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23 May, 2015 03:23

Monsanto helps fund all-expense-paid ‘reporter boot camp’ for food writers

Monsanto helps fund all-expense-paid ‘reporter boot camp’ for food writers

Biotech company Monsanto is helping fund a “reporter boot camp” that will be hosted by the National Press Foundation, featuring an all-expense-paid journalism conference called “Food, From Farm to Table.”

The event includes a visit to an organic farm and Monsanto’s research lab.

Twenty journalists will be selected as National Press Foundation fellows to attend the conference in July, which includes travel, meals and hotel accommodation in St. Louis, Missouri. It offers “to take a holistic look at the issues: hunger, food waste, organic, GMOs, food science, feeding the world’s population, and more.

Monsanto Media: All pro GMO headlines, all the time! Monsanto Funds Free 'Reporting Boot Camp' for Food Writers http://t.co/IqKDK1Ne19

— Robyn O'Brien (@foodawakenings) May 22, 2015

National Press Foundation President Sandy Johnson told the Eater website that she initiated the NPF’s sponsorship relationship with Monsanto after attending a dinner party in January and finding herself sitting next to a member of the Monsanto board of directors. Eater asked if she was familiar with Monsanto’s controversial reputation.

In whose eyes? In your eyes? I'm familiar with the Monsanto that created research and science around agriculture that has allowed the United States to feed the world,” Johnson responded.

Johnson, according to the NPF website, was managing editor for the Institute of Public Integrity and previously the executive editor for state news for AARP. Before that, she was bureau chief for the Associated Press in Washington, DC, the news service’s largest bureau. Under her direction, AP refused to call the 2000 election for George W. Bush despite enormous pressure after TV networks had made an erroneous call.

READ MORE: Trade associates still seeking injunction against Vermont's GMO-labeling law

Monsanto is one of four sponsors for the fellowship, including the AARP Foundation, the Organic Trade Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, all of which have contributed towards a $100,000 fund to finance the conference. Johnson wouldn’t disclose how much each group had contributed, but she did tell Eater that they had decided to locate the conference in St. Louis, Missouri so they could include a visit to the Monsanto’s labs in the programming.

This is not the first time the NPF has accepted corporate sponsorship. In 2010, the nonprofit came under fire for a multi-day conference training journalists to write about cancer, sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and for another conference on retirement sponsored by Prudential, a company which sells insurance and pension investments.

On Saturday, a worldwide event dubbed March Against Monsanto is planned in 38 countries and 428 cities, meant to raise awareness about the dangers surrounding the company’s genetically modified seeds and cancer-linked herbicide Roundup.

The march comes as the demand for GMO labeling is gaining momentum in states like Vermont. In polls conducted by The New York Times, the Washington Post and Consumer Reports, 90 percent of respondents were in support of GMO labeling – an initiative defeated by heavy spending by Monsanto and other food industry-backed lobbying groups.