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Crop Scientists Say Biotech Seed Companies Thwarting Research on GMO Safety, Efficacy

  • Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research
    By ANDREW POLLACK
    The New York Times, February 20, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry's genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.

"No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions," the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.

The statement will probably give support to critics of biotech crops, like environmental groups, who have long complained that the crops have not been studied thoroughly enough and could have unintended health and environmental consequences.

The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used.
The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.

Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building.

"If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research," said Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who was one of the scientists who had signed the statement.

What is striking is that the scientists issuing the protest, who are mainly from land-grant universities with big agricultural programs, say they are not opposed to the technology. Rather, they say, the industry's chokehold on research means that they cannot supply some information to farmers about how best to grow the crops. And, they say, the data being provided to government regulators is being "unduly limited."

Full story: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html?_r=1

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