(Beyond Pesticides, February 27, 2009) Twenty-six leading corn insect scientists at public research institutions submitted a comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which charges that patent-holding companies, including Monsanto, Syngenta, and others, interfere with their genetic engineering (GE) research on crops. The statement says,
“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, its management implications, IRM, and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.”
The names of the 26 scientists were withheld from the public docket “because virtually all of us require cooperation from industry at some level to conduct our research.” The stewardship agreements, which are intended to ensure that farmers honor the companies’ patent rights, do not allow planting GE crops for research. These have been in place for years, but according to the New York Times, scientists have now spoken out about them due to growing frustration.
“If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that come out of any research,” said Ken Ostlie, of the University of Minnesota, who was one of the 26 to sign the comment. Furthermore, Cornell University’s Dr. Elson J. Shields told the Times, the companies “have the potential to launder the data, the information that is submitted to EPA.”
Pressure from biotech companies, via these stewardship agreements, endangers the integrity of independent research, as well as the quality of GE research that can be produced. Fewer researchers may want to take on GE studies because of limitations and legal difficulties that may result. Those who do are unable to fight the corporations. “People are afraid of being blacklisted,” said Dr. Shields. “If your sole job is to work on corn insects and you need the latest corn varieties and the companies decide not to give it to you, you can’t do your job.”
GE crops raise controversy on a variety of issues, from health effects to insect resistance to legal and financial restrictions on growers. For more information, visit our Genetic Engineering program page, or past Daily News articles.