Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott, apparently a Greek fisherman running an organic farm in North Carolina. Credit: Organicology conference

Tom Philpott is a food writer for the partisan political magazine Mother Jones. Posing as a science journalist, Philpott advocates for the organic food industry and gets paid to appear at events for anti-science groups along with fringe scientists and sympathetic media figures.

Philpott: Member of the Organic Industry’s “A Team”

Philpott is one of a handful of journalists the organic food industry consider its “A Team” of reliable “commentators, strategists, influencers” for their press releases. Like tobacco companies in the 1970s, organic food producers collaborate with their select group of influencers to extol the benefits of their products and demonize those that they perceive as threats to their profits. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed Philpott’s role in this cabal.

The FOIA’d emails further reveal that Philpott eagerly collaborated with economist Charles Benbrook, who had an industry-funded position at the University of Washington, to promote junk studies of organic milk and help sway votes on a controversial food labelling initiative in Oregon.

Philpott Helps Corporate Funder Dr. Bronner Distort Science

In the fall of 2014, Oregon was set to vote on an initiative that would have mandated that genetically engineered foods be labeled as such. Dr. Bronner Soaps CEO David Bronner wrote a propaganda ad in support of the initiative and paid to have it placed in major media outlets. Seeing the ad for what it was, the science journals Nature and Science declined to run the ad. Furious at their refusal, Bronner enlisted Philpott’s help, according to Benbrook’s FOIA’d emails, to smear the two publications.

In a Mother Jones piece intentionally published just weeks before the election in Oregon, Philpott conspiratorially suggested that Nature and Science, after first accepting Bronner’s propaganda piece, reneged on their agreement to publish it because they feared a backlash from the biotech industry.

Philpott left out of his corporately-commissioned smear piece that Bronner’s ad was an unscientific screed about herbicide resistance, full of junk claims debunked by experts and designed to scare Oregon voters into passing an initiative with no evidence behind it. Scientists have long been aware of the threat posed by herbicide resistance; they also know that it predates genetic modification, and are developing weed control methods that reduce its impact.

Do as Philpott Says, not as Philpott Does

Hypocritically enough, Philpott also failed to disclose to his readers that he was writing at the behest of a company with a vested interest in the outcome of the Oregon vote. When confronted about the obvious conflict of interest on Twitter, Philpott merely laughed in response, though he recently clarified where his allegiance lies. In May 2017, Philpott served as the keynote speaker at the Organic Center’s annual benefit dinner. The Organic Center is the research arm of the Organic Trade Association’s lobbying efforts.

The hypocrisy goes deeper still. While making a name for himself claiming to be a watchdog against corporate influence on science, Philpott remains employed as a science writer by a publication primarily funded by corporations who sell supplements and alternatives to medicine, energy and conventional food, plus a few wealthy donors with hard-left political interests. Mother Jones has a long history of weighing in on scientific issues, primarily on the wrong side of the evidence, as long as it matches the politics of their advertisers. Philpott is their ideal journalist; no knowledge of science but a keen understanding of what kind of content pays the bills.