Pamela Ronald

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Pamela Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis. She wrote a book with her organic farmer husband, Raoul Adamchak, suggesting that organic and GM farming could co-exist and that GM is the way forward for sustainable agriculture. The book is called Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food. Ronald runs a blog called Tomorrow's Table[1], which is one of just four "Biotechnology Blogs" that Monsanto's blog provides a link to.[2]

Ronald co-authored an article in the New York Times arguing that "genetic engineering can be used not just to modify major commodity crops in the West, but also to improve a much wider range of crops that can be grown in difficult conditions throughout the world". She claimed, "Drought-tolerant cassava, insect-resistant cowpeas, fungus-resistant bananas, virus-resistant sweet potatoes and high-yielding pearl millet are just a few examples of genetically engineered foods that could improve the lives of the poor around the globe."[3] But examples cited by the project suggest that when it comes to creating crops that are suited to "difficult conditions", conventional breeding - often assisted by a non-GM genetic technology, marker assisted breeding - is way ahead of GM.[4] Oddly, Ronald does not mention any of these non-GM breakthroughs, which have occurred with a fraction of the expense of GM technology and none of the hype.

GM promoter shows why Monsanto's data untrustworthy

The Australian NGO, MADGE (Mothers Are Demystifying Genetic Engineering), says it was told by Western Australia’s agriculture minister, Terry Redman, that Ronald’s book “contains guidance to help the public distinguish rumours from high quality science." MADGE decided to rate the GM canola Monsanto material that FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) used for their food approval, against the checklist in the book. This is their commentary, with Ronald's checklist in the numbered points and MADGE's responses underneath, indented:

1. Examine the primary source of information.
Yes, we've got the Monsanto GM RR canola data and we've examined it.
2. Ask if the work was published in a peer-reviewed journal.
No, [only] after approval of RR canola by FSANZ, [was] the trout production study ... written up for publication.
3. Check if the journal has a good reputation.
No, the Monsanto material wasn't published.
4. Determine if there is an independent confirmation by another published study.
No, the GM RR canola is a patented product and there was no independent confirmation. FSANZ relied solely on material provided by Monsanto.
5. Assess whether a potential conflict of interest exists.
Yes, Monsanto is presenting its own work to advocate for the safety of its own product.
Astoundingly the authors [Ronald and Adamchak] also say: "If governmental regulators were to rely solely on data supplied by parties whose primary concern is not the public good but private interest, then the public would have reason to question the integrity of the research."
This is exactly why MADGE has been questioning the integrity of the research.
6. Assess the quality of institution or panel.
No journal, no panel, no university - just Monsanto.
7. Examine the reputation of the author.
Here is a list of some of Monsanto's achievements:
  • 2002: found guilty of conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society".[5] Monsanto had released tons of PCBs into the city of Anniston and covered up its actions for decades.[6]
  • 2005: fined $1.5million for bribing an Indonesian official[7], in a bid to avoid environmental impact studies on its Bt cotton
  • 2007: fined by a French court for misleading the public about the safety of Roundup. The verdict was confirmed in 2009.[8]
  • Oct 2009: investigated by the US Department of Justice on antitrust issues related to possible monopolistic practices.[9]
  • 9th February 2010: a former Managing Director of Monsanto India admitted that in his time Monsanto falsified scientific evidence for regulatory approval[10].
  • Swiss research firm Covalence's Ethical Quote system once again ranked Monsanto last on their ethical listing of multinationals; Monsanto was 581st behind companies such as Halliburton and Philip Morris[11]
So under Pamela Ronald's own criteria it seems that the scientific evidence in support of GM is not credible.[12]

GM rice and the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund

Ronald has her own laboratory at UC Davis, called the Ronald Laboratory. According to her biography on the UC Davis website:

Her laboratory has genetically engineered rice for resistance to diseases and flooding, both of which are serious problems of rice crops in Asia and Africa.[13]

Ronald cloned the disease- and flood-resistant gene from a wild rice variety found in Mali and UC Davis patented it. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, Ronald "encouraged the university [UC Davis] to create a benefit-sharing fund" (the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund or GRRF).

This is how the Ronald Laboratory website describes the University of California, Davis's GRRF: "Part of the royalties derived from the licensing of academic discoveries using developing countries' materials can be used to fund fellowships, land conservation efforts, or other projects that will benefit the developing nation partner." Pamela Ronald is the contact name given.[14]

According to the Sacramento Bee article, the GRRF was intended to give something back to the people of Mali in return for their rice germplasm:

first, scholarships for Mali students and later, disease-resistant rice to help feed the impoverished country. There was talk of future health clinics and conservation programs, even using the gene to battle hunger and poverty in other corners of the world.[15]

However, reported the Sacramento Bee:

Eight years later, no help whatsoever has arrived. The Genetic Resources Recognition Fund that UC Davis officials hoped would turn university patents and corporate profit into a model of social responsibility has a balance of zero.[16]

The article noted that the Bela people of Mali from whom the rice gene was taken were unimpressed by UC Davis's patenting:

When informed that university officials half a world away in California owned a part of their culture, a gene from their rice - and were licensing it to biotechnology corporations - the Bela were puzzled, even angry.
As she sat inside a grass hut weaving reeds into brooms and fans in the Bela backwater of Musawere, Fadimata Walet Alkhassane - a 40-year-old mother of two - expressed the view of many:
“For the man who took something from our rice, I only want to ask him for help so we can leave these bad conditions where we live without adequate water, garments and shoes.”[17]

Interestingly, while UC Davis's website hypes Ronald's flood-tolerant rice as a genetic engineering breakthrough,[18] Ronald actually developed the rice through marker-assisted breeding. The resulting rice is not genetically engineered.[19][20] And other non-GM flood-tolerant rice varieties have been developed with marker assisted breeding.[21]

The science of Tomorrow's Table

GM food safety

Ronald's book, Tomorrow's Table, features a friendly chat (placed just after a recipe for "Spicy Eggplant") between Ronald and a friend, "Anne", who supports the ban on growing GMOs introduced in Marin County, California. Anne worries that GM foods may not be safe for human consumption and the environment. Ronald sets her mind at rest on this by citing the opinions of the National Academy of Science (2004) and the UK GM Science Review (2003) that the GMOs on the market are "safe to eat".[22]

As for the National Academy of Sciences report, "Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects" (2004), Ronald's comments on it raise the question of whether she has even read it.[23]. This is because the NAS report gives many cautions about the safety of GM foods. For example, it notes that agronomic comparisons of GM foods with non-GM equivalents, done as part of the development research on GM crops, "tend to be superficial and could easily miss some varieties containing altered compositions that could impact adversely on human health".[24] It advises "postmarketing surveillance" of GM foods after they are marketed to look for possible health effects, though admits that this has "not been used to evaluate any of the GE crops that are currently on the market and there are challenges to its use".[25] Then the NAS presents a flow chart with its recommendations for a system of evaluating the safety of GM foods - a system that has not been implemented.

As for Ronald's claim that the NAS concludes that "the crops currently on the market are safe to eat",[26] this is what the NAS actually says:

All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.[27]

The NAS goes on to recommend:

that compositional changes that result from all genetic modification in food, including genetic engineering, undergo an appropriate safety assessment.[28]

Such assessments of GM foods are not required under US FDA policy, nor are they routinely and transparently done by any regulator worldwide.

Further, and again in contradiction to Ronald's claim, in October 2012, a National Academy of Sciences spokeswoman was quoted in a press article as saying "the group has not evaluated whether it's safe to eat genetically engineered food."[29]

Also, Ronald does not mention that the the UK GM Science Review was accused by a number of scientists, including Dr Les Levidow, of bias and misrepresentation of scientific findings (see Royal Society, "Peer review"). Former environment minister Michael Meacher commented on the Science Review: "This is just a rehash of existing reports and includes no data of systematic trials to test GM food safety. This is Iraq Mark 2: there is no supporting evidence for action, the public don't like it and the Government seems determined to over-rule all opposition." Carlo Leifert, a world expert in organic food production, stepped down from the science review panel amid allegations that he was facing fierce pressure to toe a pro-biotech line. According to an Observer report, Leifert

felt increasingly isolated after raising repeated concerns about the safety and environmental impacts of GM crops and began worrying he might lose grants if he kept questioning the technology. However, there is no evidence to suggest any panel member threatened him over this.[30]

According to the Observer report, the final straw for Leifert came when

he was told that Andrew Cockburn of Monsanto had been commissioned to write the first draft of its consideration of GM safety issues.[31]

Following this revelation, MP Joan Ruddock asked the then Environment Minister Elliot Morley if he was concerned that the food safety section had been written by a Monsanto employee: "Morley did not reply."[32]

On the safety of glyphosate

In Tomorrow's Table, "Anne" accepts Ronald's reassurances on GM food safety without challenge. But Anne is still concerned about "the idea that many of the GE crops grown in the United States are sprayed with herbicides",[33] which Ronald defines as glyphosate (brand name: Roundup), the herbicide that most GM crops are designed to tolerate.

Ronald is upbeat about glyphosate, telling Anne that farmers like glyphosate-tolerant GM crops because they don't have to hoe or weed. She completely ignores the many scientific studies and media reports that say that the widespread use of glyphosate on RR soy has led to an explosion of glyphosate-resistant weeds in North and South America, forcing farmers to return to old-fashioned ploughing, spraying ever more toxic mixtures of herbicides like 2,4-D, and even hand weeding.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41]

Then Ronald makes an astounding claim. She tells Anne, "The good thing about glyphosate is that it is known to be nontoxic to mammals and does not accumulate in water or soil, and is therefore preferable to other widely used herbicides, which persist in the environment."[42]

In making this statement, Ronald has ignored a large number of scientific findings, which include the following:

  • The so-called inert ingredients in Roundup kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. Cell damage and death was found even at the residual levels to be expected in food and feed derived from Roundup-treated crops.[43]
  • Roundup was found to prevent the action of androgens, the masculinizing hormones, at very low levels up to 800 times less than Roundup residues authorized in some GMOs for animal feed in the United States. The action and formation of estrogens were disrupted. DNA damage was also found in human cells around this level.[44]
  • Glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells in concentrations lower than those found with agricultural use and this effect increases in the presence of so-called inert Roundup ingredients.[45]
  • In a study of farming families in Ontario, Canada, high levels of premature births and miscarriages were observed in female members of families that used pesticides, including glyphosate and 2,4-D (one of the herbicides to which farmers are resorting to manage glyphosate-resistant weeds).[46]
  • Tests on human embryonic and placental cells show that Roundup exposure may affect human reproduction and fetal development. Chemical mixtures in formulations appear to be underestimated regarding their toxic or hormonal impact.[47]
  • Glyphosate inhibits an important process called RNA transcription in animals, at a concentration well below the level recommended for commercial spray application.[48]
  • Roundup residues interfere with multiple metabolic pathways at low concentrations.[49]
  • Glyphosate and 2,4-D affected the levels and functioning of enzymes of the liver and intestines of rats.[50]
  • Rats orally treated with glyphosate produced foetuses with skeletal abnormalities.[51]
  • Glyphosate application to RR soy has been linked to higher incidence of fusarium, a fungus that causes wilt disease in soy plants and that is harmful to humans and livestock[52]
  • Glyphosate application causes problems in soybean root development and nitrogen fixation and reduces yield in drought conditions.[53]
  • Extended use of glyphosate can significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and diseases, and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use. Reduced growth, impaired defenses, impaired uptake and translocation of nutrients, and altered physiology of plants by glyphosate can affect susceptibility or tolerance to various diseases. Glyphosate makes soil nutrients unavailable for plant uptake.[54]
  • Glyphosate’s toxicity to beneficial soil organisms reduces the availability of nutrients that are critical for a plant’s physiological defense to disease.[55]
  • Glyphosate stimulates the growth of fungi and enhances the virulence of pathogens such as Fusarium, which “can have serious consequences for sustainable production of a wide range of susceptible crops" and lead to “the functional loss of genetic resistance”.[56]
  • Glyphosate applications (ranging from 18 to 36 months prior to planting) were the most important agronomic factor in development of diseases, primarily Fusarium head blight, in wheat and barley crops.[57]
  • Glyphosate is extremely lethal to amphibians. A study based in a natural setting found its application caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Two species of tadpoles were nearly eliminated. The study also found that, contrary to common belief, the presence of soil does not mitigate the chemical’s effects,[58]
  • Glyphosate can stimulate growth and development in a type of aquatic snail that is an intermediate host of sheep liver fluke. The study concluded that low levels of glyphosate could promote increased liver fluke infections in mammals.[59]
  • A three-year study of clearcuts in the US, planted with spruce seedlings and sprayed with glyphosate at a rate of 1.7 kg a.i./ha found that total bird densities decreased by 36 percent.[60]
  • Several studies have shown that glyphosate is toxic to earthworms.[61]

Ronald seems ignorant too of the court case in France that forced Monsanto to withdraw advertising claims that Roundup was biodegradable and leaves the soil clean after use. The court found that these claims were false and misleading, and fined Monsanto's French distributor 15,000 euros.[62]


  • Raoul Adamchak - Pamela Ronald's husband and the co-author of her book, Tomorrow's Table. Adamchak manages the student-run organic farm on the campus of the University of California, Davis.[63]
  • Monsanto: The University of California, Davis College of Biological Sciences runs a Monsanto Fellowship Program. It says, "These fellowships are made possible through an endowed student fellowship fund created by a gift from the Monsanto Corporation."[64] UC Davis names Monsanto in a list of companies, "most" of which have "donated at least $20,000 per year for a fellowship".[65]
  • Monsanto also funds UC Davis's Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology (DEB) graduate internship program, which UC Davis describes as "An inter-graduate program that credits PhD students for training in Biotechnology".[66]
  • According to an article in The Sacramento News and Review, "UC Davis faculty currently receive nearly $10 million in research contracts from the private sector - more than a few of them, according to UCD officials, with Monsanto." The deal prompted the reporter to ask, "The future of a major research deal between UC Davis and the Monsanto corporation brings the role of the university into bold relief. How far can a university go in collaborating with private industry before its mission of contributing to basic knowledge becomes distorted? How will we know when it's gone too far?" The article noted the dangers of reliance on funding from a single source of funds: "Last April when Davis City Councilwoman Julie Partansky dared suggest reduction of municipal use of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, she was met with a public rebuke from a Monsanto senior researcher: 'As Monsanto searches for a permanent site for its West Coast operations... how would it look for a company to build a base of operations in a city that has banned, or even thought about banning its major product?'"[67]
  • According to an article by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee, "When UC Davis filed for a patent on the cloned disease-resistant African rice gene in 1995, it saw an opportunity for financial reward and public service. Money was expected to flow to the school from corporate coffers for research and other purposes. Ronald, for example, has received about $825,000 from Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred International for work on the rice gene in her laboratory."[68]
  • Ronald is "the chief JBEI [the federal Energy Department's Joint BioEnergy Institute] researcher at UC Davis", according to an article on Monsanto's website.[69] The Joint BioEnergy Institute is a biofuels programme. It is "a six-institution partnership led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory".[70]


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