April: This is an important issue around GM foods and crops. An independent researcher (such as myself) cannot study Monsanto products. If you want to do an environmental study, you have to sign a contract first, and Monsanto has to approve the study before it’s published. There is no “freedom of study”.
How many of you out there knew this? Does this affect your impression of GM foods?
The following article sheds some light on this.
NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 10, October 2009
*Are the crop industry’s strong-arm tactics and close-fisted attitude to sharing seeds holding back independent research and undermining public acceptance of transgenic crops? Emily Waltz investigates.
The increasingly fractious relationship between public sector researchers and the biotech seed industry has come into the spotlight in recent months. In July, several leading seed companies met with a group of entomologists, who earlier in the year had lodged a public complaint with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over restricted access to materials. In a letter to the EPA, the 26 public sector scientists complained that crop developers are curbing their rights to study commercial biotech crops. “No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops [because of company-imposed restrictions],” they wrote.
In turn, the seed companies have expressed surprise at the outcry, claiming the issue is being overblown. And even though the July meeting, organized by the American Seed Trade Association in Alexandria, Virginia, did result in the writing of a set of principles for carrying out this research, the seed companies are under no compunction to follow them. “From the researchers’ perspective, the key for this meeting was opening up communication to discuss the problem,” says Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, who signed the complaint. “It will be interesting to see how companies implement the principles they agreed upon.”
What is clear is that the seed industry is perceived as highly secretive and reluctant to share its products with scientists. This is fueling the view that companies have something to hide.
Who’s in control?
It’s no secret that the seed industry has the power to shape the information available on biotech crops, referred to variously as genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) crops. Commercial entities developed nearly all of the crops on the US market, and their ownership of the proprietary technology allows them to decide who studies the crops and how. “Industry is completely driving the bus,” says Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.