Melinda Hemmelgarn is a registered dietitian and paid cheerleader for the organic industry. As a denier for hire, she promotes misinformation about transgenic food, pesticide use and the health benefits of organic products. Hemmelgarn frequently discusses topics far outside her narrow area of expertise and hypocritically attacks health professionals who consult for food companies. She regularly attempts to conceal her relationship with the organic industry to maintain a veneer of objectivity.
Another Member of Big Organic’s “A Team”
Like other prominent organic industry apologists, Hemmelgarn is a member of the “A Team of Commentators, Strategists and Influencers” big food companies like Organic Valley pay to promote their corporate spin. Hemmelgarn uses her blog, social media accounts and radio show to regurgitate industry talking points to her unsuspecting audience, who view her as an unbiased expert on the nutritional value of organic food.
Hemmelgarn did not disclose her relationship with the organic industry. Instead a 2015 open records request revealed her financial ties to big organic (p 33). In one email, for instance, Charles Benbrook, another denier for hire, describes Hemmelgarn as someone with “technical expertise” who can be counted on to promote Benbrook’s (now debunked) study which concluded that organic milk was healthier than conventional milk. The email further explains that Hemmelgarn “… will be fully briefed on the paper and provided [advanced] access to it and associated material…” so she could discuss the study with the media.
After Benbrook’s paper was released, Hemmelgarn appeared in a promotional video for the study alongside Benbrook, which was posted on Organic Valley’s website. In the video, Hemmelgarn refers to Benbrook’s paper as “the Washington State University study,” implying that the study was independent. However, she never mentions that the research was entirely funded by the organic industry, nor that she is on Organic Valley’s payroll.
Attempts to Conceal Industry Funding
Although Hemmelgarn is a paid advocate for organic food producers, she oftens denies or obfuscates her association with the industry, despite the release of Benbrook’s emails. When asked on Twitter in December 2017 if she was funded by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), the biggest organic trade group in the world, Hemmelgarn curtly replied, “Not funded by OCA.” The questioner pressed on, however, and said, “My apologies. You are funded by the non-farmer run Organic Valley, a multi-billion dollar multinational company, not OCA.”
Hemmelgarn responded with the half truth that she “… supports [Organic Valley’s] cooperative model and promotion of organic farming methods…” Unsatisfied, another Twitter user accused the dietician of evading the question and asked her directly, “have you ever received money or non-monetary compensation from the organic industry (company, cooperative, trade association or any other business model)?” Hemmelgarn finally conceded that she indeed consults for Organic Valley.
Hypocritical Attacks on Scientists Over Industry Funding
The centerpiece of the organic industry’s propaganda is the claim that mainstream scientists defend transgenic food because they are paid by big biotech companies. Never mentioning her own industry funding, Hemmelgarn shamelessly repeats these libelous charges against her colleagues on social media and in her writing.
Hemmelgarn criticizes academics who consult for food companies because they are being used to “sell” the industry’s story to the public, and consumers should know about this potential conflict of interest, she says. Hidden conflicts of interest are certainly a cause for concern. But if it’s unethical for dietitians to quietly take money from Coca Cola, then it’s equally troubling that Hemmelgarn is secretly paid to lie about the benefits of consuming organic milk.
Cheerleader for U.S. Right to Know
Hemmelgarn doesn’t take money directly from OCA. Nonetheless, she says she is “thankful” for U.S. Right to Know, an OCA-funded front group that libels scientists who debunk organic industry junk science. Hemmelgarn has promoted USRTK’s work extensively on her radio show, without so much as a reference to the criticism USRTK has received from the scientific community.
During an interview on her radio show, for instance, Hemmelgarn let USRTK’s Carey Gillam detail her conspiracy theory about the herbicide glyphosate. Without interruption, Gillam whined that Monsanto, who first manufactured glyphosate in the 1970s, threatens scientists to stay quiet about the dangers of the herbicide. Gillam further alleged that the biotech company had effectively taken over the U.S. EPA, which prevented the federal agency from restricting pesticide use in agriculture.
Gillam didn’t mention that most scientists think glyphosate is a safe, effective herbicide, even the researchers who aren’t paid by industry. Neither Gillam nor Hemmelgarn thought the voluminous research vindicating the safety of glyphosate was worth discussing, either. The pair of industry shills also ignored the fact that environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club wrote EPA policy for eight years under the Obama administration.