By The Conversation
This winter, Kevin Folta, a plant molecular biologist with the University of Florida’s (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), became the target of a sweeping public records request from US Right to Know, an activist group that seeks to expose what it calls “the failures of the corporate food system,” after answering questions on a website called GMO Answers.
Folta is chairman of the Department of Horticultural Sciences here, which I oversee as senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources at UF. His research uses genomics tools to guide traditional breeding efforts in Florida crops. On the GMO Answers site, he writes about the science of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), critically evaluating claims about the technology. He is not compensated for his time, and uses GMO Answers as a means to educate interested parties about the technology.
The result of this records request has been a months-long vetting of Folta’s communications by university attorneys in preparation for handing over thousands of emails to US Right to Know. The request is also a major distraction from his work as a scientist.
In my administrative role, I have to oversee these kinds of records requests and make sure we are abiding by both the law and ethical standards of scientific research. Requests such as the one from US Right to Know consume attention and energy, pose the danger of silencing other scientists and impede us from pursuing our true mission of groundbreaking science.
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