Do seed companies control GM crop research?
Agreements are considered necessary to protect a company’s intellectual property, and they justifiably preclude the replication of the genetic enhancements that make the seeds unique. But agritech companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta go further. For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.
Scientists protest industry pressure
From an open letter sent to the environmental Protection Agency in February 2009 by a group of 26 public-sector corn crop scientists:
Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance (and) management implications.
The magazine Conservation, published by the Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle., WA. Summer 2011, p 23
“What’s striking, though, is that all but one of the letter’s authors—college professors, government entomologists—chose to remain anonymous. Pinched by vanishing public funding, they feared losing grant money from Big Seed.”
—Paul Salopek, in Conservation, Summer 2011, p 24
A scientist pushes back, and with public support, wins
Professor Ignacio Chapela at University of California, Berkeley, published a study showing transgenic corn was changing the genetics of neighboring non-transgenic corn. In that context, he also criticized the university's ties with Novartis, the company manufacturing the transgenic corn. Shortly thereafter, he was denied tenure. He fought back, gathered public support in part by writing and in part by holding his office hours on the lawn, filed suit against the university, and finally won tenure.