokesman Chris Horner acknowledges two 1999
payments to Hudson of $30,000 each, but he says the company's records don't
indicate whether the payments were expressly for the book, as Fumento says.
"It's our practice, that if we're dealing with an organization like this,
that any funds we're giving should be unrestricted," Horner says.

He adds that Monsanto maintains an ongoing financial relationship with
Hudson, but explains that the company did not pay for the recent Fumento
op-ed or any others he has written. "He received a press release from us, as
did lots of others in his profession, and he chose to write about it on the
basis of that," Horner says.

New York-based Encounter Books says it doesn't have an immediate response to
queries about the book's funding.


Fumento insists that disclosure of financial
transactions between op-ed columnists and the companies they cover wouldn't
be practical. The op-ed money trail is only now getting attention, he argues
in an e-mail, because of BusinessWeek Online's recent revelation that
Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid two columnists for years to
deliver good press to his clients (see BW Online, 12/16/05, "Op-Eds for

"We're in a witch-hunting frenzy now but, as after all witch hunts, people
do return to their senses and regret the piles of ashes at their feet,"
Fumento writes. "Often it happened fast enough the witch hunters
found themselves tied to the stake. I do hope that happens here."

Fumento also points out that he criticized Monsanto publicly in a 1999
Forbes magazine column, calling the company "chicken-hearted" for caving in
to pressure from environmentalists to terminate a seed program. "I acted
completely ethically, and within a month or two nobody will doubt that,"
Fumento says.

While Fumento doesn't think he should have disclosed the payments to his
readers, Hudson's CEO Kenneth R. Weinstein is less sure. Asked if the
scholar should have disclosed his financial relationship with Monsanto,
Weinstein pauses and says, "that's a good question, period."