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Horticulture chairman fights bad food science, Food Babe

UF’s Horticultural Sciences Department chairman holds a unique position in the Internet anti-GMO community. Kevin Folta is the leading discreditor of the spokesperson for the online movement, nutrition activist Vani Hari — better known as The Food Babe — who’s famous for her campaign against Subway to remove an ingredient in its bread that is also found in yoga mats. 

He calls her claims “bogus science” and her methods “food terrorism” on his blog, and he has gotten the attention of health websites such as Well + Good.

“It’s important for students to know that she does not represent a scientific consensus or scientific point of view,” Folta said.

She uses her personal opinion, fear and misinformation to push companies into making unnecessary changes to their products, Folta said.

“The chemicals that she rallies against are items that have been proven to be safe and effective in the context that they are used,” he said.

Hari received multiple praises for her public criticisms of the food industry and has an extensive online following. She successfully petitioned against ingredients used by restaurants such as Subway and Chick-fil-A, arguing that they were harmful to consumers. She also visited UF in October for one of the Dean of Students’ “Good Food Revolution” events. Folta said it isn’t right that Hari makes a profit off of her movement.

“The information needs to come from good evidence and sound science, not from someone trying to sell you a book or someone who’s a celebrity based on the attention they get for bad information,” he said.

Shaun Plunkett, a 22-year-old UF nutrition senior, said that people should be more concerned with developing healthy eating habits than the consumption of GMOs.

“(Hype over GMOs) is definitely a new thing,” Plunkett said. “I feel that it’s more people consuming junk food that’s causing this country’s health problems.”

After The Food Babe’s visit to UF in Fall, Folta invited Mark Lynas, author and environmentalist, to speak at UF.

“Mark is an example of somebody who shows that you can change your mind, and it’s okay to change your mind,” Folta said. “I think he’s a great example of how we all should be thinking.”

 

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[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 1/12/2015 under the headline “Horticulture chairman stands ground in name of science"]

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