Hector Valenzuela is a professor of tropical agriculture at the University of Hawaii, Manoa (UH) and a long-time critic of crop biotechnology. Given his academic stature as a tenured researcher and frequent clashes with university leadership, Valenzuela is dishonestly portrayed by the organics industry as a victim of censorship perpetrated by Monsanto.
Hector Valenzuela: (Synthetic) Pesticide Denier
Valenzuela has been an anti-biotechnology activist from the beginning of his career. After receiving a Ph.D. in 1990 from the University of Florida, Valenzuela launched a research project at UH in 1993 to grow 50 popular vegetable varieties without the aid of synthetic pesticides. Because of the state’s humid climate, Hawaiian farmers use these chemicals to control invasive pests described as “the single greatest threat to Hawai‘i’s economy and natural environment…” by the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR).
According to the organic industry-funded attack site PRWatch, Valenzuela was concerned about the “heavy dose of chemicals” farmers were applying to their crops. Valenzuela continued to study ways to eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides on Hawaiian farms until 1998–when UH shut down most of his organic research projects.
Although Valenzuela has spent his career studying the potential dangers of synthetic pesticides, he apparently has no objection to the use of so-called “organic pesticides.” Valenzuela sits on the board of directors of the Hawaiian Organic Farmers Association, an organization that endorses the use of “nonsynthetic pest control materials.” According to the USDA, these are toxic chemicals naturally derived from plants and bacteria.
Valenzuela’s Career as an Activist Researcher
Throughout his career, Valenzuela has participated in anti-biotechnology protests, maintained relationships with anti-GMO groups and written dozens of conspiratorial opinion pieces about food labeling legislation. Most importantly, he has joined in attacks on fellow scientists who don’t share his paranoid views on crop biotechnology.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2015 with UH reveals that Valenzuela conspired with other anti-biotech activist to attack Dr. Kevin Folta, a plant biologist at the University of Florida. Tucked deep inside Valenzuela’s emails, and typed in small font, was a 32-page dossier he had written about Folta, which activists used to smear Folta in the press. Much of the propaganda written about Folta in 2015 was taken, sometimes verbatim, out of Valenzuela’s dossier. When asked if he was involved in the attacks on Folta, Valenzuela refused to respond.
The “Silencing” of Hector Valenzuela
When UH disallowed Valenzuela to use campus property for his organic research in 1998, he took a route familiar to many organic activists: he played the victim. Because his school received grants from Monsanto, Valenzuela alleged that UH silenced him to please their corporate donor.
In reality, Valenzuela was challenged by colleagues at CTAHR because his dubious anti-biotech views hurt the school’s credibility with the scientific community, who universally endorse the use of crop biotechnology. Or as one of his colleagues put it, “I know of no examples where Dr. Valenzuela’s activities have been impeded. He seems to be of the opinion that academic freedom means that he cannot be criticized or questioned.” None of Valenzuela’s critics denied that there was value in his work; organic agriculture is an important aspect of modern farming, as even Monsanto scientists acknowledge. However, Valenzuela was chastised for neglecting his academic responsibilities and engaging in activism, like showing his students gutter documentaries that promote bad science.
Despite the martyr narrative spun by Valenzuela and his organic industry allies, the controversial professor was not fired or even denied tenure; he was, in fact, promoted and some of his academic work (when he completed it) was praised by his superiors, as even PRWatch admits. Valenzuela remains employed by UH today.