Monday, November 18, 2013

Did Seattle PBS Station Sway Voters To Reject GMO Labeling Initiative?


Next Meal: Engineering Food was posted on YouTube May 7, 2013 and premiered six days later in the San Francisco Bay Area on KQED Channel 9. Originally, the thirty-minute special report was scheduled to air on PBS stations nationwide, after the Nov. 5 Washington State election, Nov. 13.

Randy Brinson, Executive Director of KCST Programming, decided to broadcast the QUEST science program on the Seattle PBS station with a viewing audience of almost two-thirds of Washington's population, a couple of days before the end of the election because it was "timely".

On the Washington State ballot was Initiative 522, a bill that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled.

TV Guide states the premise of the show is "an examination of genetically engineered crops, including how they're created; their pros and cons; and what the future might hold for research and such regulations as labeling."

Photo:  Grassroots Volunteers for I-522, Spokane, WA

Upon learning of the re-scheduling of "Next Meal" on KCST, Washington State grassroots volunteer supporters of I-522 sent e-mails and made phone calls to the station in an attempt to prevent the program from airing days before the end of the election. Since the program, funded by the National Science Foundation, heavily featured the pros of genetically engineered crops and did not fully explore the cons that it could sway voters to reject the ballot initiative.

When the program was shown in May, audience members posted comments on the KQED website and the KQED Science YouTube page regarding the biased bio-tech slant.

KQED member "Jenny" posted the comment below 5 months ago that represents viewer back lash:

"In your description of this piece, you state:
'Are the benefits of genetically engineered foods worth the risks?'

"I heard a lot of talk about the benefit, but I didn't hear anything about the risks.
"Where are the scientists on the other side of the argument?
"This special doesn't even try to be serious.
"I am amazed that KQED would put something like this on the air."

The day after "Next Meal" was first shown on KCST October 30, two articles were published regarding the show:

Steven Peters, Natural Revolution, stated in his article, "PBS to Air Pro-GMO Film in Washington Days Before Vote on Labeling Initiative,"

"This film Next Meal: Engineering Food is little more than a commercial for the biotech industry. It’s a shame that public broadcasting has been co-opted by big corporations. The airing of the documentary film, Next Meal: Engineering Food is indeed not an impartial look at both sides of the GMO controversy. The undertones are very much Pro-GMO; not showing both sides equally, but in favor of GMOs 'and the chemicals used to grown them being safe'."

Retired US Navy staff scientist Dr. Nancy Swanson wrote in her Seattle Examiner article, "Et Tu, PBS?" that:

"This program looks like the propaganda put forth by the chemical industries who are promoting GMOs. On the program, they trotted out an array of plant biologists, all singing the praises of GE crops and how they are environmentally friendly and are going to feed the world."

Last week, the Yes On 522 campaign conceded the election. Washington State voters failed to pass I-522, the initiative that would have labeled genetically engineered foods, by the narrow margin of 39,000 votes (49%-51%).

In her letter to supporters, Trudy Bialic, Co-Chair of Yes On 522 and PCC Natural Markets director of consumer affairs, did not mention the Seattle PBS stations broadcast. Instead she focused on the 22 million dollars spent by the opposition: "As we continue to push for labeling, we also must work to reverse the perversion of our democratic election procedures with unlimited corporate spending."

Did the four broadcasts of Next Meal between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5 sway voters? Did it, in fact, influence the outcome of the Washington State election?

If so, it is a huge slap in the face to several KCST donors:

PCC Natural Markets is a KCST local programming underwriter. The certified organic retail cooperative that operates nine stores serving 46,000 active members, spent over $250,000 to collect signatures to put the initiative on the ballot last year and to fund the "Yes On 522" campaign this year.

The Newman's Own Foundation is a KCST matching fund donor. Royalties paid by Newman's Own Organics for use of the Newman name help support foundation activities. Nell Newman, the oldest daughter of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman and founder of Newman's Own Organics, states on the company website: "GEs have no place in organic agriculture and [we] are calling for a moratorium until more scientific research has been done on the safety of this technology."
Both organizations were asked if they would support a boycott on PBS, along with Grassroots Volunteers for I-522, GMO Awareness Group (GAG) of the North Olympic Peninsula, the Organic Consumers Association, Moms Across America and GMO Free USA, by withdrawing their financial support to the Seattle station.

The Seattle based PCC replied with this e-mail:

"At this time, PCC does not plan a boycott of KCTS for the airing of this show.

"It would be unfair to boycott KCTS for airing this show even with the assumption (and it is an assumption) that they aired it to persuade public opinion to vote No on this initiative.

"The Seattle Times editorial board chose to support No on 522 but we did not pull our advertising from their papers.

"We honor and agree with freedom of the press and free speech.

"We plan to continue to support KCTS with underwriting of local programming.

"Sincerely, Laurie Albrecht Director of Marketing / PCC Natural Markets"

The News's Own Foundation Response:

"Newman’s Own Foundation turns all royalties and profits from the sale of Newman’s Own products into charitable donations.  To date, Paul Newman and Newman’s Own Foundation have given over $380 million to thousands of charities around the world.  

It is the Foundation’s policy not to comment on individual grantees. However, we do review each organization prior to awarding grants, to determine its fit within the Foundation’s priorities. Further information about our grant making policies is available on the Foundation’s website at

We greatly appreciate your interest in the foundation."

In a statement sent to KCST members before the first broadcast of the program, Brinson, a 35-year public broadcasting veteran, defended his decision to protesting members that "Next Meal" was "a journalistic piece that explores the science behind genetic engineering while including multiple perspectives on the issue."

Photo: UC Berkeley biologist Peggy Lemaux is genetically engineering sorghum to make it more easily digestible. Sorghum, a cereal related to corn, is a staple food for 300 million people in Africa. Credit: Arwen Curry, KQED

Is Next Meal objective journalism or an infomercial for the biotech industry?

Charles Mish, a retired journalism, English and film professor, looked up the Society of Professional Journalists "Code of Ethics.”   Here's what he found in  Section 4: Accuracy and Objectivity:

"Good faith with the public is the foundation of all worthy journalism.

"1. Truth is our ultimate goal.

"2. Objectivity in reporting the news... serves as the mark of an experienced professional. It is the standard of performance towards which we strive. We honor those who achieve it.

"3. There is no excuse for inaccuracies or lack of thoroughness."

According to Wikipedia,  Journalist ethics and standards comprise principles of "truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability-- as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public."

To answer the "journalistic" question, this survey was sent to journalists across the county to get their perspective regarding the controversy.

Research Notes


  1. How could this piece be considered anything other than political when they start the show talking about politics. It is unfortunate the PBS continues the slick PR campaign done by huge chemical companies, the same way tobacco companies did before cigarettes were labeled. Interestingly enough, many junk food companies are owned by or have board members of Tobacco companies and they carry their legacy of distraction, misrepresentation and lies to ensure their bottom line. I will not donate to PBS until they stop aligning themselves and promulgating this crafted messaging put out by corporate interests only interested in their profits.

  2. What a crock, here's the truth about GMO's:

    1. Thank you for the link, I've been looking for this research.